Disinformation, more commonly known as “fake news” has been a consistent problem in recent years for several reasons. One common issue that continues to arise is the use of disinformation to effectively shift public opinion on political figures. Most notably, disinformation has been used to influence public opinion on candidates during election seasons, which, as seen in the 2016 United States Presidential election, can have devastating effects on the results.
Disinformation was recently defined in a report by the Library of Congress as “false information deliberately and often covertly spread . . . in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.” Essentially, disinformation acts as an ever-evolving tool that can be used to help change or expedite how the public interprets individuals, policies, or other general categories of opinion. Most recently, disinformation has been used to influence public opinion on the Coronavirus pandemic and the upcoming 2020 Presidential election.
Social media has emerged as a popular platform for these fake accounts to spread disinformation, and while governments and around the world are attempting to implement policies to combat this issue, disinformation methods are evolving much more quickly than policy responses can keep up with.
Also contributing to the fight against fake news are numerous social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter. Examples of these efforts include fact-checking algorithms used by these platforms as well as constant monitoring of social media posts in an attempt to find and delete fake news accounts. Twitter recently discovered 70 fake accounts on the platform that were being used to bash President Donald Trump’s competitors in his ongoing reelection campaign.
Though President Trump has been exceptionally vocal about the negative effects of fake news, even going as far as to publicly accuse several news outlets of participating in the activity, there are many who believe his campaign is using fake news accounts as a tactic to get him ahead in the election race. For example, several prominent news outlets such as the Washington Post and the New York Times have claimed that President Trump’s campaign is built on disinformation.
A larger concern, however, is that other countries may be using disinformation to push their own questionable agendas. Russia has been repeatedly accused of using disinformation to interfere with American Politics by creating fake news accounts that actively work to undermine political campaigns such as that of Joe Biden.
Disinformation is not only an issue in American Politics. Illiberal regimes including Russia, Turkey, and Iran have been using disinformation tactics on social media as a repression technique, as well as to build domestic support. An article by The Washington Post referred to these countries’ use of disinformation as a “control mechanism.”
With the 2020 presidential election upon us, and the results right around the corner, combatting disinformation with policy has never been more pertinent. However, the ever-evolving stealth of fake news methods is not the only challenge preventing the end of disinformation.
President Trump’s recent executive order centered mainly around the end of censorship on social media platforms in what he claimed to be infringing on the people’s guaranteed right to free speech. While this policy may have been made with good intent, one major repercussion is increased difficulty in fighting the development and spread of disinformation.
Despite this new roadblock in the fight against fake news, many believe the issue would have been just as present without the implementation of President Trump’s executive order. According to a recent threat assessment by the United States Intelligence Community, many of America’s adversaries, including Russia and China, have become “more adept at using social media to alter how we think, behave, and decide.”
With social media becoming increasingly present in the daily lives of individuals around the world, it is nearly impossible to stop the creation of fake news accounts and even more so the global spread of disinformation. While many governments are continuously developing new policies to combat the issue, fake news accounts are becoming much harder to identify. Liberal regimes fact the additional challenge of trying to create policies that don’t infringe on the people’s right to free speech and expression.
There is no doubt that disinformation is a very prevalent and daunting issue. The best tactics people can employ to fight fake news include fact-checking information found on social media and to report those accounts and posts which seem ingenuine or false. Other methods include pushing the government to prioritize the creation of anti-disinformation policies by writing one’s respective representatives and educating one’s peers on how they can effectively spot and report fake news. Regardless of the method one chooses to employ, the first, and arguably most important, step is to spread awareness of the issue so that the public can become more guarded against false influences.