Both Homer and Google: how to fight against the fakes?

In 2017, the compilers of the Collins Dictionary recognized ‘Fake News’ to be the Collins Word of the Year.

We live at the time which is simultaneously one of the most interesting and challenging periods, at the time of digitalization and abundance of information. Every day, we use the internet for various purposes: from communicating with our friends and family in social networks to studying remotely in some of the most prestigious universities of the world. Most people no longer go to libraries nowadays: they click a keyboard button to get connected with the enormous universe of information, where it is so easy to get lost and forget about everything. Generally speaking, is it possible to get oriented in an information flux where all kinds of fake news occur and how can we protect ourselves from this internet phenomenon?

Die wenigsten nutzen analoge Bibliotheken. Wozu auch? Ein Klick und man ist im Informationsuniversum des Internets. Doch das Universum birgt Gefahren: Man kann sich verirren oder auf dreiste Falsifizierungen stoßen. Wie schützt man sich also im gefährlichen Zeitalter der Fake News und behält dabei die Orientierung?

What is fake news: a historical perspective?
Let us clear it out together. To start with, let us define fake news. It is intended spread of false information in social networks and in mass media in order to misguide people with the purpose of obtaining political or financial benefits or attracting internet traffic. Fake news may include different falsified texts, photographs, videos and audios.

Let us clear it out together. To start with, let us define fake news. It is intended spread of false information in social networks and in mass media in order to misguide people with the purpose of obtaining political or financial benefits or attracting internet traffic. Fake news may include different falsified texts, photographs, videos and audios.

Yet, why then is fake news such a popular subject so readily discussed by all? In fact, there is nothing new in it. Rumors have lived on the Earth from time immemorial. Even at the time of ancient Greece and Rome, their rulers manipulated the attention and views of the people for the sake of their own interests. Take, for example, the famous conflict between Mark Antony and Octavian. To defeat his enemy, Octavian faked the will of his opponent, due to which he was able to juxtapose Mark Antony and the Senate republicans, who deprived him of the right to be the commander of the Roman legions. The anti-Egyptian context of the whole story allowed Octavian to present his rival as the political and ideological enemy of his own country. At the same time, that made the Roman people support Octavian’s struggle against Egypt.

Ancient historians employed all kinds of embellishments and falsifications to create the image of the ancient world we now have in our minds. At that time, the image was as important as it is now. For example, Solon, the Athenian statesman and lawmaker, interfered with the texts of Homer’s epic poems in order to emphasize the importance of Athens for Greece.

Three levels of fighting fakes
In other words, fakes have always existed. How can we avoid taking the bait now? Fake news is being fought against at many levels. In particular, Facebook has introduced a new function in the newsfeed, which allows the users to inform the company of the fake nature of the information provided. These messages first undergo automatic checking and are then doublechecked by independent outsider experts. Google has banned several websites which supplied fake news from their online advertising network Adsense and thus punished the website operators in the most vulnerable point, the money. In 2017, Mozilla introduced the project “Mozilla Information Trust Initiative”, in the framework of which special tools are developed for the Firefox browser, capable of verifying trustworthiness of information. Elon Musk is promising to launch such a service, too. He intends to create a website under the Russian name Pravda, which will evaluate the veracity of the materials provided by different mass media.

Moreover, the governments of different countries are also taking efforts to counter fake news. For example, the German government has introduced penalties for making fake publications, and in Britain and in France there are special agencies which oppose spreading of fake information. In Russia, a special division has been launched at the website of the Ministry of the Interior, in which fakes and false materials of foreign mass media are disclosed.

"More control"
First and foremost, the reader himself should be alert: we should not be credulous and naïve but must have an independent system of judgements. So, we should not rely much on the others but be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. In other words, we must not thoughtlessly accept what we are offered but use critical thinking instead, which has become a challenging task at the time of social networks and short posts. The so-called ‘clip thinking’ is now a stumbling block on the way to understanding the world, hence, to using mass media.

The ‘infolitmus’ test
Yet, there are certain ways to understand that information is unreliable. First of all, it is necessary to read news attentively. If you see a crying headline implying a sensation, in most cases the news may prove to be fake. Thus, fake news simply attracts the reader’s attention by attractive headlines, in order to multiply site sessions, if these are online media, or to raise the sales, if these are published media. If the author discusses or proposes only opinion without any proof, you should also be watchful. Always think before sending a message, putting a like or making a repost of the publication you have liked.

Read as if you are a critic. It often happens that different studies are mentioned in a publication to support a certain judgement. In this case, check the links to the studies and the proofs and make sure whether they really support what is said in the article. Hence is the next item: check the sources. Real news always refers to reliable sources of information. Look who spreads the material! Can you trust the author? Study the place of publication, whether there are contact data of the person responsible for the publication. If you do not find them or if they turn out to be false, watch out. If the other media do not spread the message, it is likely that the information is not true.

Most importantly, think about your own superstitions and prejudices: they may overshadow the adequate perception of reality. We all see what we wish to see.

Aliya Bissenova

Aliya graduated from the Kazakh-German University with a degree in International Relations. She works in the Goethe-Institut Almaty in the department of cultural programs. She has many interests and is open to anything new to her such as music, psychology, languages and painting.





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