The truth about fake newsThe truth about fake news

Bus found at South Pole fake

Making up the news and faking stories to fool or entertain is nothing new. In the 1980’s a UK national paper even celebrated this – stories such as WWII BOMBER FOUND ON MOON, or ATHLETE WITH THREE LEGS BREAKS SPRINT RECORD. These stories amused – and were immediately recognisable for what they are.

But the arrival of social media has meant real and fictional stories are now presented in such a similar way that it can sometimes be difficult to tell the two apart.

While the internet has enabled the sharing of knowledge in ways that previous generations could only have dreamed of, it has also demonstrated the line, (attributed to Winston Churchill), that "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on".

So with research suggesting an increasing proportion of adults are getting their news from social media, it's likely that more and more of us are seeing - and believing - information that is not just inaccurate, but totally made up. And in turn, unless we take great care, we’re influenced by it.

There are hundreds of fake news websites, from those which deliberately imitate real life newspapers, to government propaganda sites, and even those which tread the line between satire and plain misinformation.

But why go to such trouble? The answer is there is big money to be made from sites by The National Report which host web advertising, and these potentially huge rewards entice website owners to move away from funny satirical jokes and towards more believable content because it is likely to be more widely shared.

Meanwhile Facebook has acknowledged the problem. After claims that faked news stories assisted the election of US President Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg said he’s taking the issue seriously. It’s estimated (Facebook’s own assessment) that 90 per cent of its content is ‘true’. But ten per cent isn’t and it matters because for an increasing number of people, particularly Americans, Facebook is becoming the primary source of news coverage.

What is extraordinary is that Governments turn a blind eye. Fake wine? Fake car tyres? The law is clear and those responsible would be prosecuted and the source closed down. Fake news? The very stuff which influences society? So far the politicians have stayed away from this issue (except if it’s to criticise Russia and its clearly false claims and stories). Their lack of leadership is, in part, what makes it possible.