#fake news was an issue during Donald Trump’s recent presidential win, even though it had been an issue for a while and not only in the United States. In recent weeks the German government has looked at this issue in anticipation of its own national elections in October next year. #Facebook has become a prime target of these allegations, but it is not the sole source of the problem. A big part of the problem is not technical, but human.

Full time news, real and fake

With the advent of cable services and 24-hour news feeds, often allied to major corporations such as FOX News, or special interests such as Breitbart News, the need to provide ongoing information to the customers has been a priority to ensure the channels’ viability. This need has also led to the accusations of bias aimed at news channels that hold more than a grain of truth.

It would be naïve to believe that any news source is completely free of any form of bias and some attempt to keep public perceptions of their neutrality by employing journalists and opinionists with “opposition” views, but this is not a definitive situation.

The problem has been exacerbated by the arrival of social media and Facebook in particular which allows people to put up posts that are then taken as news and some sites give themselves titles to create the impression of being professional news agencies, or newspapers.

While this has now become a technical matter for Facebook on how to identify the “fake news” the problem may well be one of human nature and not simply of journalism.

Simple human nature

People have the habit of gathering together with others of the same views and in the course of the online discussions and the exchanges of likes on messages, or memes to ridicule the opposition the view of every participant is reinforced, especially in relation to people such as Donald Trump who deliberately tends to alienate sections of the public.

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Rather than simply ask whether or not the fake news is causing the problem, we should ask ourselves why people believe only what they think confirms their opinions, rather than read reports that may put these opinions into doubt? The multiple sources of fake news then make this situation worse because then they give support to one side or other of an argument and these opinions are then repeated ad infinitum even after they have been proved wrong.

Unfortunately many politicians and special interest groups have taken to manipulating social media to spread memes, false quotations and satirical, often potentially defamatory images of their opponents because they know that the majority of their followers privately believe what is being spread and/or not do not take the time to check to confirm or deny what has been put online.

While this behavior may sound childish and it often is, there is the real danger of the public not taking seriously any issues that once would have caused outrage in the population as a whole and not only in specific groups.

One such issue is the accusation of Russian interference in the presidential election which should be a source of concern for all on a nonpartisan basis and not just Democrats.

Confirm or deny fake news?

These concerns are as much matter of ethics as they are of regulation and technical confirmation or denial of false news. Nobody likes their personal opinions being put into doubt and for many the automatic reaction is to be even more fervent in mistaken beliefs than to look at the new information with an open mind.

Unfortunately, this character trait means that it will be even harder to find a definitive and long-term solution to what on paper is a simple problem, ensuring that all news is “true”. Worse still politicians will keep exploiting this weakness and it will sure mean that it will get worse before it gets any better. Hopefully, this will not come about after tragedy, rather than a return to common sense. #Donald Trump