How to fight against fake news and misinformation (2023) (2023)

summary of highlights

Journalism is in a state of significant change. New digital platforms have unleashed innovative journalistic practices that enable new forms of communication and a greater global reach than at any time in human history. But, on the other hand, misinformation and rumors popularly called "fake news" accelerate and influence the way in which individuals interpret everyday events. Driven by foreign actors, citizen journalism, and the proliferation of news on radio and cable television, many information systems have become more polarized and controversial, and there has been a sharp decline in public trust in journalism. traditional.

darrel m oeste

Vice President and Director -Governance Studies

Senior Associate -Technological Innovation Center

Douglas Dillon Chair in Government Studies

Fake news and sophisticated disinformation campaigns are particularly problematic in democratic systems, and there is a growing debate about how to address these problems without undermining the benefits of digital media. To maintain an open and democratic system, it is important that government, business, and consumers work together to solve these problems. Governments must promote journalistic literacy and strong professional journalism in their societies. The news industry must provide high-quality journalism to build public trust and correct false news and misinformation without legitimizing it. Tech companies should invest in tools that detect fake news, reduce financial incentives for those who profit from misinformation, and improve online accountability. Educational institutions should give high priority to informing people about journalistic literacy. Finally, people should follow a variety of news sources and be skeptical about what they read and watch.

the state of the media

The media landscape has changed dramatically in recent decades. Through digital sources, there has been a huge increase in journalism reach, social media, and audience engagement. Checking news online, whether through Google, Twitter, Facebook, major newspapers or local media sites, has become ubiquitous, with smartphone notifications and mobile apps bringing the latest developments to people instantly. As of 2017, 93 percent of Americans say they get their news online.1When asked where they got their news online in the past two hours, 36% cited a news organization's website or app. 35% said social media (which usually means a post from a news organization, but could be a comment from a friend). 20% remember a search engine. 15 percent reported an email, text message, or notification from a news organization. 9 percent said it was another source. and 7 percent cited a family member's email or text message (see Figure 1).2

In general, young people are more likely to get their news from online sources, relying heavily on mobile devices to communicate. According to the Pew Research Center, 55% of smartphone users receive news alerts on their device. And about 47 percent of those who receive notifications click to read the story.3Increasingly, people can tailor the delivery of information to their personal preferences. For example, you can subscribe to news alerts from various organizations so that people hear news relevant to their particular interests.

There have been extraordinary changes in news sources in general. Figure 2 shows the results from 2012 to 2017. It shows that the largest gain is due to reliance on social media. In 2012-2013, 27% owned social networking sites, up from 51% in 2017.4By contrast, the percentage of Americans who rely on print news has dropped from 38 percent to 22 percent.

Some research organizations have found significant improvements in digital access around the world. For example, the Pew Research Center has documented through surveys in 21 emerging countries that Internet usage rose from 45% in 2013 to 54% in 2015. That number is still below 87% usage in 11 developed countries, but clearly there have been significant advances in many parts of the world.5

Social networking sites are very popular in the developing world. As shown in Figure 3, 86 percent of Internet users in the Middle East trust social networks, compared to 82 percent in Latin America, 76 percent in Africa, 71 percent in the United States, 66 percent in Asia and the Pacific, and 65 percent in Europe.

In addition, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has shown significant trends in news consumption. It showed significant gains in trust in mobile news alerts. The percentage of people in the United States who use this font increased by 8 percentage points, while there were gains of 7 percentage points in South Korea and 4 percentage points in Australia. There has also been an increase in the use of news aggregators, digital news sources, and voice-activated digital assistants.6

(Video) How to fight fake news and misinformation

Reduced trust in the media

In the United States, public trust in traditional journalism is waning. The Gallup poll asked a number of Americans over the past two decades how much trust they have in the media to report the news completely, accurately and fairly. As shown in Figure 4, the percentage saying they are very or very confident fell from 53% in 1997 to 32% in 2016.7

Between news coverage they don't like and fake news that is manipulative, many Americans question the accuracy of their news. A recent Gallup poll found that only 37% believe that "news organizations generally get the facts right." That's less than half the country that felt this way in 1998. There's also a striking partisan gap in public opinion. Only 14 percent of Republicans believe the media is reporting the news accurately, compared to 62 percent of Democrats. Even more troubling is that "a large majority of the country believes that major news organizations routinely produce false information."8

(Video) Fake news, propaganda, and conspiracy theories - The fight against disinformation | DW Documentary

This decline in public trust in the media is dangerous for democracies. With today's ever-changing political situation in the US and around the world, there are questions about the quality of information available to the general public and the impact of fringe media organizations on voter assessments. These developments have complicated the way people hold leaders accountable and the way our political system works.

Challenges Facing the Digital Media Landscape

As the overall media landscape has changed, there have been several sinister developments. Instead of using digital tools to inform people and promote public debate, some people have taken advantage of social and digital platforms to deceive, mislead, or harm others by creating or disseminating fake news and misinformation.

Fake news is created by news outlets posing as real media sites but running fake or deceptive accounts designed to mislead the public. When these activities move from sporadic and haphazard efforts to organized and systematic efforts, they become disinformation campaigns with the potential to disrupt campaigns and governance in entire countries.9

For example, the United States apparently saw organized efforts to spread false material in the 2016 presidential election. A Buzzfeed analysis found that the most shared fake news in 2016 was about “Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton endorsing guns sold to ISIS, Hillary Clinton was disqualified from federal office and the FBI director who received millions from the Clinton Foundation. "10Using an assessment of social media, he said the top 20 fake stories generated 8.7 million shares, reactions and comments, compared to 7.4 million generated by the top 20 stories from 19 major news sites.

When [fake news] activities move from sporadic and haphazard efforts to organized and systematic efforts, they become disinformation campaigns with the potential to disrupt campaigns and governance in entire countries.

Fake content was rampant during the presidential campaign. Facebook estimated that 126 million users of its platform viewed articles and posts published by Russian sources. Twitter identified 2,752 accounts created by Russian groups that tweeted 1.4 million times in 2016.11The pervasive nature of these disinformation efforts has led Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu to wonder, "Did Twitter kill off the First Amendment?"12

One specific example of misinformation was the so-called "Pizzagate" conspiracy, which began on Twitter. The story falsely claimed that the sexually abused children were hiding out at Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in Washington, DC, and that Hillary Clinton knew about the sex. It seemed so realistic to some that a North Carolina man named Edgar Wells entered the capital with an assault weapon to personally search for abused children. After being arrested by police, Welch said that he "had read online that the Comet restaurant housed child sex slaves and wanted to see for himself if they were there. [Welch] claimed he was armed."13

A post-election survey of 3,015 American adults found that it was difficult for news consumers to distinguish fake news from real news. Chris Jackson of Ipsos Public Affairs conducted research that found that "fake news headlines mislead American adults approximately 75% of the time" and a significant portion of the electorate remembers "fake news" and these stories are considered credible."14Another post-election online poll of 1,200 people by Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow found that half of those who viewed these false stories believed their content.15

Fake news is not just a problem in the United States, it affects other countries around the world. For example, India is plagued with fake news about cyclones, public health, and child abuse. When intertwined with religious or caste issues, the combination can be explosive and lead to violence. People were killed when false rumors about child abductions were spread through digital media.sixteen

Fake news is sometimes amplified and spreads rapidly through fake accounts or automated 'bots'. Most bots are benign in nature, and some major sites like Facebook ban bots and seek to remove them, but there are social bots that are “malicious entities specifically designed to cause harm. These bots deceive, exploit, and manipulate social media conversations with rumors, spam, malware, misinformation, slander, or even noise.”17

This information can distort electoral campaigns, influence public perceptions or shape human emotions. Recent research has found that "sneaky robots can easily infiltrate an unwitting human population and manipulate them to influence their perception of reality, with unpredictable results."18In some cases, they can "engage in more complex types of interactions, like having fun talking to other people, commenting on their posts, and answering their questions." Through targeted keywords and interactions with influential posters, they can amplify their influence and influence national or global conversations, especially by resonating with groups of like-minded people.19

(Video) How to fight fake news: tips from leading journalists

An analysis after the 2016 election found that automated bots played a significant role in spreading false information on Twitter. According to Jonathan Albright, assistant professor of media analytics at Elon University, “What bots do is what's hot on Twitter. These bots provide the online crowds that provide legitimacy.”20With digital content, the more posts are shared or liked, the more traffic they generate. By these means, it becomes relatively easy to spread false information across the Internet. For example, as graphic content is posted, often with inflammatory comments attached, it can go viral and be seen as credible by people far from the original post.

(Video) Battling Misinformation: How To Fight Back Against Fake News

Everyone has a responsibility to fight the scourge of fake news. This ranges from supporting investigative journalism, reducing financial incentives for fake news, and improving digital literacy among the general public.

False information is dangerous because of its ability to influence public opinion and electoral discourse. According to David Lazer, “Such situations can allow discriminatory and inflammatory ideas to enter public discourse and be treated as fact. Once internalized, these ideas can, in turn, be used to create scapegoats, normalize prejudices, harden our attitudes towards them and even, in extreme cases, catalyze and justify violence.21As he points out, factors such as the credibility of the source, repetition, and social pressure influence information flows and the extent to which misinformation is taken seriously. When viewers see certain points repeated by credible sources, they are more likely to be influenced by that material.

Recent research data shows just how damaging these practices have become to the reputation of trusted platforms. According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, only 24 percent of Americans believe that social networking sites "do a good job separating fact from fiction, compared with 40 percent of the media." ".22This shows how much these developments have damaged public discourse.

The dangers of regulation

Government harassment of journalists is a serious problem in many parts of the world. The special rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council, David Kay, points out that "many leaders see journalism as the enemy, journalists as unscrupulous actors, tweeters as terrorists and bloggers as blasphemers."23In Freedom House's most recent report on global press freedom, researchers found that media freedom was at its lowest point in 13 years and that there were "unprecedented threats to journalists and the media in major democracies." and the authorities of the new states movements to control the media, even beyond their borders".24

Journalists are often accused of producing fake news and there have been many cases of legitimate journalists being arrested or their work subjected to official scrutiny. In Egypt, an Al-Jazeera producer was arrested on charges of "inciting against state institutions and transmitting false news to sow chaos."25This was after the network aired a documentary criticizing Egypt's recruitment.

Some governments have also moved to create government regulations to control the flow of information and censor content on social media platforms. Indonesia created a government agency to "monitor news circulating online" and "combat fake news."26In the Philippines, Senator Joel Villanueva has introduced a bill that would impose up to five years in prison for anyone who publishes or distributes "fake news," which the law defines as activities that "cause panic, division, chaos, violence and hatred, or those displaying propaganda to denigrate or defame someone's reputation'.27

Critics condemned the bill's definition of social media, misinformation, hate speech and illegal speech as too broad and believe it risks criminalizing investigative journalism and restricting free speech. Newspaper columnist Jarius Bondoc noted that “the account is prone to abuse. A fanatical government can use it to suppress opposition. By prosecuting critics as news falsifiers, the government can stifle legitimate dissent. Whistleblowers, not criminals, would be arrested and fined for daring to speak out. Investigative journalists would flood prisons."28

In a misinformation situation, it is tempting for law enforcement to deal with offensive content and fake news by banning or regulating it. For example, in Germany, a law was passed in June 2017 that obliges digital platforms to exclude hate speech and misinformation. It requires major social media companies to "remove illegal, racist, or defamatory comments and posts within 24 hours." Companies can be fined up to $57 million for content that is not removed from the platform, such as Nazi symbols, Holocaust denial, or language labeled hate speech.29

Critics of the German law have complained that the definition of "blatantly" illegal speech risks censorship and loss of free speech. For example, the law applies the rules to social media platforms in the country with more than 2 million users. Commenters noted that this is not a reasonable way to define relevant social networks. There may be much smaller networks that do more social damage.

Overly restrictive regulation of online platforms in open societies sets a dangerous precedent and may encourage authoritarian regimes to continue and/or expand censorship.

Also, it's not always clear how to identify objectionable content.30While it's pretty clear how to define speech that advocates violence or harm to others, it's less clear when we're talking about hate speech or "slander of the state." What is considered "hate" to one person may not be to another. There is some ambiguity about what constitutes hate speech in a digital context. Does it include bug reports, opinion piece comments, political satire, leadership inaccuracies, or outright fabrications? Watchdog organizations complained that "overly broad language can affect a variety of platforms and services and leave decisions about illegal content in the hands of private companies that may be inclined to censor too much to avoid potential fines."31

Overly restrictive regulation of online platforms in open societies sets a dangerous precedent and may encourage authoritarian regimes to continue and/or expand censorship. This will limit freedom of expression worldwide and create hostility towards democratic governance. Democracies that place unreasonable restrictions on speech risk legitimizing authoritarian leaders and their efforts to suppress basic human rights. It is important that efforts to improve news quality do not undermine the news content or investigative landscape facing journalists.

(Video) "How to combat fake news" | Barry Regan | TEDxCentralArizona College

(Video) Fighting Fake News: Disinformation is spreading across America with deadly results | USA TODAY

Other approaches

There are many alternatives to address falsehoods and misinformation that can be undertaken by various organizations. Many of these ideas represent solutions that combat fake news and misinformation without jeopardizing free speech and investigative journalism.

government responsibilities

1) One of the most important things that governments around the world can do isencourage independent and professional journalism. The general public needs reporters to help them understand complex developments and deal with the changing nature of social, economic, and political events. Many areas are undergoing transformations that I have elsewhere called "megachanges," and these changes have created enormous anger, anxiety, and confusion.32In a time of great turmoil, it is vital to have a healthy Fourth Estate, independent of public authorities.

2) Governments mustavoid repressionsabout the ability of the media to cover the news. These activities limit freedom of expression and hamper the ability of journalists to cover political events. The United States must set a good example for other countries. If US leaders censor or restrict the media, encourage other countries to do the same.

3) Governments mustbypass content censorshipand hold online platforms accountable for misinformation. This can limit free speech, making people reluctant to share their political opinions for fear that they could be censored as fake news. Such overly restrictive regulation can set a dangerous precedent and inadvertently encourage authoritarian regimes to undermine freedom of expression.

News Industry Stocks

1) The news industry must continuefocus on high-quality journalismthat builds trust and appeals to a wider audience. One encouraging development is that many news organizations have seen significant increases in readership and viewership in the past two years, and this is helping to put mainstream media outlets on a better financial footing. However, in recent years there has been a sharp decline in public trust in the media, and this has undermined the ability of journalists to report and hold leaders to account. In an age of significant chaos and disorder, the world needs robust and sustainable media that informs citizens about current events and long-term trends.

2) It is important that news organizationsthey scream fake news and misinformationwithout legitimizing them. They can do this by relying on their in-house professionals and respected fact-checkers. In order to educate users about news sites designed to mislead, nonprofit organizations like Politifact,, and Snopes judge the accuracy of leaders' claims and write stories detailing the truth or lack of it. of it of specific developments. These sources have become a visible part of election campaigns and candidate evaluation in the United States and elsewhere. Research by Dartmouth College professor Brendan Nyhan found that labeling a Facebook post "objectionable" reduces the percentage of readers who believe fake news by 10 percentage points.33In addition, Melissa Zimdars, a professor of communications and media at Merrimack College, compiled a list of 140 websites that use "distorted titles and information taken out of context or questionable."34This helps people track down the successors of fake news.

It is important that news organizations present false news and misinformation without legitimizing it.

Similar efforts are underway in other countries. In Ukraine, an organization known as StopFake relies on "peer-to-peer counter-propaganda" to dispel false stories. Its researchers screen "news for signs of falsified evidence, such as forged or forged images and quotes," as well as looking for evidence of systematic disinformation campaigns. In recent years, he has identified Russian social media posts claiming the Ukrainian military was involved in atrocities against Russian nationalists living in eastern Ukraine or who had painted swastikas on their vehicles.35Similarly, the French news agency Le Monde has a “database of more than 600 news sites that have been identified and marked as 'satire', 'real' [or] 'fake.'36

Crowdsourcing relies on the experience of a large number of readers or viewers to spot potential problems in news coverage and can be an effective way to combat fake news. One example is The Guardian's attempt to harness the wisdom of the crowd to assess 450,000 documents relating to the spending of UK MPs. He received the documents, but did not have a quick team to analyze their credibility. To deal with this situation, the newspaper created a public website that allowed ordinary people to read each document and identify them in one of four news categories: 1) "uninteresting", 2) "interesting but well-known", 3) "interesting" or 4 ) "look into this".37Digital platforms allow news organizations to reach large numbers of readers in this way. The Guardian, for example, managed to "attract 20,000 readers to consult 170,000 documents in the first 80 hours."[38]These individuals helped the newspaper assess which documents were most problematic and therefore worthy of further investigation and ultimately news coverage.

Responsibilities of a technology company

1) Tech companies shouldinvest in technology to find fake news and identify it for users through algorithms and crowdsourcing. There are innovations in detecting fake news and hoaxes that are useful for media platforms. For example, fake news detection can be automated and social media companies should invest in their ability to do so. Former FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler argues that "public interest algorithms" can help identify and debunk fake news posts, and thus be a valuable tool for consumer protection.39

In this regard, computer scientist William Yang Wang, drawing on, created a public database of 12,836 precisely flagged statements and developed an algorithm that matched "surface language patterns" of false statements with words contained in the news. This allowed him to integrate text and analysis and identify stories based on false information. His conclusion is that "when metadata is combined with text, significant improvements can be made for the comprehensive detection of fake news."40Using a similar approach, Eugenio Tacchini and his colleagues say it is possible to detect fraud with a high degree of accuracy. Testing this suggestion on a database of 15,500 Facebook posts and more than 909,000 users, they found an accuracy rate of more than 99% and say that outside organizations can use their automated tool to identify sites involved in fake news. .41They use this result to support the development of automatic fraud detection systems.

Algorithms are powerful vehicles in the digital age, helping to shape how people search for information and find material online. They can also help with automatic detection of hoaxes and there are ways to detect fake news to educate readers without being censored. According to Kelly Born of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, digital platforms need to classify or flag objectionable stories and find a way to better identify and classify authentic content to improve information collection and presentation.42For example, many media platforms have instituted "questionable news" labels that alert readers and viewers to controversial content. This could be anything from completely false information to material where key parties disagree about its veracity. It is a way of alerting readers to possible inaccuracies in information online. Wikipedia is another platform that does this. Since he publishes material in abundance, he is subject to conflicting claims of factual accuracy. It solves this problem by adding tags to material that identify it as "objectionable news."

However, this cannot be invoked by itself. A survey of 7,500 people by David Rand and Gordon Pennycook of Yale University suggests that alerting readers to inaccurate information isn't very helpful. They investigated the impact of independent fact-checkers and found that "the presence of 'debatable' tags made participants just 3.7 percentage points more likely to correctly judge headlines as false."43The authors fear that the explosion of fake news is overwhelming fact-checkers and making it impossible to assess misinformation.

(Video) How can we combat fake news and digital misinformation?

(Video) News Literacy 2023: What to look out for to spot fake news

Algorithms are powerful vehicles in the digital age and can help create automated fraud detection systems.

2) These companies should not make money off of fake news creators and shouldmake it difficult to monetize pranks. It is important to weaken financial incentives for poor content, especially fake news and misinformation, as fake news production is often financially motivated. Like all clickbait, misinformation can be profitable due to ad revenue or overall branding. In fact, during the 2016 presidential campaign, trolls in countries like Macedonia reported making a lot of money by spreading false material. While social media platforms like Facebook have made it difficult for users to profit from fake news,44Ad networks can do a lot more to stop monetizing fake news, and publishers can stop running ad networks that refuse to do so.

3)Strengthen online accountabilitythrough stricter real name policies and enforcement against fake accounts. Companies can do this through "real name registration," which is the requirement that Internet users provide the hosting platform with their real identity. This makes it easier to hold people accountable for what they post or share online, and also prevents people from hiding behind fake names by making offensive comments or engaging in prohibited activities.45This relates to fake news and misinformation because of the potential for people to misbehave if they believe their actions are anonymous and unlikely to be made public. As the famous judge Louis Brandeis observed long ago: "Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant."46It helps keep people honest and accountable for their public activities.

educational institutions

1) Funding efforts to supportnews literacyit should be a high priority for governments. This is especially true for people accessing the Internet for the first time. For these people, it is difficult to distinguish fake news from real news and they need to learn to evaluate news sources, not to accept at face value everything they see on social media or digital news sites. Helping people become better consumers of information online is vital as the world moves toward digital immersion. There must be money to support partnerships between journalists, businesses, educational institutions and non-profit organizations to promote journalistic literacy.

2) Education is especially important forYoung people. Research by Joseph Kahne and Benjamin Bowyer found that third-party ratings are important to young readers. However, its effects are limited. Those statements considered inaccurate reduced the persuasiveness of readers, although to a lesser extent than if they were in line with the individual's previous political beliefs.47If the person already agreed with the statement, it was more difficult for the fact-checker to influence the information.

How the public can protect themselves

1) People can protect themselves from fake news and misinformation by following adiversity of people and perspectives. Relying on a small number of like-minded news sources limits the range of material available to people and increases the chances that they will fall victim to hoaxes or false rumors. This method is not completely foolproof, but it increases the chances of hearing balanced and diverse opinions.

2) In the online world, readers and viewers mustbe skeptical about news sources. In their quest to drive clicks, many online stores resort to misleading or sensational headlines. They highlight the provocative or flashy, even if the news hook is false. News consumers should be aware and understand that not everything they read is accurate and many digital sites specialize in fake news. Learning to judge news sites and protect ourselves from inaccurate information is a high priority in the digital age.


From this analysis, it is clear that there are many ways to promote timely, accurate, and civil discourse in the face of fake news and misinformation.48In today's world, there is considerable experimentation with online news platforms. News organizations are testing products and services that help them identify hate speech and language that incites violence. There is a boom in new models and approaches that bodes well for the future of online journalism and media consumption.

At the same time, everyone has a responsibility to combat the scourge of fake news and misinformation. This ranges from promoting strict rules for professional journalism, supporting investigative journalism, reducing financial incentives for fake news, and improving digital literacy among the general public. Taken together, these steps will promote quality discourse and weaken the environment that has fueled misinformation around the world.

Note: I would like to thank Hillary Schaub and Quinn Bornstein for valuable research assistance. They were very helpful in finding useful materials for this project.

Brookings Institution is a nonprofit organization dedicated to independent research and policy solutions. Its mission is to conduct high-quality independent research and, based on that research, provide practical and innovative recommendations for policymakers and the public. The conclusions and recommendations of any Brookings publication are solely those of its editors and do not reflect the views of the Foundation, its administration, or other scholars.

This post was generously supported by Facebook. Brookings recognizes that the value it provides lies in its absolute commitment to quality, independence and impact. Its donor-supported activities reflect this commitment.

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