Tuesday, 20 December 2016

On the manufacture of fake news

I know others have commented on this but it's pretty important that we understand that fake news is not simply something manufactured by 20 year old Macedonians or Russian spies. Throughout our media stories are created based on the flimsiest of evidence. Or indeed on evidence that really doesn't exist at all.

Here, from that impeccable establishment media source, The Economist:
The report does not say what proportion of the 53,000 sample tweets related to Ms Cox’s murder, and what share concerned Brexit more generally. When The Economist asked the authors for help, they declined to share their data with us, citing death threats they said they had received since the report’s release. So we undertook our own analysis, examining tweets from June and July that included the terms “Jo Cox” or “#JoCox”—some 341,000 unique messages. Of a random sample of 800 of these, none was celebratory, and just four seemed to be derogatory toward Ms Cox, criticising her support for Syrian refugees, for instance. From this, simple statistics suggest that the true number of tweets cheering the politician’s murder would lie between 0 and 1,500. (The Hope Not Hate report reproduces about 30.) Mr Awan notes that our sample did not include tweets that mentioned only the killer, Mr Mair; it is also likely that some tweets were deleted before our collection.
Now, as the report notes, it's terrible if even one Tweet celebrates a murder but the thrust of media coverage - driven by the original Hope Not Hate press release of this shocking study - was that such activity was commonplace when it wasn't.

We see this pattern repeated by newspapers again and again with the thread of fake news creation often going back to a press release from a worthy organisation like a charity or campaign group. From sugary drinks and booze through to vaping and fracking the misuse of evidence, even the creation of evidence simply to generate a news story, is widespread. Journalists used to challenge and question the claims made by those issuing press releases but it seems today that there's either no time or no inclination to do that basic journalistic job of checking the facts before publishing.



KJP said...

Your last paragraph is so true. Headlines that X,000 people in the UK are living in poverty when what has been said is relative poverty Even if that is mentioned in the article it is not commented upon.
As another example of the type, “Smoking among adults has decreased by 10%in the decade since the smoking ban in 2007.” It might have also decreased by 20% in the decade before but that is not researched.
It is lazy journalism, often picked up BTL, but more than that it is newspapers uncritically running stories in line with their agenda.

James Higham said...

Hoisted by their own petard methinks.

Henry Kaye said...

This is the reason that I and, hopefully, lots of other's pay little attention to what's written in my newspaper each day and why I generally support freedom of speech, I have severe reservations about that freedom in the context of the Media.