Disinformation and business - how to spot fake news

Disinformation and business - how to spot fake news
Articles and interesting facts

WARNING, share before they delete it (the media is hiding this from you): the best protection against chemtrails is tinfoil hats sprayed with vinegar. The earth is flat! Humans have never been to the moon. And such autism? It's definitely caused by vaccinations. Funny? Crying? Maybe both. But "news" and "guaranteed information" of this type are unfortunately part of our everyday reality. Learn what fake news is and how to defend yourself against it.

When we were little and our then classmates and friends tried to hang bulges on our noses, we usually dismissed them with a dismissive snort of "cage talk" or something similar. But times have advanced, information is pouring in from all sides - one is almost afraid to open the fridge - and the disinformers are no longer trying to hang bulls on our noses, but straight up bulls (not the golden Sicilian ones, of course). Of course, as in the case of the aforementioned tinfoil hats, we can laugh heartily at such "independent" or "alternative truths", but if they are more sophisticated, they can, in the extreme, damage our business (there is a little truth in every speck, right). What to do about it? Let's get into the "typology of lies" first.

Fake news definition 

What is fake news? For many of us, this neologism has become a kind of synonym for everything false that is spread by the media and mass media or the Internet. But it is not quite true. It is generally false information, so-called misinformation or disinformation. Sometimes it can even be hoaxes. In order not to get lost in the flood of terms, let us at least briefly define them one by one. 

  • Misinformation - although it is false information, it is not systematically or deliberately disseminated (i.e. it does not have a goal). The term is now also used to refer to information that was initially stated to be true but later turned out not to be true. 
  • Disinformation - this is where it comes in, it is false information that is spread deliberately, systematically and with the aim of deceiving or manipulating people. Contrary to popular belief, misinformation does not have to be completely fabricated, it is enough to present true information in a misleading context (e.g. statements by insignificant people presented as a reflection of the mood of society). 
  • Satire, parody and urban legends - these are deliberately and sometimes systematically disseminated false information, but with the aim of entertaining, not manipulating or deceiving. There are two important differences between fake news, parody, urban legends and satire: the publisher makes it clear that the news is fake and the reader perceives it as fake. Nevertheless, parody and satire are sometimes classified in the genre of fake news. 
  • Fake news - literally 'fake news', systematically disseminated misinformation in a journalistic unit whose characteristics are intentionality, believability and tabloid character (it must arouse emotions). Why? Angry people are much more likely to believe fake news than calmer ones. Fake news is usually based at least in part on true information to give it credibility. The British have a pretty apt definition of fake news: it is deliberate misinformation masquerading as news. 
    • Example: the anti-Zeman demonstration on 17 November 2014 was organised by the US embassy in the Czech Republic. The disinformation website found out that she worked as an English teacher for the US Embassy in Prague. All it took was a sufficiently creative "spin" on the information and the fake news was out. 
  • Hoax - based on the archaic English word hocus (trick). It is an alarmist false news, nowadays spread mainly by e-mails. But it is also used in propaganda. Current hoaxes circulated by email or on Facebook include, for example, the denigration of products with the frog logo that are said to contain dangerous substances. In reality, this is the Rainforest Alliance logo, which certifies products from small farms that are managed organically and also respect social standards. According to reputable information sources, no unauthorised substances have been detected in these products.

Disinformation and business 

This chapter could easily be called "Disinformation - Business". Political agitation and propaganda aside, there is one thing disinformationists love. Money. And if they are able, they can make quite a good "bang for their buck" by lying. Example: pro-Kremlin media (RT, NTV, Rossiya 1, TV Zvezda, etc.) had an ad revenue of about $7 million on YouTube between 2017-2018, according to research by Omelet. If aggregated, the channels surveyed would have had over 30 billion views over the period studied and would have finished in 3rd place in the global viewership rankings. Decent, if it wasn't so bad. Unlike quality media, a misinformation, manipulative and sensationalist site can very easily attract attention and get traffic that can then be monetized. According to a 2018 MIT study, fake news spreads faster than real news, and if it involves politics, it spreads up to 6 times faster. 

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A peek into the Czech pond. The Prague Security Studies Institute published a study of 54 Czech disinformation websites this year and identified the distribution of their revenue: 

  • 42% - voluntary contributions from readers, 
  • 33% - advertising, 
  • 8% - e-commerce, 
  • 8% - publishers, 
  • 6% - paid content, 
  • 3% - print sales. 

Let's stop with ads. Fortunately, their share in the overall revenue mix of misinformers has been declining steadily as civil society activity and awareness of the brand protection risks associated with placing ads on misinformation websites has grown. Two specific examples have come to light where Czech disinformation websites have had to close down completely on the grounds that they have been "boycotted by advertising companies". Nevertheless, according to the Hlídací pes server, the most visited Czech disinformation website will earn (in autumn 2023) over CZK 190,000 per month from advertisements. Unfortunately, the situation in the Czech Republic is not rosy: according to surveys, up to a quarter of Czechs believe in fake news. This is an alarmingly high number.

Misinformation and unfair competition 

Although the information in the penultimate paragraph is a kind of first positive sign, the truth is that misinformation is often fed by entrepreneurs and companies themselves. Why do they do it? They simply pay for their advertising. That is the vast majority of cases. Don't do it. No way. If your brand appears on a site with toxic or misinformation content, it will do you a lot of harm in the eyes of your customers. If as many as a quarter of respondents in the Czech Republic believe fake news, it could mean reputational damage for the other 75%. Moreover, this does not mean that if someone reads, say, Aeronet, that they do not read, say, Blesk (admittedly, from mud to puddle, but compared to Aeronet it is a more serious medium, at least from the point of view of advertising safety). 

Extreme cases are already the spread of fake news on order by unfair competition. Sometimes the explanation is much simpler - it may be the work of a (un)useful idiot. An example is the ex-MP Volný (known in parliamentary circles as "Flákanec"). At the time of the coronavirus epidemic, he shared a message from a (now blocked) disinformation website that DHL was spreading a coronavirus over Brno. Once this hit the mass media, the fire was on the roof and DHL threatened legal action.  

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How to spot fake news and how to defend yourself 

Spotting sophisticated disinformation may not be easy, sometimes it is enough to change the meaning of a few messages in a few sentences and the overall message will be completely different. Here are some tips on what to pay close attention to: 

  • The date - is the message really up to date? 
  • Headlines - they may be capitalized, overly shocking, or may not match the content of the text. 
  • Author - is it listed below the article? Is he or she a member of an editorial board? If not, it is not credible. 
  • Sources - does the article cite sources and are they credible? 
  • Photographs - are they authentic? Try the "Search by image" feature. The universal way is to click on the camera icon directly on the Google page, it is in the search box on the far right:

  • Context - look at the web as a whole. Is it transparent, consistent, does it list the editorial team members or people responsible for the content? 
  • Content - if you don't intuitively "like" it, verify the text by searching or using sites that specialize in debunking fake news. 

In general, it is preferable to turn off (or at least minimize) emotion and turn on reason. As soon as something is quoted with gibberish like "shocking revelation", "the media is hiding this from you" or "spread it quickly", that's the first warning. The second warning is then an attack on the first telltale - if the news has set you white hot, follow the instructions at the beginning of this paragraph.  

If you're a business, you've got it trickier. Of course, you can defend yourself against fake news through legal means. However, this is lengthy, expensive and with uncertain results. A "counter-campaign" will definitely help - issue press releases, PR statements, and populate your websites and social networks with your version of the truth. And be patient - unfortunately, truth spreads much more slowly than misinformation. Last but not least, you can turn to specialised institutions. For example, Nelez.cz helps to find tools to prevent misinformation from damaging brands. 

At Algotech, we can't help you fight fake news and misinformation, but we can help you fight hackers. Hire the services of a cybersecurity manager, an independent guarantor who checks compliance with applicable laws for you and is fully accountable. Contact us, we'll get back to you within 3 hours.

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