“Fake News”, two simple words that were weaponized by former United States president Donald Trump whenever he was presented or questioned with news he did not agree with. In the post Trump Presidency, the term “ fake news” has become a joke among internet users, and politicians alike, with various memes being created joking at Trump’s use of the term “fake news”. However despite the memes, and jokes made, “fake news”, news that lacks credibility, sources, and focuses on spreading misinformation have become serious issues, attacking the pillars of democracy.
If you have spent any time on social media, most likely you have been a victim of fake news and misinformation. Usually, the fake news is harmless and may result in some awkward interactions and conversations when you realize the news, article, or headline you cited was false, ultimately causing no harm. However, misinformation during times of war, political battles, pandemics, and even simple interactions amongst people who consume media, can aid in the erosion of democracy. Most recently, the spread of misinformation has had a role in the overall perception of the war in Ukraine. With reported russian official and state back media pushing the narrative that Russians are revealed to be exposing American biochemical labs, and that invasion of Chernobyl resulted in information that Ukraine was planning on building “dirty bombs”. While independent fact checkers found the news to be examples of misinformation, its effect on democratic principles were clearly felt.
During the 2020 election, we saw that false media clearly contributed to an attack on Democracy. Right wing news outlets, former president Donald Trump, and other republican candidates argued that election fraud was occurring because of the use of mail in ballots during the pandemic, despite not having any substantial evidence. The effects of this false narrative are still in present to this day, with a large percentage of the United States population still believing that the left committed election fraud in order to get current President Joe Biden into office. This created a lack of trust in the institutions of democracy, and polarization amongst American citizens.
Another international example of misinformation and fake news undermining democracy is the use of Tik Tok, a popular social media app and other sources of online news in the Philippines. Ferdinand Marcos, has benefited from the use of misinformation on Tik Tok, Twitter, and Facebook in order to erase past issues that were done in the Philippines by his father, Dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Despite dictator Ferdinand Marcos, being a dark chapter of filipino history that launched the country into countless debt, had thousands of political enemies, protestors, and civillians round up and tortured, and personal democratic freedoms revoked. Ultimately, under Ferdinand Marcos rule, a mass “people power” uprising occurred, removing him from power. However, recently social media has used disinformation to allow for his son to reach the top of the polling poles, and change history that people were happy during his father’s control.
However, despite disinformation of social media being seen as a threat to democracy, and having the tools to cause or increase democratic erosion, countries are having difficulty tackling the issue. Jonathan Haidt, writer for The Atlantic Times argues that the American life has been uniquely stupid in the past 10 years. He argues that advancments in technological innovation have allowed everyone to be able and establish a platform on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram in which they can use those platforms to create distrust, polarization, and fear in the American people. People that would not have a platform in historical times, now finally have a platform to spread whatever they want. Besides America, other countries such as the Philippines are prone to falling for false information as over 99% of their population has an online presence, and half of their population has trouble distinguishing fake news. The use of social media to spread disinformation is an example of a democratic institution, enaballing democracy to erode through the use of media manipulation. In Democratic countries such as the US that place an emphasis on freedom of speech, expression, and beliefs, tackling media manipulation through the use of fact checkers, restrictions, or corrections is seen as censorship and criticized as canceling culture by those who oppose the decisions. As a result, the use of freedom of speech online, allows for the pillars of democracy to erode within.
The important question is, how are countries combating fake news and media manipulation if it’s such a danger to democracy. There are various examples of countries, recognizing the dangers of misinformation and fake news, and attempting to combat misinformation and its negative effects. As of recently, Turkey has attempted to introduce a new bill titled the “ fake news bill” with efforts to have tighter control and be able to reduce information that is fake, misleading, and is a serious threat to citizens rights to access true information. However, many against the bill argue that Turkey’s attempt to pass the bill in response to misinformation is their justification for issuing a bill that would further narrow down journalists, and their freedoms. Turkey already controls almost 90% of their national media, thus showing that attempts to reduce misinformation and fake news can cross the boundary of progressing democracy by filtering news to ensure credibility, or become an excuse to reduce and limit free speech.
Latin America has also taken a progressive role in their attempt at ensuring information is credible, and factual. Brazil,Mexico, and Colombia, three of Latin America’s biggest democracies have recognized the damage that misinformation can spread, and have empowered groups such as Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center and its Digital Forensic Research Lab in order to combat misinformation. This think tank has partnered with local organizations in Latin America to provide the service of identifying misinformation, and increase digital and media literacy during times when democracy is at its most vulnerable such as elections.
Ultimately, “fake news” is a recent issue that is further establishing itself as a danger to democracy worldwide. Whether it be during times of election, or war, disinformation and lack of media literacy can cause a distrust in democratic institutions, and polarization amongst citizens, As a result, democratic institutions have recognized the danger of misinformation, and have produced policy, organizations, or campaigns in order to reduce fake information from spreading. However, difficulty comes from the country’s ability to not threaten democracy with restrictions on free speech, and battling technological advancements that allow having a platform to become more accessible worldwide.
You did a great job explaining the duality of digital media and connectivity. I think it goes without saying, but yes information is a double edged sword which can be wielded for many contradicting purposes. Overall, great post I enjoyed reading it.
Adolfo, I enjoyed reading through your various examples that clearly highlight the key issues with the spread of fake news. It is surprising to see how easy it has become to disseminate misleading information through the internet. While the internet is an open space that is not currently being very regulated, I would like to see some action in the United States to fight and push back against fake news. However, I would also argue that it is ultimately on the individual consuming any given information to be aware of ways in which false information is most commonly fed to the public. One has to be responsible and take matters into their hands in order to obtain the most accurate information. Even if there were to somehow come about an agency tasked with the notion of combating the spread of false narratives, I do not think that people would be very trusting of it. That is, they might have some underlying agenda and interests to work on, or if it were the government, well many people already do not find them to be much credible. It is disheartening to see how far technology has advanced for the good and bad, and now that anyone can have an online presence, they can also use that platform to cause harm and in some cases even instill fear in people such as the pandemic and past election cycles to target personal goals.
An interesting observation and part of the claim in this article that is not always analyzed in the discussion of fake news, is both the actual role of fake news as a political weapon in the sense of distributing disinformation and as a dismissal of actual information. While the conversation usually surrounds the first since it usually involves the involvement of other foreign agents, the latter is also just as important, not so much in the context of fake news and disinformation tactics but in the conversation of populism and eroding democracy. One new utilization of fake news and addition to the term that is quite interesting though, is the addition of it as domestic propaganda in order to gain support for the war or military action. Whereas the tactic in the past has seen a pattern by which fake news was only utilized for foreign interests, a shift has created the utilization for domestic interests as well. The analysis is very direct when it comes to state run media since there is a very limited amount of intervention within it that can be made, but with social media the discussion is interesting.
On the note of using fact checkers and restrictions, the implications of a potential violation of 1st Amendment rights is not only a legal battle to endeavor, but a concerning route to take. This is because not only is there a decision as to who or what gets to independently verify information, but who or what gets to decide the verifiers to be as well. And while solutions are taken from an American perspective due to most social media platforms being run by Americans (Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Adam Mosseri), from an international perspective there can be backlash to an even stronger Western control of media, which in itself can be fuel for other countries. Overall, the fight is an interesting one since the issue is not just domestic and can change the relations we have with other countries.
Though populism in the United States has risen and taken form in that of a right-wing party, this analysis is one that is interesting as it is taking into account another country and focusing on a left-wing candidate in particular. Your analysis demonstrates not only how populist candidates can take different forms, but the factors that attribute to their success occurring, which in this case are: rising prices, exiting discontent with current government official(s), and a volatile economic state While the United States and other countries typically face an election in which there is one single populist candidate, versus a candidate that represents an opposing party, the case of Columbia is interesting as it is one where there is more than one populist candidates running for election. Even more so, not only is there more than one populist candidate, the candidates belong to the opposite aisle of the political spectrum or party of one another. This is an important situation as the implication is that not only do citizens or other parties disapprove of the candidate, there is enough substance in circumstance for even those who correspond to the same party of the current ruling official in question, to make an attempt to make a populist movement to strip them from their position. The combination of a two party populist candidacy and how this will be received is what makes the case study of Colombia important.
Furthermore, another interesting segment of the analysis that stood out, was contained in what populist candidates actually entail for the country in terms of results. While populism can certainly take form in the case of negative results, lots of rhetoric or misinformation, and false promises, it does not necessarily mean that the outcome is always negative. While in the United States, populism can be hit or miss, the notion of populism as a vessel for democracy against corruption in some countries is a strategy to evaluate its effectiveness and necessity.
I found your article and, in particular, your argument regarding the spread of disinformation and the two-sided nature of social media to be very interesting. I also like how you remarked on the work of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, on combatting disinformation and am very curious as to how, with Brazil in particular, such actions might take place given Brazil’s backsliding.
Your article brought up an interesting topic, and it was well researched.
The development of the internet allows people to receive news a lot quicker than before. The information we get in one day equals to ancient people received in a year. Therefore, learning how to discern accurate and fake information is one of the essential skills everyone should work on. Besides being aware of receiving misinformation, people should also be mindful of sharing fake news. The fakest news became powerful because many people and influencers shared it.
I found your article to be very informative about the tactics of fake news and how to contain it. I had no idea that Ferdinand Marcos manipulated TikTok to help clear his name and get back into office. This highlights the power social media has and even more so how much we need to contain fake news on social platforms. If Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok can be weaponized so successfully to the point of having people overlook their nation’s history, who knows what may happen in the future as these platforms continue to modernize.