For about a decade, a phenomenon keeps spreading and becomes more and more dangerous. I am talking about Fake News. Fake News has always existed but their spreading speed and the scale of the people they reach has never been so high. It has become a threat to people reading that news but also to a larger scale. What did enable this phenomenon to increase in scale?
As to set comparison by age, we will take the following classification. Are called Generation Y or Millennials, the people aged 25-34. The Generation Z comprise those aged 18-24. Those two generations have a way to consume the news that is much different from those above 35 years old.
First, the youngest are often called the digital natives. They were born with the internet and smartphones. By contrast, the plus 35 only had newspapers and the TV, for some.
According to their decade of birth, people do not consume the news the same way. According to a survey from the University of Oxford, about 45% of the 18-24 people use their smartphone as their first contact with the news in the morning. This percentage drops to 19 for the plus 35. It has been shown by the same study that the older you are, the more inclined you will be to get the news from the television. This might seem innocent, but the problem is that the quality of the news varies among the different devices that can be used.
According to a study from Statista, more than 60 % of the UK population believes that online websites and social media are the first source of Fake news. The problem is, in the UK in 2019, about 35 percent of the whole population got their daily news from Facebook. Among social media usage, we can also find differences by generation. 48% of the 18-24 use Facebook at least once a week and 24% for Instagram. Yet, they remain the prime user of this latter social media. They also are those using Twitter the most.
Twitter is known for the reactivity of its users. When an event occurs, anywhere in the world, users react live and sometimes spread information that is neither checked nor certified. There is the danger.
One positive thing is that the growing issue of Fake news also spreads awareness around this topic. People get more and more cautious while reading the news. With the pandemic, they proliferated, and governments alerted people, advised them to double-check their sources and cross-reference. If nowadays, it is of common knowledge that some sources are more accurate than others, it is hard to identify Fake News.
Another issue has been raised in recent years regarding the way people consume the news. We have shown that the younger generations tend to use social media as their first point of contact with the news and that this tendency impacts more and more generations.
Nowadays, because of technological progress, every part of people’s journeys on the internet is customized. If you talk to your friends about wanting to buy a new car, there is a high probability that the next time you use a digital device, you’ll be spammed with a car advertisement. They might even put an advert of a brand you talked about months ago. On one side this can be seen as a real progress that makes people’s life easier and their use of the Internet nicer. But on the other side, some might see this as deviance, and abuse.
I mention this phenomenon as the same algorithm that applies to the above situation also calculates your preferences in terms of news.
In an era where we urge people to be more open-minded, our access to the news is restricted by our past preferences. It is called confirmation bias. Let’s illustrate with a concrete example. If you are of those who do not believe in climate change. And those exist. On your news feed, you’ll find a prominence of articles that will not challenge your opinion. You have thought of no ways of changing your mind as the algorithm in your phone or tablet or desktop conditions you not to change your opinion. This might seem a bit extreme, but this phenomenon is common and as users, we do not even notice it.
Even though awareness has been raised on both those issues, users need to be more careful than ever: double-check your sources, use different ways to get the news, and from different sources. If interested, you can look up to the tech companies that are working on creating accuracy rating news algorithms such as OIGetIt.
Written by: Marie Charbonneau
Edited by: Marie Charbonneau