Disinformation is nothing new. It has been present in the media for decades, from the time when Martin Luther King was branded as a communist to discredit the civil rights movement. Benjamin Decker, the research coordinator at Storyful, examines how the different types of disinformation across the web.
Decker identifies three levels at which people can spread disinformation on the internet: open networks; closed networks; and the dark web.
Closed networks are restricted by a number of measures from the majority of the public, enabling people to operate within an echo chamber without experiencing any disagreement. The dark web, on the other hand, need specialised types of browsers in order to be accessed.
Looking at the way in which disinformation spreads, ‘like a metaphorical virus’ across platforms, Decker explains the four major stages that fakes news spreads: content origination, strategic communication, tactical dissemination and amplification.
There are sharp cultural differences in the way in which different national media decide to publish fake news. In France, for example, the media made a collective decision not to publish a lead on Macron days before the election due to political sensitivity of the moment. American publications, on the other hand, covered the leaks of Clinton’s emails in detail.
Looking forward, Decker acknowledges that the future of journalism looks worrying. To combat the spread of fake news, he urges that ‘we need to return to the core questions which led us into journalism”, and in doing so, put more resources and energy into debunking disinformation, and investigating how and why it spreads.
Journalists need to start asking hard questions. A start might be asking, finally, who the people behind this wave of disinformation are, and what motivates them.