Fake news is becoming a real threat to political processes. The speed of news spread on social networks is an advantage and a threat. People, institutions or even countries can and are using fake news to influence the public opinion of other people, organizations or countries. This is a threat only to societies that practice freedom of expression and the representative democratic model of government.
Limiting freedom of expression on the Internet has been an attempt by politicians seeking to stay in power and limit the freedom of audits, oppositions and media organizations. This path must be avoided, or we will lose the Democratic State of Law and freedom of expression.
If we want to keep our freedom, we need to fight fake news. But how to do it?
Michał Boni is a former Polish minister of digitisation, today an MEP on the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), involved in the European debate on how to combat fake news and hate speech.
“Fake news is a multidimensional phenomenon. First of all, it is an online phenomenon. Its essence is the speed of information transmission. Within a minute, millions of people can read about something that is not true, that distorts the understanding of reality. Today, advanced technology allows copying someone’s voice and presenting a fabricated statement in video format by using someone’s face.” said Michał Boni.
“Without a doubt, we can see a certain person saying something he or she would never say. Very disturbing.”
“This is the advantage of new technologies, which by means of algorithms and data processing can do literally everything. And it is a big danger. Nevertheless, in this kind of virtual reality, we do not see a lot of things, locking ourselves up in filter bubbles. The world, especially when it comes to political matters, is divided into closed camps, tribes. One does not look at others, there is no dialogue, one does not search for common solutions. To act against that, we must increase the awareness of the people on what the internet is. And simultaneously we must check the truthfulness of information and correct the incorrect.”
“A second dimension of fake news is that they constitute an element of the information war. In the context of hybrid warfare, hacking of a system is not less important than actual military raids. You can destroy the resources of any country by virtually blocking its energy system.”
“With this, misinformation becomes a weapon. More and more often we hear about “weaponisation” of information.”
“For example, Russia is spreading misinformation about Ukraine throughout Europe. Frequently, well-known politicians use these statements as real arguments when making political decisions.”
“So fake news affects European politics. As we know, it is not just a European problem and it is not only about Ukraine. Russia influences the results of elections and referenda. Currently, even the Spanish government in Madrid points out that a large part of the information campaign surrounding the Catalan referendum had been conducted from Russian territory.”
“Therefore, that’s why it’s so important to have mechanisms for distinguishing truth and untruth, skilful verification of sources and fact checking of information, the so-called cross-checking, as well as rectification of lies and manipulation.”
“The third dimension of fake news is politics and the aim to use it as a war element in times of populism. Because the essence of populism is that it is based on fake news… Counteracting this is, among others, a response of the network itself, hence today’s discussion about the role of online platforms and the liability of Internet platform operators and social media.”
“Texts arise and dissolve in the blink of an eye. In the meantime, Facebook is used by two billion people, soon it might even be five billion. Therefore, it should not be done through censorship but rather through the reaction, the removal of lies and untruths within the so-called model of ‘notice and take down’. To avoid irregularities, a mechanism of so-called “counter-notice” is being discussed whereby if the administrator removes the truthful information, you will be able to invoke and restore it. But we could start with the implementation of the “notice and take down” procedure of evidently illegal things, such as racist content.”
“However, the removal procedure takes a long time. In the meantime, the information is spreading in a blink of an eye, while it – also thanks to new technologies, bots and troll armies – can reach millions of people.”
“It always takes time. The same applies to the kind of pressure that in Germany has resulted in the introduction of a penalty of €5 million to €50 million for operators if they do not remove hate speech and misinformation within 24 hours. Although it has greatly accelerated the removal of untruths, often even to 10-12 hours, it is still very time-consuming.”