Elections and fake news

Elections and fake news

In just 60 days we will have presidential elections in Turkey. As there are still many unknowns about the process and the candidates, every bit of information is vital. 

Indeed, people everywhere have never been hungrier for political news than they are today, and this creates an atmosphere ready to be exploited for fake news producers. The tactics used in the U.S. elections could be used in Turkey too. We know now that through companies like Cambridge Analytica some forces targeted U.S. voters on Facebook with fake news in order to encourage them to vote for certain candidates.

It is globally well-known that in times of political divisions voter turnout is higher and in peaceful times voter turnout is much lower. People tend to act more politically when they think there is something valuable at stake, and fake news delivers just that.

For example, you can take an emotional photo of a fallen U.S. soldier in Afghanistan from a few years back and write a story about how he was killed in Iraq to create a favorable public opinion about U.S. troops remaining in Iraq. Or you can write a fake story about how the opposition candidate secretly plans to end farming to get rural votes on your side.

We also know that fake news spreads faster.

According the biggest study to date into fake news, the truth takes six times longer to be seen by 1,500 people on Twitter than misinformation.

The study was conducted by Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, and Sinan Aral at MIT, and was published in the journal Science. It specifically examined how rapidly fake news spreads on Twitter, and classified news as true or false by using information from six fact-checking organizations. Researchers looked at 126,000 stories on Twitter, tweeted by around 3.5 million users more than 4.5 million times between 2006 and 2017.

The study found that humans, not bots, were primarily responsible for the spread of disinformation. It also found that lies were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than the truth — even when controlling for factors like whether the account was verified or not, the number of followers, and how old the account was.

Some of the parties involved in Turkey’s upcoming elections may well try to use fake news in their favor. This has indeed become the nature of elections around the world. So what can we do to neutralize the fake news effect?

Aral, one of the MIT researchers, suggests that news reports should be labeled by news platforms in the same way that food items are labeled. This method, he thinks, will over time teach users how to identify fake news when they are subjected to it.

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