What’s currently referred to as “fake news” has a long and illustrious history. The first detailed reporting occurred in 44BC following the assassination of Julius Caesar on the infamous Ides of March. The result was a power struggle between Marc Antony (of Cleopatra fame) and Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son, that produced a disinformation campaign from both sides. Marc Antony suffered a decisive military defeat, but that was not enough to consolidate power. Octavian issued his own account of the struggle which was recognized as being patently false, but was still used to legitimize his rule as Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, thereby ending the Roman Republic.
Fast forward to the present day. Technology has enabled both the creation of untrue and doctored content on a vast scale and the dissemination of that content over the megaphone of social media. The typical definition of “fake news” is news that is published with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically. Merriam-Webster points out that the term has not yet been included in its dictionary. The term “disinformation” has a long history of acceptance and is less politically charged, so I prefer to use that.
The current media environment can lead readers to believe that the phenomenon of disinformation is inherently political. That is not true. Social media’s megaphone amplifies disinformation across all walks of life, often doing substantial harm. Consider the case of a baker who found that her careful baking videos were being eclipsed by shoddy ones, produced for profit not for delicious deserts. Here’s the video in the context of a somewhat tongue-in-cheek post from the Mozilla Foundation.
If you are not inclined to watch the 15-minute recipe-by-recipe rebuttal by the baker, here’s what’s called a tl;dr for you. [That’s internet speak for “Too long, didn’t read” and often is the lead-in to a snarky summary of the article.] Here’s this one:
Baker makes good baking videos. Sketchy thing called a content farm [site that games search engines using low-quality content] out low-quality baking videos designed to game YouTube’s algorithm for profit, but with questionable recipes. Bad content farm videos get a lot more views and subscribers than legit baker. Legit baker exposes sketchy content farm’s laughably bad recipes. Calls for people to support better baking content creators before they get pushed out of existence.
Behind the snark is a serious message from one of the leading privacy advocates on the web. Mozilla has all sorts of useful resources. Attached to the article with the video is a carefully-selected list of articles that you might find useful.
You may find specific suggestions on how to recognize and guard against disinformation in various forms in various media even more useful. I’ll be following up with that in my series of articles observing Cybersecurity Awareness Month.