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How fake news permeates political life

How fake news permeates political life

Taking a look at real-life examples. What is the EU doing?

The spread of fake news has become a significant concern in recent years, especially because of the rise of social media. Trying to soften the consequences, the EU has been working to address this issue, but in today’s digital world, it is becoming almost impossible to track and control the entire flow of information in cyberspace. 

The side effects of disinformation

The problem has become so acute that in the last few years alone, fake news has been at the heart of some of the most important events in globally - such as the US presidential election, the British referendum, or Russian-Ukrainian conflicts.

Since it may change people's attitudes and behaviors as well as the general public's perception and governmental decisions, fake news can have devastating consequences on politics. One way it can influence the political sphere is by spreading propaganda or ideology. False or biased information can be used to promote a particular political agenda and can be spread through various channels, such as social media, news websites, and even traditional media outlets. This can lead to the formation of echo chambers, where individuals are exposed only to information that supports their pre-existing beliefs and are shielded from alternative viewpoints.

Fake news can also be used to discredit political opponents or to manipulate public opinion in favor of a particular candidate or party. This can be done through the spread of false or exaggerated claims about an individual or group or by using disinformation to create confusion or sow doubt about the credibility of a rival.

Three instances when disinformation has turned the course of history in our own times

One example of when fake news influenced an election was during the 2016 US presidential election. Fake news articles were extensively disseminated on social media during that election, and some observers believe they may have impacted the outcome in favor of Donald Trump. The Trump campaign was predominantly done through social media, with targeted advertising and strategic content distribution on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Additionally, the Trump team employed standard campaign strategies such as organizing rallies, talking with the media, and conducting polling and focus groups. The campaign was notable for its unconventional and occasionally contentious tactics, which included presenting false or misleading statements, assaulting political opponents, and employing divisive rhetoric.

University of Oxford research, for example, discovered that a large volume of false news was posted on social media during the election and that pro-Trump fake news was circulated more extensively on Twitter than pro-Clinton fake news. Furthermore, Trump and his followers made several incorrect or misleading assertions during the campaign, which may have affected voters‘ opinions. 

It is difficult to establish exactly how fake news affected the Brexit referendum. However, there is evidence that false news, particularly on social media, did play a role in influencing the vote. Once again, University of Oxford research, discovered that a large volume of false information was posted on social media during the Brexit campaign and that pro-Leave fake news was disseminated more extensively on Twitter than pro-Remain fake news.

Furthermore, the assertion that the UK sends the European Union (EU) £350 million each week, which could be used to support the National Health Service (NHS) if Britain left the EU, was an example of fake news that spread through the campaign. This assertion was extensively circulated on social media and featured prominently on the side of a campaign bus. However, that was eventually discredited as untrue because the UK receives a rebate on its EU payments and only pays a net sum of around £190 million every week.

Fake news and misinformation have long been used to sway public opinion and shape international relations, such as in the context of Russia, particularly given the country's present state of conflict. During the war in eastern Ukraine, Russian official media outlets and social media accounts have spread incorrect or misleading information about the situation on the ground, including allegations that the Ukrainian military was committing crimes against civilians and that Russia was not involved. These assertions were used to legitimize Russia's activities in the area and to affect world perceptions of the war.

EU actions to tackle disinformation

To counteract the spread of false news, the EU has been striving to address this issue and has taken a number of steps. For example, the bloc has developed a disinformation code of practice that establishes voluntary criteria for internet platforms to follow to combat the spread of fake news. Furthermore, the EU has established a task force to monitor and battle misinformation, as well as financed research and projects to counteract the spread of fake news. 

One of the most recent actions undertaken was the introduction of the Digital Services Act (DSA) in 2022 which aims to create more accountability among internet platforms. The DSA addresses a number of issues related to the online environment, including the spread of illegal content, the handling of personal data, and the liability of digital platforms for the content that is posted on their platforms. Thus, the DSA is expected to have significant implications for the operation of digital platforms and services within the EU. 

Significant progress in the fight against disinformation is the measures aimed at the promotion of media literacy among European citizens. For example, the EU has funded projects to promote media literacy among young people, such as the "Media and Information Literacy for All" project.  Another example is the "Media4Change” program that aims to promote media literacy and digital skills among disadvantaged groups in the EU, such as refugees, migrants, and people with disabilities. "Media Literacy for Democracy" on the other hand, is a project that provides resources and support to help adults develop the skills and knowledge they need to be informed and active citizens in the digital age.

To wrap up, the EU promotes media literacy through a variety of initiatives and measures, designed to help people of all ages and backgrounds develop the skills and knowledge they need to be informed and active citizens in the digital age. By doing so, the Union aims to reduce the risks of the spread of fake news and its impact on social and political life.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union.



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