Identifying fake news is made harder by the fact that it is rapidly becoming an industry of its own, with individuals paid to write sensationalist stories and create clickbait content to increase site traffic. Misinformation, fiction masquerading as fact, and deliberate lies can be made to look legitimate and can easily spread among thousands of users in a matter of minutes.
When it comes to the spread of fake news, social media is the main culprit. Although social media has been the least trusted news source globally since 2016, a study revealed that that over 50 percent of responding internet users in 17 different countries use social networks as a way to keep up to date.
Younger consumers are often at greater risk of exposure to fake news than older generations by sheer virtue of their higher social media usage. This issue was highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic, and a clear example of the extent of the problem can be seen in data on news consumption in Europe during the outbreak. A survey held in spring 2020 showed that 60 percent of 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK had recently used social media for information about the coronavirus, and 59 percent had come across fake news on the subject. Meanwhile, in France, almost 30 percent of 15 to 18-year-olds were using social media as their primary source of coronavirus information.
Age, social media, and the coronavirus aside though, the sad reality is that fake news is a global problem which is almost impossible to manage or solve. Fake news sites and creators take advantage of the public’s need for information, and whilst interventions can be made and rules put in place, once fake news is out there, it is difficult to contain. Either knowingly or unknowingly, many consumers see fake news and pass it on to someone else, putting even the savviest news audiences are at risk.
Fake news has no ‘quick fix’ and developing an awareness of where one might encounter it and improving one’s ability to identify false information is a must for regular news consumers. By reporting suspicious content, only using reputable news sources, and making an effort to fact-check information, every individual can in a small way work towards achieving a safer news environment.