Fake News in Democracy: An Analysis
If the essence of democracy is the active participation of citizens, then what does it mean if participation is undermined? This is where the threat of fake news is important - if we don’t know the facts, then how can we make an informed decision? The interference of misinformation in the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit Referendum in 2016 have shown how democracy is vulnerable.
Specifically, groups such as Cambridge Analytica allegedly collected data from social media for political purposes. Facebook was fined £500,000 for failing to protect people from data harvesting. Additionally, false information was used to sway the vote in the Brexit Referendum, such as the Leave campaign bus slogan incorrectly asserting that £350 million a week would be given to the NHS in the case of a vote to leave the EU. Such misinformation undermines the legitimacy of democracy.
So, what can we do?
Find credible news sources: It is important to read sources that are credible. It is believed that 36% of Americans get their news from Facebook. However, this information is unlikely to be balanced or reliable as algorithms on Facebook tailor the content you see to your interests. Generally, avoid relying on social media as a main source of information.
Vary your sources: It is a good idea to read across a range of news outlets, even ones that challenge your view, to ensure you are well informed. News channel apps send notifications to your phone, so you can compare their stories and headlines.
Can we limit the impact of fake news on democracy? Australia is attempting to address the role of fake news in democracy through the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, which would insist that Facebook and Google ‘pay publishers if they host their content’. However, actions by the government, such as in Australia, are only part of the story. We have a role too. In his book ’21 Lessons for the 21st Century’, Yuval Noah Harari states that ‘clarity is power’. Do you have clarity?
Alette Moller, Campus Ambassador