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The digital impact of fake news

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Fake news. It’s a term we hear more and more frequently, mainly since Donald Trump vented about it in one of his news conferences.

Ever since Trump came to power there has been a deluge of fake news stories aimed at bringing him down, as well as boosting his popularity. This has included both written stories and videos which use voice and face-morphing technology to create fake statements.

As fake news has continued to replicate like a virus across the world, we’re seeing ever more stories that we’re unsure whether to believe or not.

But what exactly is fake news?

A couple of weeks after the fire at Grenfell Tower, a news story began to circulate with the headline ‘Baby rescued from burnt building 12 days after London’s Grenfell Tower fire’. It had the BBC logo on it and the layout of the story was strikingly similar to a legitimate story from the BBC news website. But it wasn’t.

Within just a few hours the story had been shared on social media many thousands of times, with people believing it to be genuine. But a close look at the URL after clicking on the link proved that it wasn’t a real story, it was fake news.

What a sickening thing to do after such a terrible tragedy. Someone had actually sat down in front of a computer, thought out and written this story and put it out there for everyone to see and believe. It makes you wonder why anyone would do such an awful thing, but the answer is simple – it’s all about money.

Fake news stories are so sensational that the majority of people who see them feel compelled to click on them. The more people that click them, the more the people that are putting fake news stories out there get paid by advertisers on their sites.

The rewards are enticing.

But not only is some of the fake news shocking, it’s downright dangerous. What if a believable video of a political leader declaring war went viral? The repercussions could be enormous.

So, what’s being done about it?

Well for a while now Google’s been adjusting its algorithms to filter out fake news and has introduced a 'Fact Check' tag.

This verifies that articles include information that has been fact-checked by news publishers and official fact-checking organisations. It shows information on a claim, who made it and who checked the facts so readers can make an informed decision about whether a story is true or not. However, readers should still remain vigilant. Google has made it clear that the fact-checkers are third parties: “Google itself does not fact check stories. Third parties do. We have seen a few instances where our system for associating claims with articles has some issues that will be addressed.”

Facebook has also pledged to remove fake profiles, fact check stories and add warning labels to content that it sees as controversial. Again though, the fact-checkers are third-parties with potential biases.

Who checks the fact checkers?

The result is, plenty of false content is still managing to slip through the net.

Google says: “Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behaviour that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”

This means that if a site containing fake news stories is linking to yours, through no fault of your own, you may find yourself moving down the Google ranking. The main problem here is that fake news sites are very good at looking like real news sources, so you could think that it’s a good domain that linked to your site.

To try and prevent this from happening it’s vital to constantly monitor your website to make sure it doesn’t contain anything contentious that could be linked to, or used as a source to spread fake news. It’s also important to include sources in any articles to validate them, and add Fact Check tags where appropriate.

While you can’t completely eliminate the impact that fake news might have on your website, there are plenty of ways to minimise it.