Critical Thinking Tools: "What is Fake News?"



What is Fake News? Fake news can mean different things
to different people. It can mean false information, disguised as news
to deceive and manipulate. But it also can designate
mainstream media organizations that paint Donald Trump
in a less positive light. The terms mis-information,
dis-information and mal-information allow us to better understand
the complex context of "Information Disorder", and the main issues at stake regarding the production
and dissemination of information today. However, fake news
is anything but new: it may be as old
as Humankind itself. Particularly since the 19th century, the issue of false information
has been a source of debate and even concern. The "Great Moon Hoax" in 1835 by the New York newspaper
"The Sun", is one of many stories published then by sensationalist newspapers also known as "yellow press"
or "tabloid press". The radio broadcast
of "War of the Worlds" by Orson Wells in 1938, was blamed for having caused
widespread panic in the US, but at the time newspapers
may have exaggerated its impact on radio listeners. The 3-minute TV report
"Spaghetti-Trees", broadcast by the BBC in 1957, is still recalled as one
of the great hoaxes ever, but it was a mere
April Fools' Day prank. Today, people increasingly obtain
most of the information from the internet and especially
from the social media. Still waiting to be fully understood is the role of personalization algorithms in potentiating individual isolation
and social polarization, eventually leading to the so called
"filter bubble" effect. This brings new challenges
and threats to democracies, as demonstrated
by the Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. The rise of news forms
of authoritarianism and control supported by digital technologies go beyond the dystopian society envisioned by George Orwell
in "1984", with China leading the way,
for others to follow. So, what can you do about it? To start with, be conscious,
be critical and be autonomous about everything you read,
write and share. Think. Rethink.

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