Fake News: Only those who want to be manipulated

Fake news affect us less than we thought. But the mass of unfiltered information and new technologies are strengthening conspiracy theories. What's right, it does not matter anymore.


Anyone can become a victim of campaigns on the Net today, as the example of Richard Gutjahr shows. The German journalist became the focus of conspiracy theorists, imperial citizens and anti-Semites after he happened to be in the vicinity of two attacks in 2016. At that time, on July 14, a truck raced through a crowd in Nice, and on July 22, a man ran amok in a Munich shopping center. Gutjahr reported on both events. Since then crude theories circulating on the Internet about him and his family, they are personally threatened, he is repeatedly associated with the deeds. But when he reported appropriate posts to Facebook, the network did not respond. Always and again not.

At the South-by-Southwest Technology Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Gutjahr told its story after discussing fake news. In the round sat the Facebook manager Shaarik Zafar. The journalist confronted him in the question and answer session with the inaction of his company. "Is my family just collateral damage for you?" Gutjahr asked. Much more than an apology and the offer to take care of his case, Zafar could not offer. Maybe you can not blame him personally - but his company already.

Gutjahr's example illustrates how few networks act against campaigns and false positives on their own platforms. And what they can do at all. Although Facebook is now characterized the seriousness of news sites, also users can report in their opinion, false information. Only this brings little to a single person affected like Gutjahr. It is very hard to fight lies against the internet.

No longer agree on facts

The topic of Facebook and other platforms has been around for almost three years. Ever since Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidential election, the public has been discussing how to spot fake news and contain conspiracy theories. After the election, several media attributed Trump's victory to various disinformation campaigns that made him look very good and vilified his opponent Hillary Clinton.

Fake News has become a household name, meaning all imaginable phenomena of semi or no longer factual messages. It is deliberately fake information or those that spread rumors, lies and conspiracy theories. The motivations behind them are different, have political, financial or social reasons. However, the term is also controversial because Trump has used it himself to devalue unwanted reporting.

We are all much less manipulatable by misinformation than it seems. For example, fake news does not influence what we believe, how we think or who we vote. Since 2016, scientists have been intensely concerned with the deliberate manipulation of intentionally dispersed false information, and found that while untruthful information is disseminated, it is often poorly understood. And above all, they do not change our fundamental views or opinions ( Journalof Economic Perspectives: Allcott et al., 2017).

Even so, fake news is not harmless: even if people do not necessarily believe in an untrue event or take on specific views just because they've read misinformation, they may reinforce our existing beliefs. Those who supported Trump in 2016, for example, were more inclined to share fake news on Twitter - because they underpinned their own world view ( Science: Grinberg et al., 2019).

The Problem: Even if you confront people with the truth, they sometimes prefer to believe what they have read. This does not just apply to Trump supporters. "We used to disagree with each other in our opinions, but now we're not agreeing on facts," author and consultant Wajahat Ali said on a panel during the South by Southwest.

As a result, he sees a media confidence crisis. According to a 2016 poll, only 32 percent of Americans believed that mass publications accurately and fairly reported after the US election. In recent years, the proportion has risen again, to last 45 percent. But there are big differences according to political convictions: while 76 percent of Democrats trust in established media, only 21 percent are Republicans.

ref: zeit