In the Digital Era, anyone with an Internet connection can create and share content. David Weinberger, an Internet and technology expert and senior researcher at Harvard University, says that “knowledge now lives not just in libraries and museums and academic journals. Knowledge is a property of the network.”
But not every content published on the Internet has gone through the filters of veracity and reliability. There is the mistaken assumption that information cannot be false if it has been shared many times in social media and talked about it. Google, Facebook and Twitter have recently faced several allegations that they have promoted fake news confirming that the author of the 59-person massacre in Las Vegas was a Democrat opposed to Trump. In this regard, it should be remarked that the three Internet giants have updated their terms of service and put into operation some tools to end the misinformation caused by hoaxes and falsehoods on the Internet.
Some countries are already taking measures to prevent misinformation in social media: in Germany, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) aims to promote regulations to brake external interference and the proliferation of false news on Facebook; in the Republic of Panama, the Criminal Code establishes up to four years in prison for spreading fake news that endangers the social economy; in China, several sentences have been reinforced with up to seven years in prison for spreading hoaxes about natural disasters and emergency situations; in Indonesia, the Integrated National Cybernetic Agency monitors the country’s Internet activity and pursues the accounts that create and promote fake news; in the United States, a Democratic congressman introduced a bill consisting in teaching students to identify fake news; and Finland seems to go even further with the integration in schools of an educational program that allows students to develop critical thinking skills in order to detect fake news and also avoid cyberbullying (online harassment).
Tim Cook, the head of Apple, declared on The Telegraph that “fake news is killing people’s minds, in a way.” Indeed, it can create conflicts, divide societies and manipulate people.
Therefore, it is time for the companies and State institutions to establish measures that prevent misinformation from poisoning the pillars of democracy and for digital users to become aware of the power of social media influence and acquire the skills necessary to develop a critical consumption of information.