The Complex Problem of Disinformation in Modern Society
It’s official – more than 90% of Americans now rely mainly on online sources to get their news coverage. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working online or playing a few games on the book of ra online, you’ll probably check at least one news source while browsing. Not only can people seek out news online, many of us also receive notifications when something we might be interested in occurs.
This wealth of information and digital news outlets has, in some ways, revolutionized politics. For the first time, the public can scrutinize what politicians get up to in real time and comment on it almost instantly via sites like Twitter. It also means that people are more aware of social issues – such as poverty, corruption, and injustice – than ever before. So, what’s the problem with all this? One word – disinformation.
Much as it is wonderful having all these news sources at our fingertips, it’s not always easy to tell if what we’re reading is actually true. In fact, digital disinformation is a vast problem, and there’s no simple way to tackle it. Legislation banning disinformation campaigns have to be extremely careful not to infringe upon individual rights and freedom of speech.
On top of this, online information is extremely hard to regulate because it spreads like wildfire on social media. If you've ever noticed a piece of news going viral, you will know what we mean. Unfortunately, the spread of disinformation is just as fast, as disinformation is usually highly sensationalized. We look at some of the ways that disinformation can become a problem and some of the solutions people have suggested in order to combat it.
The Problem of Disinformation in a Digital Society
Skewed Public Perceptions
Many people see disinformation as a threat to deliberative democracy because foreign powers can use it to pre-empt, tamper with, or sway political outcomes. Democracy relies on freedom of information so that people can thoroughly research the political parties they want to represent them. However, when foreign powers put out large-scale disinformation campaigns, it can drastically affect public opinion. This, in turn, can change the way people vote based on falsehoods rather than truth, which is a perversion of democratic ideals.
What’s more, cyberattacks and data breaches can use sophisticated technology to predict or tamper with election results. By using AI and algorithms, foreign powers can potentially scan social media users engagement to find out their political views. Disinformation campaigns can then target groups that they predict are likely to be swayed. For example, if somebody engages with a lot of specific content, it is easy for the creators of a disinformation cyber attack to know their political views. They can then target this person with fake news, which has no basis in truth, but still appears to legitimize this person’s point of view. This can happen on all sides of political debate, both liberal and conservative, and is a difficult problem to untangle.
Disinformation bots designed to help fake news penetrate online spheres and to trend virally can also aid terrorist groups and authoritarian regimes. A democracy that cannot rely on truthful journalism to hold politicians accountable can be easily manipulated by authoritarian forces.
Undermines Faith in Journalism
Not only does fake news often spread harmful information, but it also undermines people's faith in legitimate journalism. This makes it hard for journalists to get their message across when they do try to expose real corruption. People become so desensitized and used to seeing fake news that they do not know how to judge what is true. This harms genuine political and social causes, which can struggle to gain traction in a sea of disinformation.
How Can Society Deal With Fake News?
Tackling the problem of fake news is complex. Disinformation and free speech are closely intertwined. Many people argue that regulation of disinformation will also curb freedom of expression, which is unconstitutional.
However, many others argue that when disinformation is specifically targeted with intelligent bots or designed for a political purpose, that breaches international law. There are some methods, besides large-scale regulation, that can help stem the spread of fake news. These include:
Many readers do not have the critical reading skills to parse information effectively. Instead, many readers assume that anything that has been published on the internet has been vetted and is, therefore, reliable. This is no longer the case, however.
By educating populations thoroughly on the political process, democratic decision-making, and political history, some educators hope to tackle problems of disinformation terrorism. The aim would be to teach people to use critical thinking skills when approaching news topics. This would also steer people away from unreliable sources and teach them to consume online media more discerningly.
According to most studies, people are less likely to be taken in by extreme political views if they get their news from a broad spectrum of sources. Fake news and targeted algorithms can produce a scenario in which people are only exposed to views that support their own. Encouraging people to read a wider range of news sources increases the likelihood that false narratives will be challenged and encourages diverse and nuanced thinking.
In some extreme circumstances of fake news, legislative measures are advised. This covers examples of overt fraud or deliberate slander. However, this remains a complicated and contentious issue that modern policymakers will have to navigate carefully.
Disinformation usage is undoubtedly increasing, and ways to deal with this political problem are complex and contentious. With more and more people consuming news online, it is likely that, in the coming years, we will see regulation in this area. The difficult balance will come when regulation meets free speech and drawing a line between fake news and personal opinion.
Final Call: Where do you get your news? Do you think fake news is a problem on the rise? Share your thoughts in the comments!