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News And Views

News & Views

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  • 16 June 2017
  • Adam Clatworthy, Senior Account Director

Fake news as a service is now a thing

I recently wrote about the growing fake news problem and how this could actually reinvigorate trust in traditional media. Popularised since the election of Donald Trump, fake news has actually been around for a long time, used to push Government propaganda and drive false advertising campaigns.

But thanks to the digital platforms that make it easy to share and spread information, fake news is at an all-time high. And with the dust settling after yet another General Election, it really struck me how much work we collectively have to do to clamp down on it.

As I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed each morning on the commute I really don’t know what to believe anymore. This is coming from trusted friends and family; all sharing and commenting on controversial ‘news’ stories and ‘shocking’ memes defaming the latest Tory and Labour policies.

I would say that at least 70% of these clickbait posts are ill-informed, lack vital context or simply not backed up by credible sources. Yet they are all clearly achieving their purpose; to divide society and manipulate users’ opinions on a certain topic towards certain objectives.

A new report released this week has lifted the lid on the magnitude of the problem and how easy it is to manipulate the public. The report, developed by our client Trend Micro, reveals how fake news as a service is the next cash cow for cybercriminals.

We all know that whenever there is a major incident, cybercriminals are quick to capitalise. A recent, and frankly disgusting, case in point was the recent Manchester bombing tragedy, where fake charity sites were being set up to capitalise on public generosity towards the victims.

The report identifies the growth in tools, and just how easy it is to create and spread fake news. Most of these tools and services are sold through the Dark Web, but some are readily available from commercial companies. The below certainly makes for interesting reading:

  • Creation of fake 'celebrity' social media account = $2,600 (£2,044)
  • 40,000 “high-quality” likes = $6,000 (£4,700)
  • 20,000 comments = $5,000 (£3,900)
  • False story = $2,700 (£2,100)
  • Discrediting a journalist = $55,000 (£43,000)
  • Instigate a street protest = $200,000 (£156,400)
  • 12-month political campaign to change people's opinions = $400,000 (£314,000)

While it’s clear that the likes of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google etc. need to do a lot more to identify and remove the source of fake news from their platforms, Governments need to enforce smarter internet laws, and quality publishers need to adhere to the fundamental principles of ethical journalism, we as the readers and consumers of fake news need to take far greater responsibility for propagating its existence.

The reason why fake news is so effective is the willingness of people to share it without checking the source. If you don’t recognise the web domain of the story – don’t click on it. If it has a clickbait headline – don’t click on it.

I for one hope that we’ll soon see the option to report posts as fake, in the same way you would report spam or inappropriate behaviour on social platforms, and I also think that these sites need to educate users on how to identify false news.

Unfortunately the current advertising model and lack of regulation means that these platforms continue to reap the benefits of from the increased likes and shares that these hyperbolic stories provide. German government ministers are already moving in the right direction by creating laws that could invoke fines on those that don't remove fake posts.

In the meantime, I think we all have a part to play by not fanning the flames. After all, it is us and ultimately our democracy that will suffer.