“Fake news” is… ?
“Fake news” is a term used to refer to fabricated news. Fake news is an invention – a lie created out of nothing – that takes the appearance of real news with the aim of deceiving people. This is what is important to remember: the information is false, but it seems true.
That’s logical! If it is too obvious that it is a lie, it won’t have any impact. Fake news is a little like a false rumour, but on a large scale…
Just as true information has many faces, fake news can also come in many forms. Here are a few of them.
Political fake news
This is the main reason there has been so much talk about fake news in the past few years: because of the number of items during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
For example, the ETF News site published the following fake news item: “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President”. This article received over 960,000 Likes, comments or shares.But this was a lie! And of all the news – true and false – published during the American presidential election, this fake news item was shared the most.
Spectacular fake news
Sometimes fake news is shared because it is sensational. Like this item about an automobile accident supposedly caused by playing Pokemon Go. In this case, the authors used a real photo, but they gave it a title that had nothing to do with reality.
This is a trick often used by those who invent fake news. This item was shared 60,000 times on Facebook and received 150,000 Likes. Thanks to this fake news, somebody made money in ad revenue.
Fake news that stages a celebrity
Celebrities attract attention. One example was this item invented in 2017 by a website, The Mackenzie Post, claiming that Leonardo DiCaprio had told People (a real American magazine) that he wanted to move to Baie-Saint-Paul, QC, to live on a farm. This news item was shared hundreds of times, but it was totally false.
And that’s not all: this item was republished with exactly the same text, but featuring other celebrities.
Fake news that tries to sell something
It would seem that eating bananas for 12 days is a good detox cure to lose weight! It would also prevent headaches, help you sleep better, etc. In short, it’s a real miracle… and obviously 100% false.
News of this kind floods the Internet, and young people are often the preferred targets: miracle diet to lose 10 kilos in one week, to become a better athlete, to do well on your exams, etc. You must remember that obviously, just because this was shared by a friend doesn’t make it true, and just because it’s promoted by your favourite celebrity doesn’t make it any truer! Everyone suspects that there are plenty of hidden ads on the web, especially on Instagram, but we tend to forget that when it’s said by a person we like. For example, a blogger who pitches a special tea to lose weight and have a flat belly… But if this product sells for $60 a month, it’s a good idea to think twice before committing to such an expense.
The blogger herself may believe it. But it’s also possible she’s being paid to sell this product— and nothing obliges her to tell us.
Fake news that creates fear
According to a post that circulated on Facebook at one time, evil clowns were circulating in Saint-Jérôme, QC. This post was shared over 63,000 times.
Maybe some people saw it as a joke, but many believed it, because the fear of evil clowns — which is a false rumour — is fairly widespread and has raised fears all over the world ever since.
Fake news that promotes racist ideas
In 2017, this photo was published on the web by an anti-immigration group. People were angry to see a bus full of veiled women.
But these aren’t veiled women. If you take a few seconds to look at the picture carefully, you’ll see that in reality, they are empty bus seats!
This is an example of a publication that contributes to sustaining fear of others. It is also an example of a publication that primarily reaches people who already have some fear when they think of a group different from theirs. Instead of launching a discussion or a dialogue, this type of publication instead serves to whip up fear or intolerance. Although it was completely false, you should know this publication generated plenty of Likes, comments and Shares on social media.
Fake news that sustains sexist ideas
According to the same logic, it is very easy to launch rumours or information tailor-made to sustain erroneous ideas about women.
Several memes like these are published on the Web. This post, circulating on Facebook and Instagram, maintains the idea that girls are superficial, while boys accomplish great things! Under the cover of a joke, this post is overtly sexist.
Fake news that sustains myths and conspiracies
There are also myths and urban legends on the Web. For example, the Illuminati who “control the world”, the UFOs the US military is “hiding from us”, people who affirm the Earth is flat…
Obviously, this is nonsense, but it circulates extensively on the Web and social media. There are an enormous number of conspiracy videos on YouTube as well.
The main purpose of a hoax is to draw us into a trap. Like an April Fool’s joke.
A golden eagle flies away with a child in a park. This prank was created by 3D animation students. The video was viewed 8 million times, according to the newspaper La Presse. Many people believed it was true. This was a joke deliberately constructed to fool people. Fortunately, the students quickly revealed how they had arranged to deceive us.
Things are a little different with satire. The goal is to make people laugh, like this publication from The Onion. However, satires can lead to confusion. In Québec, Le Journal de Mourréal and La Pravda are satirical sites. Their publications are funny, but if you only see the headlines on social media, they can fool people. Among the 65,000 people who shared this information on Facebook that the Hells Angels demonstrated against the legalization of cannabis, some believed it was a real news item.
In interviews they granted, the authors behind the Journal de Mourréal confided that they knew some readers would be fooled, but they believe it’s up to them to exercise their critical abilities.
Opinions and allegations presented as facts
An opinion is not a fabricated lie. The person may believe it in good faith. But if the opinion or the allegation is presented as the truth, this can lead to confusion. That’s because an opinion is not a fact and an allegation is not a proven fact either.
Certain types of messages received by private messaging
Some fake news circulates in private messages. This may be by text, by email or by Messenger. For example, fraud attempts by text are common.
You must never send money or click on a link texted by an unknown person. Banks, governments and the police do not communicate by text. Clicking on a link may allow a fraudster to hack your phone. Rumours can also circulate on messaging applications like Whatsapp or Snapchat. Often people are asked to alert their friends about a threat. Participating in these rumours can be dangerous.
In India, thirty people died after rumours circulated on Whatsapp. The same thing happened in Nigeria, where 11 people died because of fake photos that were circulating. There were also similar incidents in Mexico.
You should realize that if there is really a danger, the police will alert the public through other channels, such as TV or their own social media accounts. You must not spread rumours or warnings when you do not know the source.
Certain types of YouTube videos
YouTube is for amusement, but it is also an information source. Even funny videos can attempt to influence you.
In this case, Mouton lucide (Lucid Sheep) makes a comical video to explain why the fluoride added to toothpaste is dangerous. But he is wrong in the first few seconds when he affirms that fluoride is toxic. This is true, but only in large doses. This is the case for all substances. As chemists say, “it’s the dose that makes the poison”.
There are only three cases in history of people who were poisoned by fluoride…including a woman who ate a whole tube of toothpaste every day! In small doses, as in toothpaste, fluoride protects the teeth.
There are hundreds of videos like this one on YouTube in English. You must always ask yourself if a YouTuber has the necessary qualifications to talk about a given subject. Especially if this is a subject concerning health!
Manipulated videos featuring celebrities…
Fake videos have existed for a long time. But until recently, this only happened in Hollywood. It took talent and plenty of time to fake a video.
Deepfake is a new technology that uses artificial intelligence to fake videos. With an application that can be downloaded, images are used to “teach” artificial intelligence to imitate a face. When this is done, the software can insert the face in any video.
The results are not always convincing, but this is just the beginning. The technology will surely improve. And this allows anyone to fake a video, even with no talent.
This may seem funny, but it’s worrying. Imagine if someone created a fake video of the President of the United States declaring war… In any case, this type of technology worries a lot of people!
Just because you disagree with an opinion doesn’t mean it’s fake news
Be careful not to consider an opinion to be fake news just because you disagree with it. A politician, whenever he is criticized, might be tempted to say it’s fake news, but that would be dishonest. First you must ask yourself whether the criticism is based on facts or opinions.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion: people who say they don’t like a specific politician or a specific film therefore cannot be accused of publishing fake news. On the other hand, people who attribute completely invented statements or dialogue to a politician or a film they don’t like have published fake news in an attempt to present their opinion as the truth.
Let’s emphasize once again: an opinion is not a fact.