Fake News: How Is It Spread?

The speed of our current technologies has completely changed how communication travels across physical borders and mediums. Our society is being fed thousands of narratives on a daily basis from numerous sources, and we suddenly find ourselves unsure of which stories represent reality and which ones are designed to deceive. This dangerous condition has caused a breakdown of trust across all forms of information.

The professional misinformation creators of the world have honed their craft so that the false messages are being dissipated in many subliminal and overtly non-apparent ways. They also know that if a narrative is not seen and heard by a wide audience, it has no value to them. Let’s try and follow just a few of the ways in misinformation is spread and amplified across the global information landscape.

Psychographic Targeting : Paid and Organic

Psychographics is the study of personality, values, attitudes and lifestyles. Psychographic segmentation involves dividing a market into segments based upon different personality traits, values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles of consumers. While this practice is not new, what changed everything is when psychographics transitioned into a weaponized tool, creating lies and deceit to affect such things as election outcomes.

How It Works
Making use of the deeper level of understanding of the viewer, specific messages, false news articles, videos, and memes can be supplied to those that are most vulnerable to buy into them. These are created to appeal to their innate belief systems and validate how they feel. Once the initial distribution starts, the concept of sharing via social media allows organic growth of the lies and deception. Since many of these are created for a particular nefarious purpose, sharing will enable continued growth of distribution with many people that have the same viewpoints as the original individual that received the information.

Impact
Sharing fake news without fact checking establishes a false narrative that appears to be real and can then go viral as more and more people believe it. This has been documented to have affected elections in the U.K. Brexit Vote, 2016 American Elections and 2018 Brazilian Elections.

Fake Social Media Accounts and Fake News Sites on Facebook

There is a litany of online companies that have a sole purpose of selling the ability to create fake social media profiles. While this goes against the Terms of Service of each of the social media platforms, the use of these social media generators has allowed billions of fake accounts to be created and then used by national and foreign entities. When you add to this mix the ability to create websites that have the appearance of official news, the situation empowers individuals with alternative agendas to create fake news, send it out to fake profiles, and then dissipate it throughout the social media platforms using psychographics to locate those that will believe and share.

How It Works
Foreign intelligence agencies and in particular, Russian Intelligence has devoted decades to manipulating American public opinion as well as causing distrust in government. Part of their plans have included creating and supporting a variety of organizations whose purpose was to appear political or social, but with an agenda to undermine. Each of these organizations had websites as well as fake social media profiles and shared information to real individuals, who then joined and shared with like-minded friends.

Impact
Attention to this enormous problem became national news when a Senate committee interviewed Mark Zuckerberg about the blatant out-of-control acceptance of fake profiles and fake news sources on Facebook and potential impact on the 2016 American Elections. Since that time, Facebook has removed over 1.6 billion false Facebook accounts.

Bot Amplification on Twitter

Those that make use of Twitter for their social media understand that it is one of the most fluid of communication methods. Likes, Tweets, and shares have developed to such a fine degree that they are being used as a gauge to measure what the public is thinking and popular opinions.

How It Works
Twitter’s open platform allows it to be more easily manipulated by bots, and this creates a game-changer for pushing specific agendas across Twitter. Once done, those that are in charge of the bots have made a deliberate change in the landscape of popularity and opinion; altering what is real and creating fake information and news.

Impact
Meanwhile, unwitting real Twitter users are reading, accepting, sharing, and digesting fake information that is designed to change their thinking process.

AI Generated News on YouTube

AI videos are incredibly entertaining in the movie theater, but not so when designed to pass along blatantly misrepresented lies. Our technologies have advanced to the point that almost anyone can access an AI software program, and create a realistic video that is entirely false. Also known as “deepfake,” the problem has been elevated to such a degree that they are being considered a national security threat and are being investigated by U.S. lawmakers.

How It Works
Individuals that are uneducated or just unaware of how deep AI generated fake information is are often those that are sharing these videos as proof or validation of an opinion or point. This condition escalated during the 2016 Presidential election when AI generated YouTube videos were being shared included those of President Obama and Hillary Clinton making statements that were completely fabricated. These videos were shared on social media and became just a few of some of the most popular videos of the conservative mindset.

Impact
“The big worry is that foreign governments will one day fool millions of Americans with AI-generated fake video or audio. Imagine a US politician being depicted as making a racist comment and the clip going viral right before an election. Thanks to today’s machine learning algorithms, a bad actor might be able to pull this off. ” – PC WORLD

Media Literacy Questions to Discern Fake News:

What source created the message?

We know that the media constructs the articles, but we often only see the front face that is being presented. There is a need to have background research on who was the individual, company, or organization that crafted the message.

Are the messages by the media constructed with the use of a creative language and having rules that are their own?

Certain media sources have particular styles of writing and reporting which can be identified; however, some also make use of guidelines and rules to craft their messages with specific language formats for the purpose of influencing opinion and thought.

What tools/techniques were made use of to get my attention?

Examine why a message grabbed your attention to see if there is a distinctive negative or positive technique or tool used.

Is the message designed to be experienced differently by different types of people?

Words and pictures can be translated in a variety of ways based on perception grounded in experience.

What source created the message?Does this source have an innate personal agenda, point of view, or values?

Many sources have specific business models that require positioning information to circle back and complement.

Are there any points of view, values, agendas omitted and or represented in the message?

Look to see if there is a hidden purpose for the report/news deliberately designed that appeases the source’s point of view/agenda with intent to influence you.

Is this reporting, story, image wrapped around ultimate goal(s) of power and profit?

Attracting the right demographic will reinforce the popularity of each media source and allow them to attain increased revenue and power over the populace.

What is the purpose of this message?

Examine what the source is trying to get you to understand, believe, think, rearrange, or be shocked by and will it ultimately enhance the source in some way.