When news becomes a new form of fiction

The phenomena of fake news is moving out of the digital arena and into real life where misguided reactions have deep social consequences. 

Ingrid Colanicchia
Ingrid Colanicchia MicroMega, Italy
Source: MicroMega
When news becomes a new form of fiction - NewsMavens
Social media icons. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

On February 4, 2017, the website  "Science Post" published an online article with the following title: "70% of Facebook users read only the titles of scientific articles before commenting". Below the title, however, there was no actual test, only “lorem ipsum” filler. Guess how many times the empty article was shared? Thousands of times.

It is worth asking how many of these shares were ironic, and how many were those of people disinclined to read anything beyond the title.

In these times of fake news and alternative facts, both information professionals and the social network users should be asking themselves these questions. The web is full of false information disseminated without any control and created mainly for two reasons:

1) to get money through clickbait, a term which indicates web content whose main function is to attract as many internet users as possible to generate online advertising revenue;

2) pure propaganda, as demonstrated by the latest presidential elections in the US, which were tainted by a powerful misinformation campaign.

To illustrate the impact of this: one man organized an armed self-investigation to the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington D.C. after reading online rumors that it was the center of a pedophile trafficking ring led by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The incident ended with a shooting and arrest, and is now referred to as "pizzagate".

In Italy, fake news grows is the fertile soil of migrant phobias. In the last few years, we have heard every possible accusation: "Migrants receive 35 euros a day from the State", "The cooperatives that handle migrant reception have ties to the mafia", "Migrants live comfortably well in hotels", "They bring diseases" and of course the ever popular "They steal our jobs".

One of the saddest episodes in this strong of incidents occured last April when an article spread online about the politician Laura Boldrini -- who is often targeted on social media for her outspoken pro-migrant opinion. The article stated that her sister was the head of 340 cooperatives dealing with assistance to migrants, and that Ms. Boldrini’s position was due to her personal interests. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Her sister had never had anything to do with the migrant sector. Furthermore, she had died long before this fake news came out.

Therefore, it is crucial not to adopt double vision that sees only good news on one hand - the printed newspapers that herald the truth -- and only fake news on the other: the social networks. In fact, journalism is often responsible for spreading fake news, due to the precariousness of the sector and the pressure to generate revenue, which prevents journalists from doing in-depth research.

Details from the story:

  •  Facebook has over 2 billion active monthly users; Twitter has over 330 million (data from 2017).
  • There are at least 28 million Italians who use Facebook at least once a month (data from 2016).
  • n Italy, Facebook's importance as first hand information rose from 5% of Internet users in 2011 to 14% in 2014 (source).
  • A recent Columbia University study found that 59% of the links shared on Twitter were never been clicked on.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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