Fake News and Online SecurityMarch 31, 2019
One of the new ways of getting people to click on various links is creating and sharing some fake news. You may think this isn’t a threat to online security, but it actually is.
Not only that fake news can affect your life and security, but it can also be one of those things you have to stay away from when you’re navigating online.
News is a term used for the information that is… new. For example, there was a breakthrough in technology, or there was an accident on a highway that was quite severe, and so on.
The fake news is, of course, a piece of information that represent a lie. Fake news has been around at least since the journalists and newspaper appeared.
According to Wikipedia, though, fake news has been “spotted” even in Ancient times. Back then the impact on the whole world was almost insignificant. IT just impacted the community or the country where it was spread in the first place.
Fake news usually contains misleading information, that can be created with a purpose. What’s the purpose? Some might want to do some harm and spread lies about somebody or about a whole situation; some might want to cover their initial lie. There are many more cases in which fake news appear but either way, it has, at least most of the time, a bad intention.
Their aim is to deceive people: fake news is a lie, but in people’s eye, it has to look at it’s the truth. People have to believe that fake news in order to have an impact.
As the years have passed, fake news now have an additional base, let’s call it that way. What I’m trying to say is this: along with the rise of the Internet and the boom of the social media platforms, the fake news world has changed quite a bit.
Nowadays, even a person’s personal opinion can trigger a piece of fake news. Why? Because others might believe it and share it across the social media platform(s). This creates a bigger audience, and more and more people will read that piece of fake news, actually thinking it’s the truth. They don’t know the source, hence they don’t know it was just a personal opinion.
Therefore, nowadays, fake news isn’t just created to do harm; it’s created simply because people are naive and don’t know anymore to separate personal opinions from the actual truth.
As I said above, news can be found in every aspect of our lives: personal news, technology, educational, political - everything.
Just as a mirror (a deceiving one), fake news comes in the same varied types.
One of the most popular types of fake news is the one that targets celebrities. Part because of the rise of those reality shows, common people now want to know everything about celebrities’ lives.
News about them creates one of the biggest engagement, mostly because of the curiosity and because they basically bring entertainment.
Fake news about celebrities are the ones meant to create a bigger engagement, as they bring along that feeling of “wow-ness”.
This type of fake news does harm only to the celebrities, as they are put into a tough position. If many people believe the fake news, they have to show the actual truth and make sure that everyone will know what’s really happening.
These ones have gained a lot more traction in the past years. I believe that it’s due to the constantly rising popularity of social media platforms. It’s extremely easy and fast now to get a piece of American news across the ocean, to Europe, and make people believe it instantly.
Also, there are millions of users who simply are not used to this online world, and will believe everything.
The purpose of political news is to basically attract people to vote on a candidate. This fake news gained popularity in 2016, along with the elections in the United
Stated of America. Since then, social media platforms, especially Facebook, are trying to combat them. But this doesn’t mean they didn’t spread in other countries, too.
Every piece of information that has that sensational part is expected to bring engagement: shares, likes, comments etc.
There are a few situations when the truth can be sensational. Because of this, people have to invent a lie or to modify the truth in order to create that “wow” effect. This is sensational fake news.
Sometimes, they are even hard to prove wrong, because they are based on fiction. Let’s take a comparison: you see, with the celebrity fake news, you can easily ask for the truth, because there is a person involved in that piece of fake news. The person can tell you the truth. Same with the political news: if there is a piece of fake news about a discussion between two presidents, I’m sure that the discussion has been recorded, and you can search for the video in order to find the truth.
It’s all about sources of information.
Now, with sensational fake news, things can be a little different. Not always, but there are many cases. You can spread the word that because of a certain app, you did something: you crashed the car or you simply did something sensational. In this case, you’ll be the only one knowing the truth, hence you can lie about it until you die. There’s little chance that you’ll be discovered, or discovered easily.
Sometimes, this sensational news is created only to do harm and it can actually gather all the other types of fake news. Other times, sensational news is created to gain something: let’s say you have a news website, and you just shared a new article; the photo of that article exaggerates the title (or it compliments it, depending on how you’ve written it); you know that most people will be satisfied with only reading the title, hence, they’ll share it directly. You’ll be the one that will gain revenue from ads placed on your website (because there will be people who will click through).
This type of news is one that it can be illegal. Still, there are companies that rely on this: they say that their product does wonders, persuading people to buy it.
Some companies even pay bloggers or influencers to promote the product. These wannabe bloggers and influencers (I’m sorry, but there isn’t another term for these people who basically don’t care about what they are promoting, they just want the money) lie about using the particular product, exemplifying the wonders it does.
Because a real person using a product is easier to be believed, people will start considering or actually buying the product that can make them lose fat, grow hair, cook easier or whatever else.
Luckily, once these companies are caught, it’s most likely that they will be shut down, due to the law.
If I said before that some fake news is created just to do harm, imagine these kinds of fake news. Fear, racism, and sexism are three subjects that have lots of negativity in them.
They are similar to sensational news because everyone wants to know what has happened when they see a negative news title.
I remember that there was once a buzz about a black van wandering through the town, kidnapping kids. It created fear, even though some thought that “hey, this can’t be true; but what if it is?”.
Nobody wants to fear anything. It’s easier to believe something that causes fear, because this feeling is powerful and it requires the immediate sentiment of protection. If you didn’t care about it, and if something actually happens to you, you’ll blame yourself for not believing the first place. It’s similar to prevention.
As I said, actual news comes in some many forms, hence fake news has to replicate them. Sometimes, even pranks and satires are considered fake news. They misleading people (the naive part).
Even the messages or the emails that you received, stating that you’ve won something, are put in the fake news category. YouTube videos, as well.
Basically, everything that deceives people is fake news. No wonder why it’s hard to believe something in this current times.
Some fake news is created out of context: the “spreaders” take a situation, a dialogue etc. out of context and they place it under the umbrella of “look what X said/did/”. It’s one of the most common ways of creating fake news because it is created with a seed of truth in it. Which means it has a higher chance to be believed.
The popularity of social media platforms has risen spectacularly. Access to the Internet? Exactly the same. Smartphones? Everyone owns one.
Our minds, though, didn’t develop so fast. Especially the minds of those older people, that are using the Internet and the social media platforms just because everyone around them is doing it.
Children and young adults that grew up with Internet are definitely more skeptical than their parents and grandparents. My opinion is that older people, even younger ones (depending on where they were born), are thinking that the whole internet is a certified encyclopedia and that all they find it’s true. This is called naivety.
When someone shares something on their profile, they share it because they believe it most of the time. Some friends will share it, too, because they think that their friend knows things and wouldn't share fake news. It soon transforms into something that’s like a snowball: getting bigger and bigger while it rolls down.
Apparently, it was actually proven that older people (over 65) lack that skill that helps them differentiate between what’s true and what is not. I don’t know in what country was the test taken, but in my opinion, there are even people in their 20s that have no clue regarding how the Internet works.
I would have to say that it has a strong connection with the level of education, the behavior thought by the parents and the world they were born in.
Let’s take this example: a 25 yo person who lives in the countryside, in a family of farmers with a not so great income, and a low level of education. This person creates a Facebook account and starts to see all this information that flows around. Does this person know the unwritten rules regarding fake news, scam articles and so on? No, because this person didn’t have a chance to learn this. It will believe and share that article saying, for example, that the moon was as big as the picture from the article showed.
And a similar situation can happen even to the persons that have an opposite level of education and life background.
Besides these, personal opinions are now shared across as the actual truth. Which is wrong. People need to understand that they are entitled to personal opinions, they are entitled to say whatever they want; they just need to realize that some people will take that information for good, thinking that your opinion is the truth when it’s not.
It’s not like the person sharing its opinion is lying, but it can confuse people if the opinion is presented as the truth.
Not to mention the fact that it’s extremely easy to manipulate a photo, create a video and so on. There are so many tools with which the common person can do this, and they are all pretty accessible. There are also free online videos that can teach you to use them. You may have seen this: there are video/photos that are created to show a certain weather condition. They look so real, that people will easily believe that someone filmed a tornado sitting at a 500 m distance.
Some visual content is created with the sole purpose of showing the editing skills or for entertainment. But because it’s easy to share that content, one might “forget” to explain that it’s a fake visual content, hence people will start to believe it’s true.
As you’ve seen, most of the cases of fake news are created to boost the engagement: likes, shares and comments. There are websites that “live” on this fake news articles, because they know people will click on the link to see, for example, what’s happening with the dog abducted by an UFO.
These ones are pretty harmless, especially if they only want to get money from website ads.
But there are the fake news that threaten you in real life and you in the online life.
Let’s circle back to the example of the piece of fake news regarding a black van kidnapping kids. In real life, parents and children will start to worry. Their whole behavior will change, as they will be careful when they will go out and where they’ll go.
Another example is that when various uncertified medical studies “prove” that a medicine does harm, instead of good. Some people will believe this, hence they will not want to take that pill anymore, not knowing that their health security will be shattered. They’ll think they do good by not taking that medicine, when in fact they are doing the opposite.
Online security represents the whole set of actions taken to protect yourself online: antivirus, responsible behavior regarding suspicious links, using a VPN when using a public Wifi and so on.
I believe that you, or some of you, remember those days when there were scam websites like “get rich now”. Of course, many people believed them, trying to get into an upper class. What they did actually, was to give money to some people that eventually disappeared along with their money.
There are lots of other ads and articles that still exists even nowadays. They all aim to scam and deceive people.
How did fake news become an online threat?
Easy. People learned from their own or from other’s mistakes. They know that there isn’t a solution to get instantly rich - it’s not like you’re cooking instant soup.
People became for skeptical regarding what they click on. It is easier to recognize a suspicious link, email or text message.
Let’s not forget about the AI created with the sole purpose of identifying malicious links. In the past, these links were a string of letters and numbers. They’ve evolved into real words, even small sentences that make people think: “couldn’t this link be real?”.
Therefore, scammers started to look into fake news. Scammers identified the human weakness regarding the sensational, the celebrities, and the rest of the fake news types.
As a result, there are now websites created especially to trick people. Of course, there are still infected websites with various malware, but your antivirus should protect your computer. In case you use one, even though some say that Windows Defender is enough to protect your personal computer.
The thing that you should be more concerned about is the phising method. And yes, it resembles a lot with the word and the act of “fishing”.
What is phising?
Just like fishes are fooled by a worm that’s attached to a hook, people are fooled by websites that resemble the original ones. These websites are created to fraudulently obtain credit card data or other personal and sensitive information.
People usually access these websites because they were sent an email, a text message or even a phone call; they were told a lie, something fake, and they believed it.
Phising also appears directly online. Maybe a Facebook Page has been hacked, its fans don’t know it, and they keep clicking the links posted on the page. Whoever hacked that page can now start phishing for data.
Fake news play a big role in this cybercrime. It’s all due tot he fact that most people know that they shouldn’t click on that link they received, telling them something to good to be true. But what if they get a title that seems perfectly normal and has a high possibility of being true because it covers a real subject, even though it’s just another fake news?
These kinds of exposures increase our risk of being scammed online.
Since public opinion is...more public than ever, companies should really have a stable way (or ways) of communicating with their followers and clients.
I just happened to read about a story that has happened a few days ago. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if it’s entirely true, but it can actually happen.
One woman bought a certain type of chicken that was advertised to be raised with bio food and in a “farm” conditions. Farm chicken usually look more yellow than the other ones, raised in those conditions where they don’t see the sunlight, they just eat.
So the woman started cooking that chicken, put it overnight in some salted water, and saw in the morning that parts of the chicken weren’t yellow anymore. As soon as she saw this, she posted on Facebook, making a big buzz, having lots of shares and angry reactions. All towards the company who people believed it advertised lies.
The truth is, apparently, that because of some chemical reaction, the yellow color of the chicken (which is found in the upper layers of the skin) can disappear if held in some conditions. The woman found out about this and she deleted her post. But that doesn’t mean that some shares weren’t still on Facebook. And that doesn’t mean the company didn’t lose a serious amount of money because of her.
What to learn from this?
The company should’ve communicated quicker with its clients, telling them about the chemical reaction. The woman should’ve informed herself before doing such harm.
As a conclusion, you, as a person have two duties:
- You should always inform yourself before sharing pieces of information;
- Pay attention to the links you receive.
It all comes to stop being so naive. It’s ok if you believe in something, or if you have a totally different opinion. But if you share your thoughts, make sure you explicitly say that it’s your own personal opinion, not the truth.
In case you believe that something might have a chance of being fake news, then simply don’t share it or click on the click whatsoever.
Regarding phising, you can add a little protection by using a VPN. You’ll have a private connection that can’t be tracked by hackers. Plus, your whole online browsing will be kept safely.