Earlier in 2019, BBC held a Trusted News Summit to come up with a comprehensive plan to fight off the growing threat of fake news and disinformation. BBC is working with some of the biggest names in the tech and publishing world including Google, Twitter, and Facebook and has so far devised a few different schemes to fight fake news including an early warning system, media education, voter information, and shared learning.
The summit was held in light of some of the biggest world events being affected by false information shared on the internet as actual news.
Origin Story: 2016 United States Presidential Election
Misinformation and propaganda is nothing new. In fact, “fake news” can be traced back to nearly a century ago. But the term didn’t explode until the 2016 United States presidential election when President Trump (then candidate) complained about fake news and biased media that deliberately portrayed him in a negative light.
However, it’s been public information for nearly a year that the Russian government used fake IDs on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to target the American voters with fake news and misinformation which in all likelihood, lead to Trump’s victory.
Fake News Rampant in the World’s Biggest Democracy
Unfortunately, the 2016 US elections weren’t a secluded case of social media being a critical tool in the spread of fake news and propaganda, Indonesia and Philipines being some of the other cases. However, the population most affected by fake news is undoubtedly India, where more than 1.3 billion people’s lives where affected when fake news and political misinformation helped the country elect its next government.
But while Facebook and Twitter are used for spreading misinformation, the main weapon of choice for trolls and misguided political supporters is WhatsApp. In fact, fake news in India has gotten so bad that 1 every 2 Indians receive fake news through Facebook and WhatsApp.
Fake News Leads to Mass Murder In Myanmar
About two years ago in August of 2017, a campaign against Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar began on Facebook. Fake stories about how Muslims are committing endless crimes, how Islam and Buddhism are incompatibly, and other hate posts flooded Facebook. Various sources have verified that it was Myanmar military personnel and hard-line monks who orchestrated this anti-Rohingya campaign on Facebook, promoting murders and rapes of the Muslim minority.
In the end, more than 671,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to leave Myanmar in what was certainly the largest forced human migration in recent history. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time false information and evil portrayal of a minority have lead to genocide.
On a platform like WhatsApp, content cannot individually be moderated, but on a social media platform like Facebook, it certainly can. However, Facebook grossly overestimated the capabilities of its AI moderation system which did not even understand the local language, and thus failed to remove any of the offensive content.
BBC and Tech Giants Come Up With Solutions
Seeing the scope and the degree of power social media holds over today’s political, social, and economic environments and how easily this power can be manipulated by fake news, it only makes sense for companies to install barriers to the spread of misinformation. This is what the Trusted News Summit discussed and through the summit, tech giants have created multiple plans to tackle the threat of fake news.
One such plan is to use an early warning system that would be installed on multiple platforms and alert different organizations when it detects fake information that could have a detrimental effect on human life. Early detection would help triggering an early response, effectively killing the fake story before it can make ripples.
Other methods of curbing fake news include media education, voter information, and shared learning, all of that focus on teaching internet users and voters how they can differentiate between credible news sources and fake news. The companies will pay special attention to high-profile elections where fake news is more likely to be used to manipulate voters.
According to BBC Director General Tony Hall, “Disinformation and so-called fake news is a threat to us all. At its worst, it can present a serious threat to democracy and even to people’s lives… This summit has shown a determination to take collective action to fight this problem and we have agreed on some crucial steps towards this.”
Their plans still seem in their earlier stages and information revolving the summit is limited.