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The Rise of ‘Fake News’ in Internet Age: Influencing Election Results, Religious Sentiments and much more

For social media companies like Twitter and the rest, the ability to weed out false information or hate speech can be daunting

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Representational image. VOA

November 30, 2016: A common narrative that emerged during this year’s presidential race was that of a country divided, which experts and pundits say explains the rise – and stunning electoral victory – of Republican Donald Trump over his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

The other story of 2016 is the rise of so-called “fake news” and its spike on social media outlets. Facebook, in particular, has come under fire, having surpassed Google as the biggest driver of audience on all social media platforms.

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This week, Trump again invited controversy — a move now commonly called a “tweet storm” — by tweeting out a claim of voter fraud during the November election that he says denied him the popular vote without citing any evidence.

The “fake news” phenomenon has rattled the web, not to mention mainstream journalists, scholars and ordinary users of social media, many of whom are tweeting and writing op-ed columns, news stories and guides on how to spot inaccurate news stories and fake news websites.

All this has put unprecedented pressure on Facebook, where, according to an analysis by Buzzfeed News, fake election stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election articles from 19 major news outlets in the final three months of the election campaign.

A screenshot of a Buzzfeed News graph on "fake news" analysis (courtesy of Buzzfeed News) VOA
A screenshot of a Buzzfeed News graph on “fake news” analysis (courtesy of Buzzfeed News) VOA

The heat on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg prompted the company to tweak its algorithm to weed out inaccurate information, and later, as the outcry grew, publicly outline steps the company is taking to reduce what Zuckerberg called “misinformation.”

He prefaced his post with a familiar caveat:

“We do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves, but instead rely on our community and trusted third parties.”

There are legitimate sites, journalists and scholars who are paying attention to the prevalence of fake news. Among them: Snopes.com, Columbia Journalism Review, The Poynter Institute and Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communication and media at Merrimack University, who wrote a Google document with tips on how to spot “fake news” sites or inaccurate news stories for her students.

According to these fact-checkers, we must first understand what “fake news” is – and isn’t.

“We classify ‘fake news’ as specifically web sites that publish information that’s entirely fabricated,” said Kim LaCapria, content manager for Snopes.com, a website that tracks misinformation on the web.

“Right now ‘fake news’ is being applied to ‘slanted and/or inaccurate news,’” added LaCapria. “So there’s some conflation.”

And that conflation of what information can accurately be described as fake or misleading or maybe only partially true, coupled with the warp speed of digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter, have created a perfect storm of confusion, said University of Connecticut philosophy professor and author Michael Lynch.

“Confusion and deception is happening…. and mass confusion about the importance of things like truth follow in the wake of that deception,” said Lynch, who wrote a column in The New York Times this week about impact of “fake news” on the health of America’s political system. “And that is absolutely corrosive to democracy.”

LaCapria, like Lynch, also has seen first-hand how branding everything that is verifiably false ‘fake news’ isn’t really what is happening on social media. “One long-circulating rumor held that Hillary Clinton was fired from the Watergate investigation for lying,” LaCapria said.

“If I recall correctly, we rated it mostly false because the claim originated with someone who had changed his story over the years. But in our politics category, the news is not fake per se. It’s often false, mixture, mostly false or unproven.”

LaCapria points out distorted or false information has existed for a long time.

“This is the first real social media election we’ve ever experienced. And we had two social media candidates: [Bernie] Sanders and Trump,” she said.

President-elect Donald Trump gets ready for a question and answer session on Twitter during his campaign for the presidency. (@realdonaldtrump) VOA
President-elect Donald Trump gets ready for a question and answer session on Twitter during his campaign for the presidency. (@realdonaldtrump) VOA

“Now that people are upset about Trump, they’re looking at social media as a culprit. And it may be a mitigating factor, but this has all definitely been affecting politics hugely for many years.”

The Poynter Institute’s Alexios Mantzarlis, who leads the International Fact-Checking Network, agrees that there is a bit too much angst over “fake news.”

“Politicians distorting the truth isn’t a new phenomenon. Voters choosing politicians based on emotions rather than facts is not a new phenomenon,” Mantzarlis said in an email. “Moreover, we know from research that fact-checking can change readers’ minds.”

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For social media companies like Twitter and the rest, the ability to weed out false information or hate speech can be daunting, no matter how savvy their back-end web engineers may be.

Facebook in essence acknowledged that recoding its algorithm wasn’t enough, when Zuckerberg posted his latest statement about the spreading of misinformation on his platform.

An unidentified person types on a computer keyboard in Los Angeles, Feb. 27, 2013. VOA
An unidentified person types on a computer keyboard in Los Angeles, Feb. 27, 2013. VOA

For Lynch, who wrote “The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data,” a book released earlier this year, there are solutions to help combat the ease of creating “fake news” sites and spreading misinformation across the web.

“There are a lot of smart people working on social media and at universities trying to find algorithmic solutions to misleading content and confusion and deception on the Internet. Right now it’s not working,” he said. But right now I don’t think we should despair about not fixing our technology.”

In terms of fixes, Mantzarlis puts the burden on users.

“For one, headline writers could avoid repeating a baseless claim without any indication that it is unfounded.” Mantzarlis also argues that Facebook will need to hire some human beings to vet content in tandem with creating smarter back-end technology.

“The algorithm itself will have to change … to recognize that ‘fake news,’ and the pages that consistently post them, to get a reduced reach on [the Facebook] News Feed,” he said, adding that this tack will hit “fake news” purveyors where it hurts the most.

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“After all, for many the incentive to publish this content is financial and if the reach is reduced, so is their income.”

Most agree that the overwhelming noise of the Internet — and the much-heralded freedom of speech ethos that rules it — will forever include distortions of fact and outright falsehoods. But ultimately the vast majority of web content is created by people. And in Lynch’s mind, that is where the real power to spot and call out misleading information lies.

“I’ve become convinced that as I’ve gone around talking to people, including those in Silicon Valley … is that we as individuals, as people, need to start taking responsibility for what we believe. And for what we share and tweet.” (VOA)

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Messenger Rooms: Facebook’s Group Video Chat feature Available on Instagram

Facebook Messenger Rooms is now available in Instagram as users can invite upto 50 for a video conference

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Messenger Room
Facebook has introduced Messenger Room feature in Instagram. Pixabay

Instagram is the latest in Facebooks family of apps to be integrated with the new group video chat feature Messenger Rooms.

With the latest update, Instagram users will be able to invite up to 50 people for a video chat session.

“Beginning in the present day, you’ll be able to create @messenger Rooms on Instagram and invite anybody to hitch,” Instagram said in a tweet on Friday.

Meanwhile, Instagram also shared a video revealing the steps to make use of the brand new characteristic.

A user first need to go to Instagram Direct messages. There, tap on the video chat icon. Then select Create a Room. One can now send invitations for the room to their Instagram friends.

WhatsApp
Messenger Rooms integration is also coming to WhatsApp. Pixabay

Instagram will then create a room and show a link to it. It will also give an option to Join Room or Send Link and if a user tap on Join Room, Instagram will ask to open the room in the Messenger app.

Messenger Rooms integration is also coming to WhatsApp and has been noticed in the beta version.

Also Read: Facebook Workplace Gathers 5 Million Paid Users

Last month, Facebook announced Messenger Rooms which allow group video calls of up to 50 people with no time limit.

People can create a room right from Messenger or Facebook, and invite anyone to join the video call, even if they don”t have a Facebook account.

In Facebook Messenger Rooms, the users can post links in their News Feed or in Groups or event pages. (IANS)

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Facebook Workplace Gathers 5 Million Paid Users

Facebook Workplace has added 2 million paid users since October

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Facebook
Facebook has added 2 million paid users, out of the 5 million since october. Pixabay

With the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically accelerating the shift to remote work, Facebook’s collaboration tool for businesses, Workplace, has amassed five million paid users — up two million since October.

And Work Groups, a type of Facebook Group that helps people connect with their coworkers, has over 20 million monthly active users after just six months, Facebook said in a blog post on Thursday.

“Today we’re introducing new video features in Workplace We’re also adding features to Workplace on Portal, and widely releasing Oculus for Business to meet early demand for VR-powered training and collaboration,” the social networking giant said.

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Now users can invite up to 50 people to a video call. Pixabay

For example, with Workplace Rooms, users can invite up to 50 people to a video call even if they are not in their company or do not have a Workplace account.

“Whether you’re holding team meetings, hosting a virtual happy hour, or just jumping on quick one-on-one calls, you can easily create video call links from Workplace Chat, Groups, News Feed or Portal, then share them in a chat, post, email or text message, Facebook said.

A new way to go live on Workplace from your desktop is “Live Producer” which lets people to schedule live videos, share their screen and use the live Q&A feature to let people ask and vote on questions.

Facebook
“Live Producer” lets people to schedule live videos, share their screen and use the live Q&A feature to let people ask and vote on questions. Pixabay

You can turn on automatic captions for live videos in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. Workplace will also automatically translate videos in one of these languages into the other five, so employees around the world can follow along, Facebook announced.

Also Read: Snapchat Brings ‘Lensathon’ to India

Facebook said it is also bringing some of the Portal video-calling device’s interesting features such as Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered Smart Camera and Smart Sound to Workplace Live on Portal so that users can have professional-level broadcasting wherever they are.

The social networking giant also announced that Oculus for Business, an enterprise solution designed to streamline and expand virtual reality in the workplace, is now generally available.

Oculus for Business is built on Workplace, leveraging its security infrastructure and privacy practices. (IANS)

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#BacktoWin: LaLiga and Facebook Begin Countdown to League Return

#BacktoWin will feature episodes once a week on LaLigas Facebook page until the competition returns

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LaLiga Santander
LaLiga and Facebook have started the countdown for the return of the Spanish football league by launching a series called #BacktoWin, Wikimedia Commons

LaLiga and Facebook have started the countdown to announce the return of the Spanish football league by launching a special series called #BacktoWin, episodes of which will be shown once a week on LaLigas Facebook page until the competition returns.

This show will reveal the major news stories from across LaLiga, including the umbrella strategy behind the return of LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank, kick-off times and the new audiovisual broadcast features set to be rolled out between now and the end of the current campaign, a statement from them said.

Facebook LaLiga page
#BacktoWin episodes will be shown once a week on LaLigas Facebook page until the competition returns. WIkimedia Commons

The weekly, 30-minute episodes of #BacktoWin will be aired up until Spanish league resumes. LaLiga president Javier Tebas will feature in the first episode, which will be shown on Wednesday, on LaLiga’s Facebook page.

Each episode will see a leading figure from within LaLiga take centre stage and will involve the participation of several LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank players who will share their experiences of the quarantine period and their expectations for when the competition gets up and running again.

LaLiga SmartBank
LaLiga SmartBank players who will share their experiences of the quarantine period. Wikimedia Commons

Read More: Diet Rich in Fruits, Vegetables Reduces Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases: Study

Football-related content focusing on the return to action will dominate this new show, with viewers set to be entertained with fascinating stats and storylines such as the race to be crowned LaLiga’s top scorer at the end of the season and the latest news, including the new audiovisual features set to be incorporated into match broadcasts.

Jose Antonio Cachaza, managing director, LaLiga India said: “Through this initiative, we will bring exciting and engaging football-related content to the fans who are eagerly waiting to hear from their idols.” (IANS)