The dissemination of "fake news" and related concerns have been the buzz lately. The term might be loosely defined as misleading stories that are indistinguishable from real news. Facebook was identified as one of the leading platforms to spread fake news, but the problem is widespread and the sources are many. Numerous websites have long been known to publish completely fictitious stories and design their sites to resemble authentic journalism outlets.
Facebook front man Mark Zuckerberg has been under fire due to his moderating policies, or lack thereof, and the heat is probably justified. However, the issues Z-berg and his colleagues face are more complex than simply verifying the content of stories exchanged on their websites and media. As explored in a recent post, the propaganda war is in full force, and those waging it are making no bones about doing so on Facebook, Twitter and similar social media sites in addition to the more traditional venues.
Such circumstances put site administrators and editors in the positions of not only fact-checking the accuracy of material posted or submitted, but they might also get more than they bargained for when trying to verify accounts and, specifically, those who operate them. It's not just amateur hoaxers or clickbait scams that are littering your time lines. Consider:
- WaPo reported in 2006 that hundreds of "news" stories published in Iraqi newspapers were secretly written by U.S. troops. The Lincoln Group, which claimed to have 12 government contracts totaling over $130 million, paid newspapers to print the stories. Rather than term the work psychological operations or propaganda, the president of Lincoln Group preferred to call it spreading "influence," and in spite of the fact the project was contracted by a psyops division of the military.
- An Associated Press investigation, details of which were published in 2009, indicated the Pentagon would increase its spending by 63 percent, to some $4.7 billion, to win what it called "the human terrain" of world public opinion. It would employ 27,000 people for the effort, which nearly matched the 30,000-person work force of the entire State Department. The massive operation included the Joint Hometown News Service, which in 2009 alone planned to put out 5400 press releases, 3000 television releases, and 1600 radio interviews, among other work, and without informing audiences it was produced by Pentagon staff.
- It's by no means just Americans and their allies who care what you think. Earlier this year, Swedish officials encountered a flood of false stories on social media coinciding with their considerations to enter into a military partnership with NATO. Public appearances were consistently interrupted and sidetracked when officials were questioned on fallacies circulating about how the potential alliance would harm citizens, such as an incorrect claim NATO soldiers would rape Swedish women and not face prosecution. Though the sources of the fake news stories were never conclusively identified, the Kremlin was named as a leading suspect and continues to prioritize the use of "weaponized" information to stir discord and weaken cohesion among nations opposing Russia.
Propaganda and psyops have long been staples of the global intelligence community, but the exploitation of the internet and social media is a relatively new mask in the old charade. The circumstances are complex and have the potential to become more intricate for site admin than simply verifying a corporate account or checking the authenticity of its posts.
It's not just about whether or not something is true. It's also about who says so, the nature of their relationship with the hosting venue, and the scope of the situation. I would completely expect such circumstances to "influence," as the Lincoln Group put it, the implementation and enforcing of fake news policies on various social media sites.