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This paper examines the 2016 US presidential election campaign to identify problems with, causes of and solutions to the contemporary fake news phenomenon. To achieve this, we employ textual analysis and feedback from engagement, meetings and panels with technologists, journalists, editors, non-profits, public relations firms, analytics firms and academics during the globally leading technology conference, South-by-South West, in March 2017. We further argue that what is most significant about the contemporary fake news furore is what it portends: the use of personally and emotionally targeted news produced by algo-journalism and what we term “empathic media”. In assessing solutions to this democratically problematic situation, we recommend that greater attention is paid to the role of digital advertising in causing, and combating, both the contemporary fake news phenomenon, and the near-horizon variant of empathically optimised automated fake news.
Fake News and the Economy of Emotions: Problems, Causes, Solutions
This paper examines the 2016 US presidential election campaign to identify problems with,
causes of, and solutions to, the contemporary fake news phenomenon. To do this we employ
textual analysis and feedback from engagement, meetings and panels with technologists,
journalists, editors, non-profits, public relations firms, analytics firms and academics during
the globally-leading technology conference, South-by-South West, in March 2017. We further
argue that what is most significant about the contemporary fake news furore is what it
portends: the use of personally and emotionally targeted news produced by algo-journalism
and what we term ‘empathic media’. In assessing solutions to this democratically problematic
situation, we recommend that greater attention be paid to the role of digital advertising in
causing, and combating both the contemporary fake news phenomenon, and the near-horizon
variant of empathically-optimised automated fake news.
Keywords: digital advertising, emotion, Facebook, fake news, Trump election, empathic
We analyse the contemporary fake news phenomenon that emerged during the 2016 US
presidential election campaign battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, as pro-
Trump fake news stories spread across Facebook. Definitions of fake news abound, including
“propaganda entertainment” (Khaldarova and Pantti 2016, 893); “using satire to discuss
public affairs” (Marchi 2012, 253); and content that “blurs lines between nonfiction and
fiction” (Berkowitz and Schwartz 2016, 4). More comprehensively, Wardle (2017)
deconstructs fake news into seven categories: false connection (where headlines, visuals or
captions do not support the content); false context (genuine content shared with false
contextual information); manipulated content (genuine imagery/information manipulated to
deceive); misleading content (misleading use of information to frame an issue or individual);
imposter content (genuine sources are impersonated); fabricated content (100% false,
designed to deceive and harm); and satire/parody (with potential to fool but no intention to
cause harm) (Wardle 2017). Distilling Wardle’s (2017) typology, we define fake news as
either wholly false or containing deliberately misleading elements incorporated within its
content or context. A core feature of contemporary fake news is that it is widely circulated
online (Bounegru et al. 2017, 8) where people accept as fact “stories of uncertain provenance
or accuracy” (Culture, Media and Sport Committee 2017).
We begin by assessing social and democratic problems with contemporary fake news,
and proceed to examine solutions offered by companies such as Facebook. We argue that, at
heart, the fake news problem concerns the economics of emotion: specifically, how emotions
are leveraged to generate attention and viewing time, which converts to advertising revenue.
We further point out the economic and political incentives to produce automated fake news
that reacts to what we term online “fellow-feeling”, or group emotional behaviour within
social networks. The capacity to better understand feelings, moods and emotions in
networked communication is rapidly increasing through adoption of online and biofeedback
technologies that pertain to record and assess our emotions - what McStay (2016b) terms
empathic media”. This catchall term reflects an overall rise of interest in mediated emotional
life, which is gauged by a range of technologies for a number of purposes. Technologies
include facial coding, voice analytics, virtual reality, augmented reality, wearables, biosensors
and sentiment analysis. By making emotions machine-readable these can be employed to
enhance peoples’ relationships with devices and content, but there is also increased capacity
to influence (McStay 2016b, 2017, 2018 in preparation). Of greatest relevance to the fake
news issue is analysis of emotions in words and images (sentiment analysis). We suggest that
the potential to manipulate public sentiment via empathically-optimised automated fake news
is a near-horizon problem that could rapidly dwarf the contemporary fake news problem. We
conclude that more attention be paid to the role of digital advertising, both in causing, and
combating contemporary and near-horizon fake news phenomena.
Our case study is the contemporary fake news phenomenon that emerged during the
2016 US presidential election campaign. Its seeds were laid in 2010 when Facebook
introduced its newsfeed algorithm, Edgerank. This has since evolved into a machine-learning
algorithm that prioritises and presents content to users based on factors including what they
have engaged with (likes/reactions, comments, shares, views, clicks and pauses), what groups
they belong to, and the type of content Facebook is currently prioritising. In 2016, populist,
mostly pro-Trump fake news stories spread across Facebook, often generating more audience
engagement than real news stories (Silverman 2016), creating consternation that Facebook
and fake news may have influenced the election’s outcome. This prompted Facebook, other
telecommunications platforms, legacy and digital news outlets and agencies, and non-profit
organisations to find solutions to combat fake news. In January 2017, the UK Parliament’s
Culture, Media and Sport Committee launched its Fake News Inquiry to identify best
solutions.1 In April 2017, Germany’s government planned to legislate for fines of up to 50
million Euros if social media networks refuse to remove fake news, hate speech and other
illegal content. As such, this is a politically and socially important case study, with numerous
implications for democratic health (outlined later).
Trump’s election win confounded most pollsters and mainstream journalists, but
analytics company Ezyinsights predicted the win from the Trump’s campaign’s Facebook
engagement (El-Sharawy 2016). Through qualitative, thematic textual analysis, we glean
insights into the content that engaged Facebook users, using this to help us diagnose what is
socially and democratically problematic about contemporary fake news. We focus on
captioned images popular on the Facebook page of far-right American news, opinion and
commentary website, Breitbart. These are significant to examine for various reasons. Firstly,
analysis from EzyInsights of social media engagement for the nine months prior to the US
presidential election (February to October 2016) shows that for almost this entire period,
Trump generated much more Facebook engagement than Clinton. EzyInsights shows that the
Facebook engagement resulted from Trump’s campaign emphasising video and captioned
images at specific moments when their audience was ready to engage (El-Sharawy 2016).
Secondly, according to EzyInsights, Breitbart generated high user engagement on Facebook
as much as Huffington Post – with Breitbart’s captioned images generating the most
engagement across August to October 2016 (El-Sharawy 2017). EzyInsights’ study, however,
does not delve into their content.
Addressing this gap, our sample comprises all Breitbart captioned images archived in
Breitbart’s Facebook Timeline Photos in the five weeks prior to the US presidential election
(1 October to 7 November 2016) – a total of 75 images.2 Using a data-first approach (Miles,
Huberman, and Saldana 2014), we thematically code each image to identify its key message,
noting the caption, visual image, and Breitbart’s accompanying comment and hashtag on
Facebook. We found that the emergent themes frequently focused on the candidates’
personalities, the news media, the voters and policy issues. While the captioned images merit
a separate paper to delve into their rich semiotic and multi-modal construction, due to reasons
of space we summarise our qualitative findings with a table that illustrates commonly
occurring themes (five occurrences or more) (Table 1). Given our paper’s focus, we were
particularly alert to whether these themes (a) contribute to the fake news discourse; and (b)
stimulate and affectively engage audiences – these aspects discussed in a later section on
social and democratic problems.
Table 1 Main repeated themes in Breitbart’s Facebook Timeline Photos (1 Oct. 7 Nov. 2016)
No. of
About Candidates’ Personality
Hillary Clinton is
crooked & corrupt
The caption in red is, “Sec of State Hillary Clinton approved the
transfer of 20% of US uranium to Putin’s Russia as 9 investors
in the deal funneled [sic] $145 million to the Clinton
Foundation. NYT & Clinton Cash”. The largely black image
behind the caption is a head-and-shoulder shot of a silhouette of
a woman’s head (20 Oct.)
Trump is a winner
The caption in black letters, “Trump wins stunning debate
victory!” is against a backdrop of the US flag. In front of this is
a three-quarters shot of Trump, applauding (10 Oct.)
About News Media
media are rigged in
favour of Clinton
The caption, “Establishment media are Hillary Clinton campaign
workers”, is in yellow lettering against a purple background,
accompanied by Breitbart’s hashtag, “#rigged(16 Oct.)
Promoting Breitbart
The caption in white is “battle gear” above a photo of pro-
Trump campaigning products (a baseball cap, T- shirts and mug)
each displaying Breitbart’s logo or product colors (16 Oct.)
About Voters
Clinton thinks
Trump voters are
The caption, “Hillary thinks you’re deplorable. The media
think’s you’re stupid” floats above a photo of an old man
wearing a US Marines T-shirt and holding up a “Trump/Pence
Make America Great Again” poster (10 Oct.)
Urging Trump
voters to vote
The yellow-lettered caption, “Let’s roll, deplorables”, is against
a backdrop of Trump speaking at a podium (28 Oct.)
About Policy Issues
Trump will end
political corruption
& protect jobs/
national security
The caption, “It’s time to drain the swamp”, appears in yellow-
highlighted black capitals, over a mid-shot of Trump speaking at
the podium, accompanied by Breitbart’s hashtags,
#Debate2016 #DrainTheSwamp(20 Oct.)
We enrich our case study with conversations with technologists, journalists, editors and
analytics firms conducted across seven days in March during the Interactive portion of the
2017 South-by-South West (SXSW) event. This globally-renowned, annual technology
conference, trade fair and festival presents cutting edge practices and ideas capable of
transforming the future of entertainment, culture and technology. Through 17 hour-long
interactive panel and solo sessions from journalism, marketing, government and the
technology industry, we asked questions, debated and ascertained current thinking and
practice among a wide range of interested parties to the contemporary fake news phenomenon
(see Table 2).
Table 2 Organisations Discussing Fake News Phenomenon at SXSW (2017)
Type of Organisation
Legacy news outlets -regional
Austin American-Statesman
The Texas Tribune
The Dallas Morning News
Legacy news outlets -national
The Washington Post
The New York Times
News agencies (USA/Norway)
Associated Press
Norwegian News Agency
Online news curator (USA)
Online news aggregator/web
content rater/discussion
website (USA)
The Huffington Post
Non-profit organisations
First Draft: finds solutions to trust and truth challenges in digital age;
PolitiFact: fact-checker
Full Fact: fact-checker
International Fact-Checking Network/Poynter Institute: journalism
educator and fact-checker
agencies (USA/UK)
Arrow Media
Technology companies (USA,
EzyInsights: provides content discovery and news tracking service
Countable: provides mobile and web-based app enabling people to
review upcoming legislation in US Congress and express views
Automated Insights: provides readable narratives from analysing big
data patterns
Duke University
Vanderbilt University
American University
The University of Texas at Arlington
Fake News: Historical and Contemporary Context
Today’s fake news furore must be seen against the backdrop of long-standing,
systematic, political and commercial efforts in liberal democracies to persuade and influence
populations through propaganda (Jowett and O’Donnell 2012), Public Relations (PR)
(Moloney 2006), political marketing (Scammell 2014) and spin (Miller and Dinan 2008).
News media are often a focus of persuasion and influence efforts, given their professional
commitment to accuracy, facticity, and in some cases impartiality and objectivity. Thus,
information imparted via news (or what looks like news) confers credibility and truth to the
content. The 20th and 21st centuries have seen PR firms spinning, or sometimes wholly
fabricating, news stories for their clients (Miller and Dinan 2008, Leveson Inquiry 2012).
Whether for economic or political gain, fake news in some form has long been with us, the
product of professional persuaders. However, the digital media ecology has proliferated,
democratised and intensified the scale of fake news. We argue, below, that the contemporary
fake news phenomenon is a logical outcome of five features of the digital media ecology: the
financial decline of legacy news; the news cycle’s increasing immediacy; the rapid circulation
of misinformation and disinformation via user-generated content and propagandists; the
increasingly emotionalised nature of online discourse; and the growing number of people
financially capitalising on algorithms used by social media platforms and internet search
Firstly, journalism has suffered from declining paying audiences, and hence revenue,
for over a decade. Audiences have become disloyal to legacy news brands, and less willing to
pay for news given the proliferation of free news online (Reuters Institute 2016). Shrinking
paying news audiences reduces revenue from cover prices and from advertisers. While total
digital advertising spending has grown in recent years, legacy news organisations have not
benefitted. Rather, most digital advertising revenue (65% in 2015) goes to five technology
companies - four of which (Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Twitter) integrate news into their
offerings (Pew Research Center 2016). As legacy news outlets have struggled to profit across
the past decade, they have been closing and reducing staff (Pew Research Center 2016,
McStay 2016a).
The second feature of digital media culture favouring fake news is the drive for
immediacy: the 24-hour news cycle is better phrased the 1,440-minute news cycle (Gillmor
2009) given the advent of social media outlets like Twitter (which since 2016, self-branded as
a breaking news platform). These factors mean that scarce journalistic resources are spread
thinner, mitigating against time-consuming, fact-checking journalism. This increases the
press’ susceptibility to using unchecked PR material, and ‘editorial subsidies’ where PR
practitioners go beyond providing information subsidies (facts, statistics or quotes) to
providing stories’ editorial framing (Jackson and Moloney 2016).
A third feature of the digital media ecology is the increasing amount of (a)
misinformation (inadvertent online sharing of false information) and (b) disinformation
(deliberate creation and sharing of information known to be false) rapidly circulating via user-
generated content and propagandists. While academic and journalistic attention to fake news
and disinformation is ongoing, especially its seeding by Russian news/propaganda outlets
(Khaldarova and Pantti, 2016; Ackerman 2017), misinformation is rarely examined (although
see Wardle 2017).
A fourth feature of contemporary media is that it is increasingly emotionalised
(Richards 2007). This is especially so online, as, for various reasons, including anonymity,
people are less inhibited online (see Suler’s (2016) ‘online disinhibition effect’). This is fertile
ground for the rise of targeted media content and news contexts (such as filter bubbles in the
form of Facebook news feeds) that elicit affective reactions.
A fifth feature of the contemporary digital media ecology is the growing number of
people profiting from online behavioural advertising. For them, fake news acts as clickbait -
namely, web content designed to generate attention and online advertising revenue at the
expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensationalist headlines or eye-catching pictures to
attract click-throughs and shares. Journalists traced a significant amount of the fake news
upsurge on Facebook during the 2016 US presidential election campaign to computer science
undergraduates and teenagers in Veles, Macedonia who launched multiple US politics
websites (estimates range from dozens to 140) with American-sounding domain names like, and (Kirby 2016,
Silverman and Alexander 2016; Gillin 2017). The fake news stories generated large, engaged
audiences, earning some students thousands of Euros daily through digital advertising (Kirby
2016). Most of the Veles locals created fake news stories for money rather than propaganda
(Tynan 2016): their experiments with left-leaning content simply under-performed compared
to pro-Trump content on Facebook. Other profit-oriented fake news genres also proliferate,
including health and well-being sites (Silverman and Alexander 2016); and sites where US
celebrities praise a small, US town for its helpful people and promising blockbusters filming
nearby, apparently micro-targeting these town residents to gain advertising clicks (Gillin
Contemporary Fake News: Social and Democratic Problems
The fake news situation is socially and democratically problematic on three fronts: (1)
its production of wrongly informed citizens, that (2) are likely to stay wrongly informed in
echo chambers and (3) be emotionally antagonised or outraged given the affective and
provocative nature of much fake news. These are discussed below, and illustrated by our
analysis of frequent themes in Breitbart’s Facebook Timeline Photos (see Table 1).
Wrongly informed Citizens
That fake news makes citizens less well informed is obvious, but worth stating given
that well informed citizens are vital to democracy. Fears were expressed that fake news may
have influenced the 2016 US presidential election’s outcome. For instance, in the election
campaign’s final three months, the most engaged-with story was ‘Pope Francis Shocks
World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement’, this 100% fabricated
story amassing 960,000 Facebook shares, likes and comments (Price 2016; Silverman 2016).
Although one study concludes that, for fake news to have changed the election’s outcome, a
single fake article would need to have been as persuasive as 36 television campaign adverts
(Allcott and Gentzkow 2017), such was the level of public concern that, two days after the
election, Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mark Zuckerberg, felt compelled to
publically rebut the charge that fake news on Facebook influenced the election. However, his
position rapidly changed, as we show later.
Even if fake news did not influence the election, widespread recirculation of falsehoods
posing as news does not bode well for the factual foundations on which citizens form
opinions, and the nation’s consequent democratic health. While some fake news stories are
recognisable as satire (Berkowitz and Schwartz 2016), others are variants of well-known
news brands, and more difficult to recognise as fake. For those who think they can always
recognise fake news, it would be instructive to play human computation game Factitious3
(Game Lab, Jolt), which challenges players to quickly identify true or false articles from
news, advertising, opinion or fake (Datu et al. 2017). Certainly, a study by Stanford History
Education Group (2016: 4) of 7,800 responses from US middle school, high school and
college students on their ability to assess online information sources concludes that they ‘are
easily duped’.
Our analysis of Breitbart’s Facebook Timeline Photos for the five weeks prior to the
US election confirms their use of disinformation. With 16 images, the most frequent theme is
that Hillary Clinton is crooked and corrupt (21% of the 75 images) (see Table 1). One variant
of this theme focuses on the Clinton Foundation, a charitable organisation aiming to improve
human life globally. For instance, a head-and-shoulder shot of a silhouette of a woman’s head
is captioned, “Sec of State Hillary Clinton approved the transfer of 20% of US uranium to
Putin’s Russia as 9 investors in the deal funneled [sic] $145 million to the Clinton
Foundation. NYT & Clinton Cash” (Breitbart 2016c). We classify such statements as
deliberately misleading as Breitbart’s charges of corruption are unsupported by facts. For
instance, in April 2016, rating group Charity Watch (2016) reported that 88% of the money
the Clinton Foundation raises goes to its programmes (the rest spent on overheads),
surpassing the 75% benchmark for reputable charity groups. Furthermore, despite
Schweizer’s (2015) book, Clinton Cash (cited in the poster), listing numerous examples of
Clinton Foundation donations that were followed by State Department actions favourable to
the donor, Obama’s US Justice Department concluded there were no grounds for a formal
Echo Chambers: Staying Wrongly Informed
The second social and democratic problem with fake news is that it goes uncorrected,
leading citizens to stay wrongly informed. This happens because the false information is fed
into self-reinforcing algorithmic and cognitive systems, or digital ‘echo chambers’. Echo
chambers exist where information, ideas or beliefs are amplified and reinforced by
communication and repetition inside a defined system where competing views are
underrepresented (Sunstein 2001). Algorithmically-created echo chambers, or ‘filter bubbles’,
arise when algorithms applied to online content selectively gauge what information a user
wants to see based on information about the user, their connections, browsing history,
purchases, and what they post and search. This results in users becoming separated from
exposure to wider information that disagrees with their views (Pariser 2011). A closely
related psychological phenomenon is ‘confirmation bias’, or people’s tendency to search for,
interpret, notice, recall and believe information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs
(Wason 1960). Empirically demonstrated consequences of algorithmically created filter
bubbles and human confirmation bias are limited exposure to, and lack of engagement with,
different ideas and other people’s viewpoints (Bessi et al. 2016; Quattrociocchi et al. 2016).
This may occur without people even being aware of the process: for instance, US college
students are largely unaware of how gatekeepers of news sources that use personalisation
algorithms (Google and Facebook) track user data and apply editorial judgments to deliver
personalised results (Powers 2017).
El-Sharawy (2017) explains from his company’s study of Facebook engagement in the
2016 US presidential election that Trump’s campaign team encouraged the two opposing
filter bubbles that developed on Facebook: prominence of very right-wing versus mainstream
media in users’ newsfeeds. This is backed up by our own analysis of Breitbart’s Facebook
Timeline Photos which shows that they repeatedly slurred mainstream media as ‘rigged’ in
favour of Clinton (six images): for instance, ‘Establishment media are Hillary Clinton
campaign workers’, accompanied by “#rigged” (Breitbart 2016b). Breitbart also repeatedly
promoted its own news brand on Facebook with product shots of its logo and office (five
images) (see Table 1). Together, these themes encourage readers to disbelieve mainstream
media and remain in their Breitbart filter bubble.
It was not just US citizens experiencing filter bubbles, but also journalists. As El-
Sharawy (2017) describes: “In the run up to the US presidential election, we said right-wing
sites were doing well. We told people to look at it, but mainstream media weren’t keen.” One
reason he posits for lack of interest is mainstream journalists’ own filter bubble. For instance,
journalists favour using Twitter over Facebook (Reuters Institute 2016), but in the run-up to
the 2016 election, EzyInsights found that fake news and right-wing websites had a much
smaller reach, and hence visibility, on Twitter than on Facebook (El-Sharawy 2017).
Affective Content
The third social and democratic problem with fake news is that it is often deliberately
affective. As El-Sharawy (2017) states, “Facebook favours emotional content that hits people
whether or not it is true”. Our analysis of Breitbart’s Facebook Timeline Photos confirms
their affective content designed to provoke voter outrage. This is directly evident in the
themes about voters (see Table 1). One theme is that Clinton thinks that Trump voters are
“deplorable” (5 images) – a rehash of Clinton’s September 2016 use of the phrase “basket of
deplorables” to describe half of Trump’s supporters. For instance, one image portrays an old
man in a US marines T-shirt, holding a Trump/Pence poster, the image captioned, “Hillary
thinks you’re deplorable The media thinks you’re stupid” (Breitbart 2016a). Another five
images affectively urge Trump voters to vote. For instance, incorporating Clinton’s
“deplorables” insult, one poster depicts Trump speaking at a podium, captioned, “Let’s roll,
deplorables” (Breitbart 2016e).
Looking at the most common themes within the 75 Breitbart Facebook images, rather
than focusing on policies, the most frequent themes focus on the candidates’ personality, with
16 captioned images attacking Clinton’s personality as crooked and corrupt; and another six
images portraying Trump as a winner (see Table 1). Where policies are presented, these are as
simplistic end goals and claims. For instance, Trump’s anti-corruption policy is presented by
an image of Trump speaking at the podium, captioned, “It’s time to drain the swamp”
(Breitbart 2016d).
If fake news circulates, uncorrected, in closed communities; if people are indoctrinated
to disbelieve truthful facts by damaging the reputation of mainstream news; and if that fake
news is deliberately affective and inflammatory, we are moved ever further from Habermas’
archetypal democratic ideal of a public sphere that ultimately seeks consensus through
enabling all to speak rationally, through listening to others’ viewpoints and agreeing the best
way forward (Habermas 1984). Even if one rejects such idealism, adopting a position closer
to Mouffe’s (2005) framework of agonistic pluralism, with winners and losers in a potentially
emotional, identity-based political struggle and debate, if losers lose based on what they
perceive to be the winners’ false claims, then ensuing social discontent with the democratic
outcome and process is likely. The logical end result is highly polarised societies, losers’
decreased confidence in government’s legitimacy, and inappropriate democratic decisions
taken based on affective misinformation and disinformation.
Proposed Solutions
As The Guardian noted on 11 November 2016, the initial reaction of Facebook’s CEO,
Mark Zuckerberg, to the fake news furore was to declare Facebook’s impact on the
presidential election as minimal, also rejecting the idea of filter bubbles on Facebook users’
news feeds as “most users have friends who have different political views to their own”. For
Zuckerberg, Facebook’s core problem was getting people to engage with the diverse content
available to them: lack of engagement was problematic because the less that people engage
with content, the less likely their newsfeed would surface it. What Facebook did not want,
however, was to become “arbiters of truth ourselves”, because it believes in “giving people a
voice, which means erring on the side of letting people share what they want whenever
possible” (Zuckerberg 2016b). Instead, Facebook preferred to “find ways for our community
to tell us what content is most meaningful” (Zuckerberg 2016a). However, within 11 days of
the US presidential election, Facebook’s position changed from declaring that Facebook’s
impact was minimal, to specifying how it planned to combat fake news. Unusually, it
revealed features under-construction comprising: elevating the quality of “related articles” in
the news feed; third-party verification by fact-checking organisations; stronger technical
detection of misinformation; easier user reporting of fake news; warning labels on stories
flagged as false; “Listening” to advice from the news industry; and “Disrupting fake news
economics” (Zuckerberg 2016b).4 We evaluate these solutions below.
Elevate Quality of ‘Related Articles’ in News Feed
In response to a question at SXSW about whether Facebook should reshuffle its
algorithm to reduce filter bubbles, El-Sharawy (2017) states: Facebook should take total
responsibility – it is their problem – but I don't know what they should do.” Prior to the fake
news furore, earlier in 2016 Facebook was criticised by conservatives for using human editors
to suppress conservative news stories in its Trending Topics. Initiating wider debates about
Facebook’s role in news distribution, journalists condemned Facebook for its absence of
public mission in its commercial focus on giving users only what they found pleasing
(Carlson 2017). Facebook’s difficulty is that needs to acknowledge that it is more than just a
neutral pipes platform, but as explained earlier, it does not want to be accused of censorship.
Nonetheless, since mid-December 2016, Facebook has been testing its algorithms to see if it
can make fake news stories appear lower in its News Feed. Similarly, to combat the problem
of Google ranking false news stories more highly than fact-checked true stories, as of March
2017 Google over-indexes fact-checked pieces to artificially raise them in the news feed
(Bridges et al. 2017).
Third-Party Verification by Fact-Checking Organisations and Stronger Technical
Detection of Misinformation
The fact-checking process finds claims that can be fact-checked; checks them
(determining the best source to verify the fact); and rates them (evaluating whether evidence
confirms or contradicts the claims). Following the 2016 election furore, Facebook teamed
with several fact-checking websites, US international news agency Associated Press, and US
broadcaster ABC to flag-up to users if content seems potentially fake or deliberately
misleading. These organisations have access to a proprietary dashboard showing them content
flagged as fake news, plus other content flagged as suspicious by Facebook’s algorithms.
They decide what to debunk (for instance, suspicious stories getting maximum attention),
marking the story as “disputed” when Facebook users attempt to share it (Mosseri 2016). Eric
Carvin (Social Media Editor, Associated Press) hopes that, at minimum, this may make users
feel embarrassed to share the story. The news organisations involved in fact-checking also
write a debunk story (Bridges et al. 2017).
Experiments in automated fact-checking are also being conducted. Automation
accelerates the fact-checking process and expands the audience quantity and type for fact-
checked news (Adair et al. 2017): expansion of audience type is important as typical
conspiracy theory audiences are different to those who consume fact-checked news
(Bounegru et al. 2017: 46). For instance, UK-based fact-checking organisation, Full Fact, is
building statistics that finds patterns of claims, thereby producing data that can be used to
train machine learning (Babakar and Moy 2016). In another experiment explained by Bill
Adair (Knight Professor of Journalism and Public Policy, Duke University), Duke
University’s Share the Fact widget (developed with Google and JigSaw) identifies the person
being fact-checked, the statement, conclusion and name of fact-checker, and visually creates a
widget that goes in the fact-checking article and can be shared. This allows Google to
recognise and highlight fact-checked articles while also creating a database of fact checks and
a structure that can be used for voice search engines such as Amazon Echo (Adair et al. 2017).
While a promising avenue, fact-checking has problems. According to Alexios
Mantzarlis (Director, International Fact-Checking Network/Poynter Institute), of the
approximately 120 fact-checking organisations worldwide, most are charitable and face
financial challenges, typically running on less than $100,000 per year. Automated fact-
checking faces numerous obstacles. Mantzarlis points out that claims can be very nuanced,
making them hard for a machine to evaluate. Mevan Babakar (Digital Products Manager, Full
Fact) notes that the quality of open data can be problematic, as statistics change over time and
between countries due to political and statistical reporting factors. Automated fact-checking
also faces issues of biased human coders training the machines (Adair et al. 2017). A final,
and perhaps most intractable, problem with fact-checking, whether done by people or bots, is
that it assumes the user base prefers accuracy over content that feels right, reinforces their
beliefs, or stimulates affective responses.
Warning Labels On Stories Flagged As False and Easier User Reporting Of Fake
Other strategies enacted by Facebook are placing warning labels on stories flagged as
false; and easier user reporting of fake news. However, relying on users’ ability to recognise
fake news (to enable flagging and fact-checking) shifts responsibility from the fundamental
problem: the economics underpinning the spread of fake news, and the propagandistic
intentions of professional persuaders.
Even if users are seen as integral to solving the fake news problem, there are three
psychological perception issues with the solution of flagging. Firstly, if people hear
something a lot, they perceive it as true, even for facts that contradict prior knowledge (Fazio
et al. 2015). Thus, as Lisa Fazio (Vanderbilt University) explains:
a second reading of something (for instance, a falsity) makes us more likely to think it
is true. This makes it difficult when trying to dispute these false stories, as you don't
want to repeat the false story to make it appear as true in people’s heads (Bridges et al.
Secondly, people often forget the source of presented facts, including that they came from an
unreliable source (Henkel and Mattson 2011). Fazio explains the consequences of this for
flagging: “if a headline is marked false, we may remember the headline but not the false tag”
(Bridges et al. 2017). A third problem is that prior beliefs influence how people remember
corrected facts. This was demonstrated in the 2003 Iraq War, in studies on whether people
remembered the wrong information or the correct information in inaccurate news that was
subsequently corrected (Lewandowsky et al. 2005). Thus, flagging stories as false may not
improve people’s stock of correct knowledge (Bridges et al. 2017).
Listen to Advice from the News Industry
A further strategy proposed by Facebook is to listen to advice from the news industry,
from which four types of innovation have been forthcoming.
Firstly, journalists have proposed tweaking algorithms on news sites to break people out
of their filter bubbles by exposing them to material they would not normally choose, or that
would not normally choose them. For instance, The Guardian’s US website has a feature that
shows five stories from conservative viewpoints that its readers would not have read (Wilson
2016). However, it is questionable how regularly breaking people out of their filter bubbles
would be financially supported, especially if people refuse to engage with engineered material
they did not want to see in the first place.
Secondly, some journalists are calling for increased transparency about their sources
(John Bridges, Managing Editor, Austin American-Statesman). Bridges also notes the problem
of journalists making honest mistakes in their initial reporting, but that social media rapidly
turns these into a conspiracy theory: again, his proposed solution is increased journalistic
transparency. However, this brings problems where opacity of sources is needed to bring truth
to light (for instance, to encourage whistle-blowing).
A third innovation is to give people more direct interactions with their political
representatives, to recalibrate what information they trust. For instance, the US app Countable
breaks down news and legislative bills into simple English, and enables people to
immediately communicate their position on any bill or issue with their lawmaker. Andrea
Seabrook (Managing Editor, Countable) explains:
If we can get people to often and easily engage, then at the end of the political cycle,
we will have decoupled people from the narrative that politicians will tell them what is
the truth about the election. People will be able to see for themselves, by the time they
next vote in 2018. (Seabrook and MacLaggan 2017)
However, such solutions, while potentially impactful in rebuilding engagement between
politicians and voters, are nascent experiments. While they may encourage reporting on only
what is actionable, there is no guarantee that this new format will be successful among users
brought up on a fake news diet.
A fourth journalistic innovation is collaborative journalism to reduce the costs of fact-
checking. Responding to concerns about upcoming French elections in April and May 2017,
First Draft created collaborative journalism project Cross Check, where French newsrooms
check each other’s accuracy. Running from February to May 2017, it allowed at least 17
French regional and international media companies to power a website where the public could
report suspicious content, or ask questions for CrossCheck’s media partners to respond to.
Various data and tools were contributed by different media partners, including Facebook
which supports the vetting platform through dedicated tools and media literacy efforts to
explain the verification process and keep audiences updated with confirmed and disputed
election information (Bridges et al. 2017). That forthcoming elections have been singled out
as needing this sort of initiative is no doubt a response to the rising tide of populism across
Europe. Whether initiatives such as Cross Check will be deployed for all elections remains to
be seen. This would require demonstration of its efficacy, as well as continued political and
commercial will to improve journalism’s accuracy at politically decisive moments.
Disrupt Fake News Economics
A little-discussed solution proposed by Facebook is disrupting fake news economics.
Since the 2016 US presidential elections Facebook has eliminated the ability to spoof
domains to reduce the prevalence of sites masquerading as well-known news organisations
(Mosseri 2016). However, we suggest that closer attention should also be paid to digital
advertising. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its business model, Facebook has said little on this
solution, and it was barely addressed at SXSW in 2017, despite multiple industry panels on
fake news. It is to this solution that we now turn.
Media Economics and Digital Advertising: A Solution Lies Within the Problem
Rather than simply relying on social networking sites to find the “right” algorithm while
negotiating censorship accusations; on Facebook users to exercise rational judgement in
recognising, flagging and sharing fake news; and on resource-poor journalists to experiment
with breaking people out of their filter bubbles while committing to fact-checking; we suggest
that the role of digital advertisers in proliferating fake news also needs scrutiny. After all,
many of the fake news websites of the 2016 US presidential election were ultimately created
not for propaganda, but for money.
Digital Advertising Enables Fake News Sites to Profit
There is a longstanding relationship between the press and its need for advertising
revenue. Underpinning this is the fiscal value of audience attention, as the rates that
publishers charge advertisers depend upon the size and nature of the audience they can
deliver. Unfortunately, as explained earlier, the societal shift towards digital media, and its
economic model, has not favoured legacy news organisations. Conversely, the new economic
underpinnings enable fake news sites to flourish.
It is the way digital advertising is paid for and served that favours fake news sites.
Whereas in print news, advertisers and agencies working on their behalf carefully choose their
news outlet, advert format and whether an adjacent story might damage a brand, such
consideration is often not possible online because of the nature of online behavioural
advertising. While advertisers may buy direct from an online news publisher, behavioural
targeting techniques are more commonly used. This is the practice of tracking people’s online
behaviour and serving them adverts on the basis of what they do online. The principle behind
behavioural targeting is that it targets the person rather than the publication. Furthermore,
while advertising spaces are ultimately owned by the web publisher, they are effectively
outsourced and rented to entities called ‘ad networks’ (namely, businesses that sit between
web publishers and organisations wishing to advertise) (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 Advertising Networks’ Place in Business Chain
Ad networks (such as Doubleclick) are thus able to offer advertisers a massive range of
websites to exhibit their ads, allowing them to reach potentially large, but also profiled,
audiences. For sense of scale, Google’s Doubleclick ad network spans over two million
websites that reach over 90% of people on the internet. Small and large publishers alike
benefit because ad networks give publishers a way to profit from their advertising spaces
without having to go to the effort of selling individual slots to advertisers.
On top of this, programmatic techniques (called ‘programmatic’ by the advertising
industry) allow additional data to be used to further target the advertising. Programmatic
allows advertisers to automatically target consumers based on certain metrics obtained
through algorithms. It differs from behavioural advertising in that it draws on a wider variety
of sources than data from ad networks to target audiences (such as first-party data from the
brand advertising or third-party data about potential audiences). It also provides opportunity
to use automated means to create (as well as target) advertising: information about the
audience can be used to personalise the design of advertising for identified audiences.
Critical to our concern with fake news is that although advertising served by ad
networks maximises an advert’s reach to whom-so-ever and wherever a desirable person
might be, advertisers relinquish control over where their advertising is displayed. Such
automation of the ad space buying process has resulted in advertisers having less
understanding of the websites and pages they are appearing on. Indeed, adverts for brands
such as Honda, Thomson Reuters, Halifax, Argos, John Lewis, Disney and the Victoria and
Albert Museum have appeared on content promoting Islamic State (ISIS) and neo-Nazi
content. This is because the behavioural and programmatic advertising profiles the person
rather than the website they are looking at. Similarly, if the user looks at a fake news site, the
adverts will appear there.
Web publisher
Ad network
Follow the Money: Engage Digital Advertising Industry to Identify Fake News
However, advertisers – even the most disreputable - are unlikely to want their
advertising associated with content that, by its very nature (that is, fake news), cannot be
trusted. The issue of brand safety is an ongoing one within the digital advertising industry,
and the contemporary issue of online fake news adds political and public impetus to resolve
this. Advertising firms are well placed to identify suspected fake news publishers. Several ad
networks and programmatic companies already promise that they can deliver brand-safe
adverts. Rubicon, for example, claims it can identify undesirable publishers before the adverts
are released, and can track activity during and after the campaign to see who clicked on which
adverts and where. The Wall Street Journal reported on 14 November 2016 that Google
Adsense had already begun blocking sites. However, to be effective, all the ad networks need
to be involved to prevent fake news sites that have been ejected from one ad network from
simply moving to another, as currently happens (Bounegru et al. 2017, Silverman et al. 2017).
As such, to tackle the fake news problem at its economic heart, we recommend that
governments consult with self-regulatory bodies that represent ad networks, advertising
agencies and advertisers (for example, Internet Advertising Bureau and International
Advertising Association). The possibility here is twofold in that: 1) governments can
pressurise advertising associations that largely enjoy self-regulatory status; 2) advertising
associations are well placed to educate their members, especially advertisers. Given that the
advertising chain requires publishers, ad networks and advertisers to function, if advertisers
place financial pressure on the system, there is scope to reduce the income of both fake news
publishers and the ad networks that host them. For instance, on clicking on fake news website
“” with the Ghostery add-on, it reveals two active ad networks: Viglink5 and
ShareThis6. Both consider themselves as respectable companies: Viglink has venture capital
backing from Google; and ShareThis has funding from leading venture capital firms (such as
Draper Fisher Jurvetson) and is already connected to the Digital Advertising Alliance, which
is an association that claims to promote responsible privacy practices. In general, these ad
networks are not outliers, but seek to lead, and be part of, the mainstream advertising
community. Pressure can be applied on these to be more discriminating.
There is merit in Silverman et al.’s (2017) point that if fake news sites are rejected by
mainstream ad networks, they will eventually gravitate to less discriminating ones. However,
we posit that with greater transparency in the system for advertisers, non-fake news
publishers and advertisers are likely (or can be encouraged) to stop using the less
discriminating ad network. This would eventually leave less discriminating ad networks with
mostly low quality advertisers (of Viagra, for example) who may only care about the
likelihood of click-throughs. Furthermore, the very presence of such advertised products
would help citizens identify the site as fake and untrustworthy. Also, given that ad networks
benefit from economies of scale, the departure of reputable advertisers and publishers would
be harmful and possibly terminal to that ad network.
Next, if modern programmatic advertising promises greater control over the campaign
management process, we recommend that the advertising industry be tested on this, starting
with fake news websites. Again, this may be overseen and reviewed by a working group of
trade associations and a dedicated governmental committee, with minutes and outcomes
published for the press and interested citizens. To conclude, we do not suggest that targeting
behavioural advertising is a silver bullet solution, but rather that it is a meaningful step in
choking revenue for fake news.
The Near-Horizon: Automated Fake News and Manipulation of Fellow-Feeling
Given the rapid onset, scale and nature of the contemporary fake news problem, it is
important to consider near-future possibilities. In the context of fake news, this includes the
ability to manipulate public sentiment via automated fake news. This distinct possibility arises
because the success of fake news comes from its creators having financial self-interest in
feeling-into” online conversations and creating headlines to resonate with specific groups
(such as pro-Trump supporters). There is a clear and relatively simple opportunity to marry
technology that detects online emotion via the language and words that individual and groups
post, with automated news, namely news headlines and body copy written by computers.
Understanding and Knowing How to Manipulate Public Moods
Fake news creators are already “feeling-into”, and profiting from, collectives from afar.
For instance, Macedonian fake news providers exploit the beliefs, desires and concerns of
specific US audiences. They can do this because online social media communities (such as on
Facebook) already encourage echo chambers to form, be this via filter bubbles, confirmation
bias or both. Earlier, we noted the rise of “empathic media” (McStay 2016b) – namely,
technologies that gauge emotions, intentions and life contexts to maximise appropriateness of
feedback and content. Of most relevance to our concerns with fake news is analysis of
emotions in words and images. Such sentiment analysis is widely used to search and cross-
reference social media data and news articles for insights into social feeling towards a given
issue valuable to a client organisation (such as marketers).
The next step from understanding public moods is knowing how to manipulate them. A
well-known example is the 2014 Facebook study on emotional contagion. Without participant
consent, researchers secretly optimised 689,003 people’s news feeds: they found that when
exposed to stimuli with positive or negative emotional content, people within social networks
tend to replicate this in their own posting behaviour. The study’s authors conclude that this
provides “experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks” (Kramer et
al. 2014: 8788). In other words, the study demonstrated the ability to calculate publics and
algorithmically sort and manipulate online fellow-feeling.
The Move Towards Automated News: Algo-journalism
Facebook’s emotional contagion study shows that exposure to a particular type of
affective content in users’ news feeds stimulates posting behaviour that reflects the emotional
charge of that content. When we consider this principle in light of news-based filter bubbles,
it is reasonable to posit a positive feedback loop that amplifies an affective tone. Fake news
already represents an increase in emotional charge, but automated news has the potential to
intensify this situation.
Automated journalism (or “algo-journalism”) is increasingly used by legacy news
agencies such as Associated Press to provide detail-heavy news that does not require
(expensive) human interpretation or analysis (McStay 2016a). Algo-journalism is typically
used to distil and report key features of complex texts such as investment holdings, billing
records and sports statistics, with data storytelling provided by companies such as IBM
Watson and Narrative Science. In 2016, The Washington Post experimented with software
bots to generate more insightful stories with a stronger editorial voice on stories about
election wins and electoral trends. These work by editors creating narrative templates and
stock key phrases that account for various potential outcomes which the software bot then
matches and merges with structured data - in the case of the US election, via data
clearinghouse, but also “Associated Press data, historic data and polling”
(Andrews et al. 2017). Given how simple fake news storylines are compared to election
coverage, there is no reason why fake news stories could not be generated by algo-
Automated Insights also create automated journalism, although algorithmically rather
than template-based. Joe Procopio (Chief Innovation Officer Automated Insights) explains
that algorithms “determine the tone [our emphasis]. It gives us insights as to what the most
important part of the story is. … We do all this algorithmically to get the reader the most
important things they need from that story” (Andrews et al. 2017). Other users of algo-
journalism are the Norwegian News Agency. While currently using it to deliver coverage of
local sports fixtures that otherwise would go unreported, the news agency envisions that it
would use algo-journalism for any repetitive stories that use regularly updated data.
According to Helen Vogt (Director of Product Development, Norwegian News Agency),
algojournalism can automatically use data to tailor the story for local audiences (Andrews et
al. 2017). Thus, the ability to automatically enable tone-optimised and geo-tailored stories is
already at hand – both practices that fake news creators would find helpful.
As well as automatically generating fake news storylines with a strong editorial voice,
tone-optimised and geo-tailored for specific audiences, software bots could be used to widely
spread such automated fake news, thereby giving the impression that the fake news is popular
and endorsed by many (a 2016 survey of 26 countries finds that most people share
predominantly news of which they approve (Reuters Institute 2016)). This is not a dystopian
fantasy: during the 2010 US midterm elections and Massachusetts special election, social bots
were employed to support some candidates and smear their opponents, injecting thousands of
tweets pointing to websites with fake news (Ratkiewicz et al. 2011, Metaxas and Mustafaraj
The Potential for Empathically-optimised Automated Fake News
Contemporary fake news already operates in the context of “feeling-into” online
collectives, filter bubbles, confirmation bias and echo chambers. The opportunity for
computer generated fake news, weaponised and optimised to resonate with social media users,
seems entirely feasible given the current state of sentiment analysis and automated
journalism, as well as the affective tenor of the Trump presidential campaign. The process
would be to: understand key trigger words and images among target groups; create fake news,
and measure its engagement (via click-throughs, shares, likes and effectiveness of message
elements); and then have machines learn in an evolutionary capacity from this experience to
create stories with more potency to increase engagement and thereafter advertising revenue.
The feedback process also has implications for use of aggressive propaganda and information
wars (at the time of writing, US journalism and US senate intelligence inquiries were
concerned about Russia’s attempts to influence elections abroad, including the USA and
Europe). We suggest that the commercial and political phenomenon of empathically-
optimised automated fake news is on the near-horizon.
Fake news is not a new phenomenon, but the 2016 US presidential election showed us a
new iteration, driven by profit and exploited by professional persuaders. While a laudable
variety of solutions to the deeply socially and democratically problematic contemporary fake
news phenomenon have been proposed, each faces specific obstacles to achieving widespread
implementation and impact. While we recognise the need for all these solutions to take root,
our recommendation, to focus on digital advertising, addresses the contemporary
phenomenon at its economic heart. As such, we suggest that policy-makers and regulators
take immediate steps to consult with international trade associations representing advertising,
large advertisers, ad networks and programmatic firms. While not a silver-bullet solution,
advertisers have a self-interest in a healthier advertising media environment because even the
most disreputable will not want their adverts associated with content that cannot be trusted
(fake news). By focusing on the economic dimension, this also guards against the near-
horizon possibility of empathically-optimised automated fake news, as a large driver of the
fake news phenomenon is economically motivated. Again, to pre-empt this, governments
should invite to the conversation analytics companies from the growing empathic media
sector, such as IBM, Cambridge Analytica, Crimson Hexagon and Narrative Science to
discuss the growth of micro-targeted empathically-optimised automated fake news. With
diverse international political actors waging information war, an educated and strong
economic counter-attack may be the best defence.
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1%While the calling of a UK General Election for June 2017 meant that the Fake News Inquiry closed before
synthesising and making recommendations on its 78 written submissions, we have evaluated these elsewhere
(Bakir and McStay 2017), reaching the same conclusion as in this paper.
2 Available at:
4 Facebook also presented these solutions to the Fake News Inquiry:
5 See Viglink:
6 See ShareThis:
... Разумеется, большинство пользователей соцсетей в основном не создают, а распространяют чужую информацию, в том числе -фейковую. Ситуация с фальшивыми новостями социально и политически проблемна, так как фейки формируют сообщество неверно информированных граждан (Bakir, McStay, 2018). Еще одна проблема, связанная с фальшивыми новостями, в том, что они обесценивают мнения экспертов, ученыхисследователей, профессиональных журналистов, подрывают доверие к демократическим институтам и могут вызывать моральную панику (Sadiku et al., 2018: 188). ...
... Итак, на основании анализа различных исследований (Bakir, McStay, 2018;Born, 2017;Bradshaw, Howard, 2018;Dentith, 2017;Derakhshan, Wardle, 2017;Farkas, Schou, 2018;Fitzpatrick, 2018;Flintham et al., 2018;Gelfert, 2018;Janze, Risius, 2017;Lazer et al., 2018;Levy, 2017;Marwick, 2018;Nielsen, Graves, 2017;Rushkoff, 2003;Sadiku et al., 2018;Tambini, 2017;Tandoc Jr. et al., 2018;Van Dijk, 2006;Грачев, Мельник, 1999;Кара-Мурза, Смирнов, 2009;Почепцов, 2015; 2019 и др.) можно выделить ряд основных манипуляционных приемов, используемых современными медиа: ...
... Сегодня в научном мире огромное значение придается исследованиям, направленным на разработку технологий выявления медийных манипуляций и ложных медиатекстов (Bakir, McStay, 2018;Born, 2017;Bradshaw, Howard, 2018;Dentith, 2017;Derakhshan, Wardle, 2017;Farkas, Schou, 2018;Fitzpatrick, 2018;Flintham et al., 2018;Gelfert, 2018;Janze, Risius, 2017;Lazer et al., 2018;Levy, 2017;Marwick, 2018;Nielsen, Graves, 2017;Rushkoff, 2003;Sadiku et al., 2018;Tambini, 2017;Tandoc Jr. et al., 2018;Van Dijk, 2006 и др.). ...
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2022 в московском издательстве Директ-Медиа была опубликована монография: Левицкая А., Федоров А. Медиаобразование студентов педагогических вузов и факультетов как инструмент, противостоящий медийным манипуляционным воздействиям. М.: Директ-Медиа, 2002. 196 с. В данной монографии* дан анализ многочисленных разновидностей медийных манипуляций, приводятся разработанные авторами критерии и способы оценивания эффективности деятельности, способствующих развитию медиакомпетентности студентов в процессе анализа медийных манипулятивных воздействий; на базе обобщения и анализа представлена теоретическая модель развития медиакомпетентности студентов педагогических вузов и факультетов в процессе анализа медийных манипулятивных воздействий (включая определение существенных признаков, качеств и свойств, разработку структуры, целей, задач, содержания данной модели, условий ее реализации). Монография предназначена для преподавателей высшей школы, студентов, аспирантов, исследователей, школьных учителей, журналистов, а также для круга читателей, которые интересуются проблемами медиаобразования и медийных манипуляционных воздействий. *Исследование, составившее содержание данной моногарфииЮ, было выполнено при финансовой поддержке Российского фонда фундаментальный исследований (РФФИ) в рамках научного проекта № 20-013-00001 «Медиаобразование студентов педагогических вузов и факультетов как инструмент, противостоящий медийным манипуляционным воздействиям». Руководитель проекта-профессор А. Левицкая. Далее мы представляем ознакомительный фрагмент данного издания, полный текст которого можно заказать на сайте издательства Директ-медиа: Анастасия Левицкая, Александр Федоров Медийные манипуляции в современном мире Можно, наверное, согласится с тем, что «на протяжении многих десятков лет в медиа наблюдаются две глобальные, иногда противоборствующие тенденции: «аудитория-объект манипуляции» и «аудитория-соучастник и партнер информационного процесса». Исторически наиболее продуктивной, перспективной видится вторая. Своевременность теоретического осознания этого процесса является необходимым условием цивилизованного развития как традиционных, так и новых медиа» (Бакулев, 2005: 196). Между тем, первая тенденция, увы, продолжает доминировать и, как мы полагаем, в обозримом будущем только усилится. Причины медийных манипуляций довольно разнообразны и не поддаются однозначным трактовкам, однако, согласно мнению Г.В. Грачева и И.К. Мельник, их можно объединить в три основные группы:-причины, обусловленные пристрастностью и субъективизмом людей, работающих в сфере масс-медиа, вызванные их индивидуально-психологическими, личностными особенностями, политическими пристрастиями, симпатиями и т.п.;-причины, определенные политическими, социально-экономическими и организационными условиями медийной сферы (например, экономическая и административная зависимость от конкретных социальных субъектов);-причины, зависящие от самого процесса функционирования средств массовой коммуникации: чтобы привлечь внимание и завоевать массовую аудиторию, медиа при создании и ротации тех или иных сообщений руководствуются определенными общими технологиями» (Грачев, Мельник, 1999).
... Importantly, misinformation can be disseminated unintentionally, for example, as the consequence of a misunderstanding or sloppy journalism (McNair, 2017). Disinformation, on the other hand, is incorrect or misleading information that is disseminated deliberatively (Bakir & McStay, 2018;HLEG, 2018;Lazer et al., 2018). Thus, while both misinformation and disinformation are inaccurate or misleading, they are distinguished by their intent. ...
... Financial motives are, in turn, often related to the workings of digital advertising and the expectation that a particular story will stir attention and clicks, which are then converted to advertising revenue (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). This idea links falsehoods to the emergence of "clickbait", a concept referring to the creation of news content solely aimed at generating attention through sensational and emotionally appealing headlines (Bakir & McStay, 2018). In the following, we will present political, media, and citizen actor motivations in more detail. ...
... For example, Vargo et al. (2018) show that partisan news media repeatedly cover fake news content when it fits their agendas (see also . However, financial motivations might be equally relevant, to the extent that journalists incorporate mis-or disinformation into their reporting to generate clickbait or to better their career chances (Bakir & McStay, 2018). When considering media actors, dissemination of disinformation is the next step. ...
... Another platform-amplified feature is affect. Platform algorithms were observed to preferentially recommend emotionally salient and polarizing content to boost user engagement and content sharing 16,17 . Given that misinformation tends to be more sensational and novel, this algorithmic bias had also led to the oversharing of misinformation 11 . ...
... This can be done in several ways. For instance, many fake news sites are driven by ad profit 16 . As such, ad firms and retailers can curtail misinformation by blacklisting known fake and low-credibility news sites, and recent research suggested that, in so doing, major ad firms would not suffer any significant loss of revenues 58 . ...
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Past research has attributed the online circulation of misinformation to two main factors - individual characteristics (e.g., a person's information literacy) and social media effects (e.g., algorithm-mediated information diffusion) - and has overlooked a third one: the critical mass created by the offline self-segregation of Americans into like-minded geographical regions such as states (a phenomenon called "The Big Sort"). We hypothesized that this latter factor matters for the online spreading of misinformation not least because online interactions, despite having the potential of being global, end up being localized: interaction probability is known to rapidly decay with distance. Upon analysis of more than 8M Reddit comments containing news links spanning four years, from January 2016 to December 2019, we found that Reddit did not work as an "hype machine" for misinformation (as opposed to what previous work reported for other platforms, circulation was not mainly caused by platform-facilitated network effects) but worked as a supply-and-demand system: misinformation news items scaled linearly with the number of users in each state (with a scaling exponent beta=1, and a goodness of fit R2 = 0.95). Furthermore, deviations from such a universal pattern were best explained by state-level personality and cultural factors (R2 = {0.12, 0.39}), rather than socioeconomic conditions (R2 = {0.15, 0.29}) or, as one would expect, political characteristics (R2 ={0.06, 0.21}). Higher-than-expected circulation of any type of news (including reputable news) was found in states characterised by residents who tend to be less diligent in terms of their personality (low in conscientiousness) and by loose cultures understating the importance of adherence to norms (low in cultural tightness).
... The Chinese official outlet, Global Times, also drew on this Japanese source in a report that discussed the U.S. origin theory (People's Daily Online 2020a). 2 It was later debunked that content from the Japanese source had been misrepresented to fit into the conspiracy theory (Poynter 2020). ...
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This article delves into the politics of the U.S.-China blame-game regarding COVID-19's origin, particularly Chinese disinformation narratives attributing the virus's root to the United States. The blame-game is symptomatic of contradictory global imaginaries circulated within distinct geopolitical spaces. This article approaches Chinese disinformation narratives as transnational and intertextual constructs, which involve the practices of (mis)translating and referencing foreign source texts to paradoxically delegitimate the foreign, especially Western, Other; they reinforce what I call self-serving cosmopolitanism, a narcissistic and locally conditioned sense of global consciousness that is oriented towards the consolidation of self-identity and pride. It is my contention that, to combat global disinformation about COVID-19, we should foreground the politics of translation, enhance cross-cultural sensibility, and most importantly, mobilize a kind of counter-politics against the xenophobic nationalism that disinformation narratives often parasitize. Cultural scholars with comparative perspectives are well positioned to take the initiative in revealing the structural issues at play within a global context and in promoting genuine cosmopolitan openness.
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Donald J. Trump, one of the 2016 US presidential candidates, is thought to have benefited from political fact-doctoring to diminish his adversary's reputation using the post-truth phenomena. This research aimed to identify and analyze post-truth phenomena that infiltrated the political system, media, and the American people during Donald J. Trump's leadership. This study used a qualitative approach with a critical thinking analysis method. The findings found that individual rationality's post-truth disrupted and then directed to online information impulses, in which people tended to seek information that supported their own opinions, particularly on issues connected to Donald J. Trump's leadership in all sectors of policy, including irrelevant facts or reality and the use of language increasingly exploited by hyperbole without an apparent basis reference.
Os últimos quatros anos, no Brasil, foram marcados por profundos retrocessos nas políticas ambientais. Um elemento agravante foi a propagação de informações falsas que visava desinformar sobre os impactos diretos da ação humana na natureza. Nesse contexto, o objetivo geral do trabalho consistiu em compreender de que forma as Fake News, ao negarem as interferências humanas no meio ambiente, tem contribuído para o aceleramento desse processo. Para tal, foi utilizado a metodologia de pesquisa documental e bibliográfica, com o uso de análise de conteúdo sobre as narrativas proferidas pelo presidente da república, entre os anos de 2018 e 2021. Os resultados apontaram que as mensagens anticiência e negacionistas do presidente fomentaram a sustentação política para o esvaziamento do monitoramento e fiscalização no contexto ambiental, bem como para os sucessivos aumentos das queimadas e desmatamentos na Floresta Amazônica. Enquanto conclusões, o trabalho coloca para a área a importância de se considerar os impactos das notícias falsas nas tentativas de se reduzir o Antropoceno, ressaltando, contudo, que a sua dinâmica tem se mostrado mais complexa do que a simples ênfase na carência de alfabetização científica e ambiental
This study develops upon recent scholarship about the Russian government's digital influence campaign to cultivate Black Americans during the 2016 election by rooting their efforts within a century-long strategy to exploit racial inequality to discredit and damage American democracy. Guided by Shifman’s (2013) construct of memetics, we employed a novel methodology that combined journalistic fact-checking and critical, qualitative analysis to study 164 Facebook advertisements targeted at Black Americans. These advertisements closely resembled Soviet-era propaganda and new disinformation strategies facilitated by the affordances of Facebook. Our findings reveal the advertisements exploited Facebook's interactive design and used an insider's voice to share real news about racial inequality, celebrate Black culture, and coordinate civic action. This study's methodological approach provides a meaningful framework for understanding how actors hack and deploy cultural knowledge to spread disinformation through social media platforms.
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Misinformation threatens our societies, but little is known about how the production of news by unreliable sources relates to supply and demand dynamics. We exploit the burst of news production triggered by the COVID-19 outbreak through an Italian database partially annotated for questionable sources. We compare news supply with news demand, as captured by Google Trends data. We identify the Granger causal relationships between supply and demand for the most searched keywords, quantifying the inertial behaviour of the news supply. Focusing on COVID-19 news, we find that questionable sources are more sensitive than general news production to people’s interests, especially when news supply and demand mismatched. We introduce an index assessing the level of questionable news production solely based on the available volumes of news and searches. We contend that these results can be a powerful asset in informing campaigns against disinformation and providing news outlets and institutions with potentially relevant strategies. Studying news supply and demand amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy, Gravino and coauthors show that news production by unreliable sources is more sensitive to the public interest than reliable news.
This study examined the influence of fake news online on how social media users viewed and reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. Analyses of an online survey ( N = 254) and contents from Twitter users in Nigeria from the hashtags: ‘#coronavirusNigeria’ and ‘#covid19Nigeria’ ( N = 10,408), reveal that social media users in Nigeria used Twitter to inform and educate Twitter users as well as debunking fake news stories about the virus to prevent purveyors of fake news from misleading Twitter users in Nigeria. Findings further indicate that those who use social media platforms and national television as main sources of news and are less educated, are statistically more likely to believe fake news about the virus than those who are educated and used newspapers as main sources of news. Consequently, the study recommends that Nigerian political leaders enact policies that they can observe as their inability to adhere to their own lockdowns powered fake news about COVID-19 in Nigeria.
Technical Report
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Empathic media is a collect-all term to refer to affect-sensitive technologies employed to make inferences about emotions, feelings, moods, perspective, attention and intention. Frequently making use of artificial intelligence and machine learning approaches, they are increasing in capability and diversity of application. This report draws upon (a) over 100 interviews with industrial, political, security, legal and NGO stakeholders; (b) a UK survey (n=2068); and (c) a workshop with relevant stakeholders to explore scope for ethical guidelines. Overall the research finds that there is overlap between stakeholders on how best to manage the emergence of these technologies, but this is not currently being achieved. It concludes by identifying beneficial uses of these technologies, but also an ethical and regulatory lacuna. Mindful of dangers of regulating early, the report nonetheless recommends regulatory attention. It also urges relevant sectors of the technology industry to recognise that there is self-interest in collective consideration and action regarding negative societal implications of tracking emotional life.
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Personalization algorithms, widely used by digital media sources, filter and prioritize news in ways that may not be apparent to users. Savvy media consumers should be aware of how this technology is used to tailor news to their tastes. This two-part study examines the extent to which US college students are aware of news personalization, and the actions and criteria that affect news selection and prioritization. Interviews with one set of students (N = 37) focus on the news sources they use most often to begin a news search. A subsequent survey given to a second set of students (N = 147) focuses on Google and Facebook, two influential gatekeepers. Results show that students are largely unaware of whether and how news sources track user data and apply editorial judgments to deliver personalized results. These studies identify aspects of news personalization that warrant greater attention in college curricula.
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Drawing on interviews with people from the advertising and technology industry, legal experts and policy makers, this paper assesses the rise of emotion detection in digital out-of-home advertising, a practice that often involves facial coding of emotional expressions in public spaces. Having briefly outlined how bodies contribute to targeting processes and the optimisation of the ads themselves, it progresses to detail industrial perspectives, intentions and attitudes to data ethics. Although the paper explores possibilities of this sector, it pays careful attention to existing practices that claim not to use personal data. Centrally, it argues that scholars and regulators need to pay attention to the principle of intimacy. This is developed to counter weaknesses in privacy that is typically based on identification. Having defined technologies, use cases, industrial perspectives, legal views and arguments about jurisprudence, the paper discusses this ensemble of perspectives in light of a nationwide survey about how UK citizens feel about the potential for emotion detection in out-of-home advertising.
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BLURB Questions of privacy are critical to the study of contemporary media and society. When we’re more and more connected to devices and to content, it’s increasingly important to understand how information about ourselves is being collected, transmitted, processed, and mediated. Privacy and the Media equips students to do just that, providing a comprehensive overview of both the theory and reality of privacy and the media in the 21st Century. Offering a rich overview of this crucial and topical relationship, Andy McStay: - Explores the foundational topics of journalism, the Snowden leaks, and encryption by companies such as Apple - Considers commercial applications including behavioural advertising, big data, algorithms, and the role of platforms such as Google and Facebook - Introduces the role of the body with discussions of emotion, wearable media, peer-based privacy, and sexting Encourages students to put their understanding to work with suggestions for further research, challenging them to explore how privacy functions in practice. Privacy and the Media is not a polemic on privacy as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but a call to assess the detail and the potential implications of contemporary media technologies and practices. It is essential reading for students and researchers of digital media, social media, digital politics, and the creative and cultural industries. REVIEWS Privacy and the Media is a thoughtful survey of the privacy landscape. McStay reviews the intricate tensions and seeming contradictions to offer an accessible book for anyone curious about the contemporary debates in privacy. danah boyd, Data & Society This pleasingly accessible book tackles all the major questions that arise in a world whose lifeblood is our personal information; liberty, choice, transparency, control. It goes to the “conceptual, ethical and legal heart of privacy”. McStay argues that privacy is “not about isolation, going off-grid or being a digital hermit”. Rather, it is about managing our online lives and controlling how much others know about us. This book persuades me more than ever that privacy is a branch of ethics – the age-old relationship between the self and the other. Privacy and the Media’ is not a set of neatly answered questions or defences of established positIons. It is a series of embarkation points for further exploration of an increasingly critical area of study, with real-world implications for the nature of our ‘datafied’ selves. The book will serve as a great introduction to informational privacy, not just for media studies students and privacy lawyers, but for any information rights professional needing a deeper understanding of the subject. Iain Bourne, Information Commissioner's Office McStay’s great achievement here is to confront many of the pertinent and complex questions about media and privacy in a style that is both authoritative and easy to read. He provides an excellent overview of the perennial debates and considers the implications on privacy of an increasingly data-driven media environment. His book will prove an excellent companion for all students of this fascinating and crucial topic. Mireille Hildebrandt, Vrije Universitet Brussel
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On social media algorithms for content promotion, accounting for users preferences, might limit the exposure to unsolicited contents. In this work, we study how the same contents (videos) are consumed on different platforms -- i.e. Facebook and YouTube -- over a sample of $12M$ of users. Our findings show that the same content lead to the formation of echo chambers, irrespective of the online social network and thus of the algorithm for content promotion. Finally, we show that the users' commenting patterns are accurate early predictors for the formation of echo-chambers.
In May 2016, two stories on Facebook’s Trending Topics news feature appeared on the site Gizmodo, the first exposing the human curators working surreptitiously to select news and the second containing accusations that certain curators censored conservative voices. These revelations led to public outcry, mostly from conservatives upset at possible bias and journalists critical of Facebook for its largely secretive and haphazard approach to news. This study examines the response to the controversy as metajournalistic discourse—talk about news that seeks to define appropriate practices and legitimate news forms. It identifies a fundamental divergence in the public articulation of Facebook’s role in the larger news ecosystem. Facebook reacted to the controversy by formulating an approach to news as a form of content that, like other content on the site, should be personalized, organized according to popularity in the form of user engagement, and free of editorial control from the social media site. By contrast, journalists positioned news as purposively selected and shared while placing Facebook as an active participant within the news ecosystem and therefore beholden to an enhanced institutional commitment to public responsibility.
This lucid and original work argues for a new style of political leadership, one which pays deliberate and sophisticated attention to the emotional dynamics of the public. A case study of terrorism, as a highly emotional topic and as a key political issue in many liberal democracies, grounds the book's ideas in today's political landscape.
The crisis in Ukraine has accentuated the position of Russian television as the government’s strongest asset in its information warfare. The internet, however, allows other players to challenge the Kremlin’s narrative by providing counter-narratives and debunking distorted information and fake images. Accounting for the new media ecology—through which strategic narratives are created and interpreted, this article scrutinizes the narratives of allegedly fake news on Channel One, perceiving the fabricated stories as extreme projections of Russia’s strategic narratives, and the attempts of the Ukrainian fact-checking website to counter the Russian narrative by refuting misinformation and exposing misleading images about Ukraine. Secondly, it analyses how Twitter users judged the veracity of these news stories and contributed to the perpetuation of strategic narratives.
This book argues that marketing is inherent in competitive democracy and should not be assumed to be antithetical to proper political discourse and debate about the common good. Instead, we should seek to understand it, to create marketing-literate criticism to distinguish between shallow, cynical packaging and campaigns that aspire to engender citizen engagement and participation. Furthermore, we can take lessons from marketing: enjoyment matters, what citizens think and feel matters, and just as in commercial markets, structure is key - the type of political marketing will be affected by the conditions of competition.
All PR, whether for charities or arms manufacturers, is weak propaganda. Though it has its undeniable benefits (it grabs attention and helps circulate more information), it also has costs (such as selective messaging). This extensively revised edition of a classic text fully investigates PR, updating and expanding earlier arguments and building upon the successful first edition with new thoughts, data and evidence. Thought-provoking and stimulating, Rethinking Public Relations 2nd Edition challenges conventional PR wisdom. It develops the accepted thinking on the most important question facing PR - its relationship with democracy - and finds a balance of advantages and disadvantages which leave a residue of concern. It tackles topical issues such as: PR as a form of propaganda which flourishes in a democracy; the connections between PR and journalism; the media, promotions culture and persuasion. Designed to appeal to final year undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers studying public relations, media and communications studies, this book explores the most important relationship PR has - the connection with democracy - and asks what benefits or costs it brings to politics, markets and the media.