Fake News, how false news spreads

The issue of fake news, false news, is at the center of the national and international debate to the point that one wonders whether they are capable of altering important political events or presidential election.

What are the fake news

Fake News are fake news spread specifically on the web and through social media. They represent one of the most disturbing phenomena for information and destabilizing for the influence of opinions.

Italians are mainly informed on the Internet, according to a survey by the News-Italy Observatory entitled “Fake news” is a problem, 70% say they are informed on the internet and 34% of them are on Facebook and Twitter. According to this study, among those using the internet, 53% say they often meet partially or completely false news on the Internet.

According to the research data, more than half of those interviewed and who are informed by digital means claim to have met false news, about 53%.

This figure is in line with what emerged from a similar survey carried out in December 2016 in the United States by the Pew Research Center which highlights how widespread the phenomenon of “fake news” in the perception of who is informed on the internet.

Difference between Misinformation and Misinformation

Fake News are completely invented news that is spread quickly on the web, disseminating misleading content. Some of them are true, exaggerated in which reality is distorted, while others are completely invented. Claire Wardle, director of First Draft News, an international network on the verification of online sources, has proposed a clear distinction between these cases of misinformation and misinformation. Misinformation is precisely the creation of false news, a true fabrication of news. While Misinformation is the involuntary spread of false news.

Claire Wardle on First Draft, offers to focus on three essential points: to know the grammar of fake news, distinguishing between the different types of content created and shared, to know the motivations of those who create this content, to know the ways in which such contents are disseminated.

For Claire Wardle there are 7 ways of doing disinformation and just understanding how it is implemented can be useful to stop the phenomenon: manipulation of satire, misleading content, deceptive content, completely false content, deceptive connection, deceptive context, manipulated content.

At the base of false news production, there is the precise will to condition the will of others. The production of these news takes place using techniques that greatly influence the reader: strong titles, images, videos and infographics.

This phenomenon spreads to the speed with which the web allows the dissemination of news. But there is another factor. The transformation of the reader from a passive subject to an active subject. The reader who reads the newspaper or the traditional periodical paper is a subject that passively accepts the information and based on its own elaboration, critical sense, can spread it in the community in which it lives, in the working and social environments in which it is inserted, the process it’s very slow.

In the digital world the reader is no longer a passive subject, he becomes active because he has several tools that allow him to spread the news. With the use of Social Media a sharing allows to extend the range of diffusion within its circle. Then a comment or a simple expression of mind allows you to establish a relationship with the pages of those news websites.

Social Media and in particular Facebook, which has reached two billion active people per month in 2017, are based on relationships. Commenting and dissemination allows the algorithm to identify an interest on the part of the reader who will be more involved.

Factors affecting the dissemination of Fake News

There are two main factors that allow the dissemination of news fabricated to influence readers, information overload and the user’s limited attention span.

Precisely the particularity of digital information has led to constant partial attention. This occurs because the information to which the user is submitted is fragmented and partial, the reader fails to deepen well the huge flow of news, so the critical sense is blurred.

According to a study published in Nature Human Behavior by Diego Fregolente Mendes de Olivera of the Sghanghai Institute of Technology and other researchers, it is shown that the particularity of the structure of social networks and the limited capacity for attention are the two factors that make the dissemination of Fake News to the detriment of the quality of information.

The study shows that the particularity and structure of social media allow maximum diffusion in the network in the presence of a limited attention span.

How memory is affected

In an article published in Nature, Laura Spinney, analyzes in detail the relationship between information and the construction of individual and collective memories.

Psychologists are studying the processes by which collective memories are formed and how they can be influenced at a distance. They managed to demonstrate the enormous influence that is determined by the social networks on memory.

According to Daniel Schacter, a psychologist at Harvard University, shared memories in social groups like Facebook are able to understand memories between individuals and groups. False news can alter individual and collective memory.

“The development of Internet misinformation, as in recent and well-publicized false news sites, is able to alter individual and collective memories in disquieting ways”.

The ability to correctly assess the credibility of the information found on the web is a phenomenon that affects the whole society. The media produce a huge flow of information and it becomes very difficult to distinguish the true from the false and what is based on verifiable, false or even fabricated sources.

Compared to the past, where society was based more on paper and sources, digital is more difficult.

According to the study cited in Nature Human Behavior, there is a way to increase the critical sense and increase the capacity for attention, try to reduce the information load by limiting the production of news on social media.

Even the authoritative media can do Misinformation

Even the traditional and authoritative media can make Misinformation, that is to produce false news involuntarily. And this happens when the control of sources is not strictly applied, when the media, even if authoritative, do not scrupulously verify the sources. In this case, even if we do not want to produce a false news voluntarily, we end up swelling the flow of Fake News.

The diffusion of the network and of the Social Networks has substantially changed journalism and the way of producing information. The continuous and disruptive flow of information that also comes from non-professionals requires to shorten the time, to the detriment of the scrupulous verification of the sources. To increase traffic to your website, even authoritative publications publish uncertified information.

Even the Italian Court of Cassation with a ruling in November 2017, which judged a news taken by a journalist and then turned out to be false, stigmatizes the way to handle information from the network. For judges of the Court, relying on a source when it is constituted by journalistic publications is not enough, it risks creating a self-referential circuit. For a journalist there is always the obligation to check the sources but when the same comes from the web it is necessary to cross it well with others because the risk of making misinformation is very high.

On the net and above all on Social Media readers do not make much distinction between the various media, the authors of the articles and the differences between those who produce the news. This is why the verification of the sources remains the watershed necessary to distinguish the production of quality information from a flow of false or exaggerated and unverified news. The quality of information is essentially based on the strict verification of sources.

The BBC is trying to curb the publication of non-certified information by introducing a reality check, a section of the website where to certify the most controversial and most clicked news on the web.

How to identify a Fake News

There are no infallible methods for identifying a Fake News and understanding that misinformation is spreading on that subject. But caution is needed because, as previously stated, the reader in the digital age has undergone a transformation, he is no longer a passive subject but able to give lymph and vigor to the news having the opportunity to express an opinion or to share. There are some tricks that allow you to get an idea of the news that is proposed to us. Craig Silverman, a journalist from Buzzfeed, offers 6 simple ways to spot fake news.

The control of the url to verify that a site similar to a better known one has not been created, read the “who we are”, check the links to understand if they are real, do a search of the images to see if it has already been published and can refer to another event.

The last advice from Silverman is caution. Faced with news that provokes strong emotions, the journalist of Buzzfeed invites calm, to control emotions.

This is the central point that is taken into consideration by those who produce Fake News, writing strong titles accompanied by images that can produce an immediate emotional reaction. Faced with a strong emotion, the reader reacts by expressing his mood immediately using different tools available. On Facebook in front of a news that provokes emotions, you can immediately express your mood with a like, a comment and a sharing.

These are the actions of the user that trigger then a viral spread that allows the false news to spread rapidly on the net. A like on Facebook allows the social network’s best friend to establish a relationship between the user and the page where the news is posted and this mechanism will determine a “social relationship”. From that moment a relationship will be established between the fake news site page and the user, who will probably receive all the updates.

So a false news is produced to automatically trigger emotional reactions, which is why it is necessary to control the emotions but above all to avoid expressing their own assessment based essentially on the title of the news and on the photos. It is always necessary to read the article in its entirety and during the reading express its critical sense that can be formal, such as notice oddities with the url, images, links, etc., but also substantial trying to understand if verifiable sources are used.

In any case, interacting on social networks can be decisive for the dissemination of Fake News, that’s why sharing action must be used in moderation, sharing a news means offering it to their circle of friends who in turn share it with others, until it is widely disseminated. Being active players in a process of training the cycle of news, as happens for online news, determines a certain responsibility as each songola action can determine the spread of a flow of online news.

It is difficult to immediately identify a Fake News, but one way to cope with the phenomenon is: caution in the management of one’s emotion in front of a news item and fully read the article carefully before deciding to share it or express it an evaluation.

Health, the risk of incorrect and dangerous information

Fake News is not only capable of altering the political debate but also influencing behavior, especially in health care. According to a Censis and Assosalute study, 28.4% of Italians consult websites to search for health information, of which 17% consult generic websites, 6% institutional sites and 2.4% social networks. According to this research on 15 million people who have searched for information on the web to treat their health, about 8.8 million people have been victims of false or incorrect medical news.

False and incorrect news can really compromise the state of health, which is why we need correct communication and education to health choices.

Just to counteract the Fake News in the health field, the web portal was created by Italian doctors.

The portal has been called “Doctor, but it is true that …?”, And is online at or even

The initiative is by Fnomceo, the national federation of surgeons and dentists’ orders, and starts from the observation that “hoaxes, when they affect health, are likely to become real criminal actions, sustained by economic interests or only by ignorance”.
Tools to stem the Fake News

Many try to stem the Fake News, preparing tools or methods to alert users. Until now these tools have not yet produced acceptable results as the case of Facebook which, after having experienced a series of initiatives with little success, introduces in Italy a project for “The protection of information security and the fight against false news” .

In Italy the Fact-Checking activity was launched in collaboration with Pagella Politica, signatory of the Poynter International Fact Checking Principles.

Politics Scoreboard will evaluate the accuracy of the stories on Facebook. If a story is considered false or partially false, Facebook will show, in order to give more context, in the section below, the analysis written by the fact-checker, and the story can appear further down in the News Feed. In addition, people will be notified if a story they shared was found to be false.

WhatsApp is also developing a system to fight hoaxes, especially a sort of S. Antonio chains that bounce in the chats.

WhatsApp could introduce a notification that arrives together with the received message that also requests the diffusion to multiple contacts, and that warns the user on the fact that “the content has already been forwarded so many times”

The Ministry of the Interior introduces an online service that will allow citizens to suggest presumed hoaxes. In the case of content detrimental to reputation, the Postal Police will provide the recipient with all the necessary information to request the removal of content that, however, “must be evaluated by individual social networks”

The EU adopts measures to combat online disinformation

The EU presents the results of the first reflections on the thorny issue of the Fake News, and the conclusions contained in the report of the specially created expert group invite to wide-ranging actions especially on the network, where the flow of information is more difficult to control.

In the report the group of experts specifies that the definition Fake News is not correct, because the term would be inadequate to describe its complexity, since it would be “false information, inaccurate or conceived misleading way, presented and disseminated for profit or with the intention to create a public prejudice “, capable of undermining democratic values and processes.

Among the various recommendations: the promotion of a code of ethics that online platforms and social media should commit to respecting; the promotion of media literacy as a contrasting element; the development of tools that allow users and reporters to fight disinformation; guarantee the transparency of online platforms, making clear how the algorithms that select news operate; highlight the most reliable news, in collaboration with some European media outlets); make a group to carry out the implementation, monitoring and regular review of the agreed actions.

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