More so for citizens in developing countries who often lack access to strong institutions, free press and ways of holding their leadership to account. Ultimately they become more susceptible to the dangers of fake news. And they spread it further.
We wondered if technology could play a role in helping users in the developing world ‘fight the fakers’. So, when Trystan Kunemann, a year 11 student at Eltham College, joined BJSS on a two-week work experience placement, we asked him to research it.
BJSS offers several high-quality work experience placements every year and we focus on interesting assignments that develop professional skills. In the first week of his placement, Trystan researched fake news, its causes and potential ways of controlling its spread. In his second week, we asked Trystan to produce an article to discuss his findings.
This article presents the unique perspective of a digital-native.
During his two-week placement, Trystan enjoyed access to skilled BJSS researchers and technologists, and when he composed his article, Trystan received dedicated support from BJSS’ Public Relations partner, MWWPR.
Fighting the Fakers
Most of us are now familiar with the term ‘fake news’. We’ve seen how it swayed the Brexit referendum and US Presidential elections. While fake news is defined as ‘misinformation designed to deceive’, it’s much more powerful than a simple collection of words. It has the power to influence people socially and politically but, more worryingly, it has the dangerous potential to inflict serious harm. In developing countries, such as India and Kenya, fake news is the catalyst of many problems resulting in violence and murder.
In India, more than 20 innocent people have been murdered in the past few months due to a single lie, accusing others of belonging to gangs trying to abduct children, which was spread via WhatsApp to millions of different people. The killings mostly happened in rural villages where social media is a new form of communication.
There are over 200 million WhatsApp users in the country with approximately 300 million to come in the next few years. More users will bring more fake news which makes it an important issue to tackle, especially in countries such as India that are currently gaining more access to the internet and people don’t necessarily know how to recognise or dismiss fake news.
In Kenya, fake news had a significant impact on the 2017 election which saw President Uhuru Kenyatta re-elected; a result that caused protests, riots and the death of 33 people in Nairobi alone. According to a survey, 90% of Kenyans said they were exposed to fake news in the run up to the vote and 49% said they used social media as their main source of news. Again, there’s a correlation between the increasing spread of fake news and internet accessibility – the latter of which has grown ten-fold in Kenya from 2010 to 2017.
With the rapid rise of the internet comes a digital illiteracy epidemic. So, what can be done to help to tackle the problem of fake news in developing countries?
Publishers play an important role in identifying and removing bogus stories and this can be achieved by embracing emerging technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI). Using machine learning, news sites can create an algorithm which can be fed examples of fake news articles, learning from their characteristics in order to help identify other examples of illegitimate stories. While this is a good solution for news sites it is harder to implement on encrypted platforms such as WhatsApp which cannot read conversations, making it harder to intercept stories. Implementing an AI chip into phones could provide a solution here – allowing WhatsApp to update its app with an inbuilt machine learning model that can intercept incoming articles, analyse them against the model on the device and flag those it believes to be fake.
Using AI does have its limitations, however. For example, there is an issue with the subjective nature of what exactly constitutes fake news and the algorithm may become bias towards certain stories depending on what it’s taught.
A more effective, bottom-up solution would be to educate people on how to use the internet and tell the difference between real and fake news. This is particularly crucial for the younger generation who are more vulnerable to be exposed to fake news as social media continues to grow.
Governments should work with social media platforms and adopt a long-term strategy to implement digital education on fake news into the existing education system to help tackle the root cause of fake news spreading – a lack of understanding. This could be through methods such as showing tips in traditional, trusted media outlets such as newspapers and magazines, running courses and educating young people in schools. Instead of trying to remove fake news from the internet altogether, this will help to prevent people believing fake news in the first place.