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Online Phenomena: Fact or Fake?

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Through the daily flood of information online we are missing the time to read content. Within seconds we like, share, comment and retweet. All of which is ideal for the spreading of fake news. In the year 2021, with this many elections the topic is highly charged. Part 2 of our series: Digital phenomena online, is all about fake news & Co. and what they mean for our democracy.

The Internet is labelled by attributes like speed, range, anonymity. Everyone can write when he wants and what he wants and reach many people in a short time. That is particularly problematic when it comes to false information, so-called fake news. 

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All fake news have one thing in common: They are designed to impress, annoy or confuse people so that many share them. 

Fake news often appear as if they were reputable reports. Fake news is distributed on purpose to manipulate social or political directions or pursue commercial objectives. They are freely invented, torn from the context, strongly dramatized or just a claim. Wrong information, for example, is spread about certain groups of people to exclude them. Or political opponents are defamed and represented as incompetent. Fake news's form may vary, from invented, sensational headings, manipulated pictures, wrong connections between image and text, up to wrongly interpreted studies or manufactured videos. Referring to unpleasant information as "fake news" is another phenomenon one can observe.

The consequence is always identical: Disconcertion. Nearly half of the German population don't see themselves in the position to differentiate between real or fake news, according to the D21 digital index 2020/2021

Deepfakes - Can we still trust our eyes and ears?

Videos in which people sound like they are drunk because of voice manipulation or politicians who suddenly say things about their opponents, which they would presumably never have said in public. That is no future vision but reality. The so-called deepfakes are particularly convincing. The term consists of "Deep Learning ", quick learning artificial intelligence and "Fake ", forgery. With the help of artificial intelligence, faces and voices are being manipulated. The technique behind it gets better and better; simultaneously, it gets easier to use. For the human eye, the manipulation is barely recognizable.

Deepfakes are far more than just a simple time past. They are frequently used to insert women's faces, primarily well-known actresses – without their consent - to integrate into compromising videos or discredit political opponents. The victims are burdened with the consequences of such videos. 

Why do people believe fake news?

All fake news have one thing in common: They are designed to impress, annoy or confuse people so that many share them. Fake news become a kind of "false truth ". Even though many of them are checked by fact checks, exposed and the research published.

Proven is, repetitions work. The more frequent we get a piece of information – possibly even from different sources – the more likely we are to it, believe it or at least parts of it. Our defective memory supports this effect; often, we do not remember the source we got the information from and whether this was serious or wrong.

How does disinformation endanger our democracy?

To discuss social and political problems in public is indispensable for democracy. A free and independent forming of opinion is necessary, and for that, we need fact-based information and trust in its correctness.

Fake news shake the confidence in politics and media. They are especially dangerous when they are used for political pandering and propaganda. In times of elections, fake news is booming. They poison political discourses and destroy debates.

Everyone can do something: Be alert!

Fake news is a phenomenon for which we are all needed. Here a few quick and practical tips:

  • Listening to your gut feeling! Then like or share.
  • Check sources and pay attention to details. Additionally, look into the imprint.
  • Fact-checkers are helpful - who already examined the contents of the information? Professional fact checker organizations like FactCheck, CORRECTIV or Mimikama publish their results availably online.
  • Check it yourself! Use the reverse image search on Google or for videos the YouTube DataViewer
  • Mark personal opinions as such – name quoted sources. That helps others with their interpretation.

Whether we believe something online or not depends not only on the content but also on how it is formulated. That is why the next part of our series revolves around the power of language in the digital world. We hope you'll be there!

Find out more about the #nohatespeech campaign here.

Lena

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