Fake News in Social Media: A threat to democratic values

Social media has become the battlefield for the opposing candidates in Brazil’s 2018 elections. With more than 120 million users in the country, WhatsApp has found itself flooded with false information and conspiracy theories.

Users and voters have been caught up in a web of lies and misinformation about the Workers’ Party candidate via group messages sent to millions of accounts, contributing to a fall in the candidate’s popularity.

An investigation by the main Brazilian newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo, has revealed that the far-right campaign candidate Jair Bolsonaro targeted millions of Brazilians ahead of the most critical elections in years using the messaging app WhatsApp. The scheme was financed by corporations and businessmen, an illegal move according to Brazilian law. The influence of this manoeuvre is believed to be skewing the election results towards a victory for Bolsonaro at the end of the month.

A study analysing 100,000 images shared via WhatsApp in Brazil found that more than half contained misleading or flatly false information: very worrying data evidencing the urgency with which the problem should be tackled.

The case in Brazil shows that the coupling of fake news and social media has become one of the strongest political weapons in the digital age, resulting in a feeling of distrust of traditional means of communication and endangering some of the most fundamental pillars of Western societies.

The problem is both dangerous and subtle. Fake news is not a straightforward issue: in fact, it can come in many forms, taking the shape of false claims, edited content, and material used out of context.

“The increase in actions over internet-based communications is a reflection of people’s concerns about their online reputations and the ease with which damaging information about individuals and businesses can be shared and spread,” said Keith Mathieson, head of media at City law firm RPC to the Guardian.

In a society in which civil principles are a priority, fighting fake news is a must, but developing solutions for such a complex problem requires a lot of work, as well as a clear understanding of the dynamics of online interactions and their consequences.

The solution: Creating an environment where individuals can exercise their right of reply

In many countries around the world, Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, has partnered with fact-checking agencies to evaluate the veracity of information arising in the network. But the efforts made by the social giant are evidently not enough to stop the spread of fake news.

One essential point is to enable victims of fake claims to have a relevant space to tell their truth.

“We are not able to draw a line between what is fake news and what is not, but what we can do is show both sides to a story, giving more detailed information about that story,” says digital reputation and digital activist Matteo Flora, whose new venture Right of Reply offers disruptive solutions for online reputation problems.

Right of Reply is developing a series of blockchain-powered applications to be integrated by online media, which will allow any of its users mentioned in online content to reply directly in a timely manner. Such a platform empowers both readers and personalities, because once provided the multiple facets of a same story, users will be better equipped to judge the truth of a story for themselves.

Right of Reply is based on a unique, disruptive, patented, and yet simple idea: RoR places an overlaying reputation layer upon the internet, newspapers and social media, so that the comment is embedded in the article posts and can be seen by everyone.

“A person mentioned or cited has their reply embedded directly within the content which cites or mentions them. Readers can access the reply directly, allowing the reply to have the same positioning, timing and relevance as the original content.”

“Thanks to blockchain, we can now directly address the problem of fake news. There is no need for third parties to defend or act as guarantor or solution provider anymore, as any individual or enterprise now has the opportunity and the power of action directly at the source,” says Stefania Barbaglio from Right of Reply.

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