Fake news wins elections
As elections take centre stage in Europe, the issue of fake news and the proliferation of deliberate misinformation on the Internet become a central issue.
The European Parliament debated the issue earlier this month, as MEPs raised concerns about the increasing spread of disinformation, political propaganda and hate speech. But they could not agree on a clear way forward.
Social media serves as a source of news for nearly half of Europeans. It has also has made spreading fake news easier and faster. Six out of ten news items are now shared without actually being read.
Fake news consists of fabricated stories posing as genuine journalism with the aim of manipulating readers. The phenomenon gained momentum during last year's presidential campaign in the United States, not least due to the growing use of social media as a source for news.
Viral fake news received more engagement on Facebook than real news in the final three months of the 2016 campaign for the White House.
Fake news can entail deceptive content created to undermine political opponents. Russia, for example, has been using disinformation in its ongoing hybrid war against Ukraine.
The extent to which this influenced the American election and the Brexit vote has yet to be determined.
In their debate, some MEPs called for fines to be imposed on those who fail to eliminate fake news or illegal content. Others however questioned who should decide what hate speech is.
Some MEPs vigorously criticised any move to introduce limits on free speech online, while others favoured legislation to fight fake news. "We do have freedom of opinion, but you don't have alternative facts, you just have facts," said German MEP Monika Hohlmeier: "It's essential that we take legal measures at the EU level so that we can react effectively."
It is true that regulation and technology have their limits, and that censorship and any moves to limit on free speech online are probably unworkable.
However, with social media serving as a source of news for nearly half of Europeans, the manipulation of the media is an issue that cannot be ignored. If it is, our elections and votes will be decided, or at least heavily influenced, by politicians who deliberately spread false 'facts' and foreign powers with their own agenda.
Print and broadcast media, with its declining influence, should not have a different set of rules and behaviour than social media, which has such a hold on so many peoples' lives.
Source: European Parliament