If your morning routine included reading about your co-worker’s dissatisfaction with Tesco’s plastic footprint, ogling at a photo of your second-cousin’s baby or commenting on Leo’s media budget, there is a strong possibility that you used a form of social media. The rise of Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites has caused even the most antiquated members of society to ‘like’, ‘love’ and ‘share’ information at an unprecedented rate, and as a result it has become increasingly difficult to discern whether the information we read is factual or false.
Colloquially referred to as fake news, the spread of false information masquerading as fact is a pervasive issue. A recent European Commission survey indicated that at least half of the respondents in all EU member states came across fake news at least once a week, with 85% of those surveyed believing that fake news was a problem in their country. “Wrong or bad information masquerading as good information is nothing new, although in a time of proliferation of information generally via social media, it is probably more prevalent than ever before,” explained Dr Fergal Quinn, a journalism lecturer at University of Limerick (UL).
Thus in a world of snapping, posting and tweeting, it is crucial that we remind ourselves that not everything we read is true. “People who are concerned that something may be “fake news” ought to question the source of the information, they should seek confirmation of the information from other reliable sources, they should also consider the authority of the publisher of the information,” advised Press Ombudsman Peter Feeney. And whilst we play our role in combatting the spread of fake news, it is important that social media sites are held accountable too. “Social media needs to have in place mechanism to consider claims that something is “fake news”, and the means to assess the claim that something is fake,” said Feeney. “As time may be of the essence, it is important that social media can respond in a timely manner to accusations that they have posted fake news.”
Despite calls from international bodies to increase the regulation of social media sites, the sphere of online sharing has remained relatively unregulated. However, it seems that this is about to change. Next week, the European Commission will be releasing guidelines to help technology companies and governments diminish the spread of “online disinformation”. Although these guidelines have already come under fire for not providing sufficiently stringent penalties, they mark an important turning point in an area that has remained unregulated for far too long. At the very least, these guidelines indicate that governments have begun to recognize the ubiquitous nature of fake news and hopefully in time, unregulated information sharing will become a thing of the past.