Post No.: 0583
Loads of videos that go viral are fake or have been somehow manipulated. So much that goes viral that appears spontaneous is staged with actors rather than naturally occurring. Even many videos relating to serious world events that become viral pertain to different places or events than the ones stated in their titles or captions (e.g. images of atrocities apparently happening in a particular city, when they’re actually images of atrocities that happened elsewhere a long time ago), perhaps because those who post those videos wish to spread some propaganda.
Viral videos are often deliberately made to look a bit fuzzy and amateurish to look ‘authentically’ like a non-professional produced them (yet surely a higher resolution video would be more authentic with current smartphone cameras nowadays?!) Look out for what brand or product they are trying to advertise in such videos because it could be a commercial. Here, it’s about manipulating the consumers’ relationship with a brand, and trying to associate the brand with desirable traits (e.g. fun, adventure, creativity). ‘Stealth marketing’ is about being advertised to but not knowing that one has been – to influence the unconscious mind without the more critical conscious mind being aware of it.
Not all videos that become viral are fake, and some fake videos are reasonably obvious. But even when viewers aren’t fooled by the fake ones, the content creators don’t really ultimately care if you think it’s real, fake or contrived – if you click on it or watch it, and then especially share it or talk about it with other people, then they’ve achieved their marketing goal.
Some fake news creators are banking on the fact that many people will share their creations with others. Even those who are sharing it for the purpose of calling out that it’s fake are inadvertently exposing the content to more people who might trust it, and this noise just clutters the social media and crowds out what’s true and more worthy of our attention. Mainstream news services and satire programmes might give it some free PR too. That’s why it’s best to not share such content unless you can tightly control whom you’re sharing it with. Check before you share something, or just ignore it. Meow.
Bots – which are software programs that run automated tasks over the Internet as agents for users or other programs, often by pretending to be humans by simulating a human activity – are increasingly being employed in journalism to perform automated tasks. This isn’t always to create or spread fake news but to help monitor social media trends or to get news published faster.
But organisations or individuals can use bots to automatically create fake ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ for false/fake news social media posts too in the hope that they’ll go up the trending lists or get picked up by the mainstream media and go viral.
Whether with the help of bots or not, pranksters have set up hoaxes that huge sections of the media and public have fallen for before; including satirical comedy shows. These stories can snowball virally across news sites and social media around the world. They sometimes even fuel conspiracy theories. Some of these pranksters do admit to their hoaxes in the end, but not all, and not everyone who falls for these hoaxes ends up seeing these confessions. So from very small seeds, subsections of the general public can believe in a lot of nonsense, lies and misinformation.
Fake news accounts primarily just want people to share their posts to spread their propaganda or bull**** wider and wider, or want to simply make money from advertising revenue. Fake news sites that repost articles from other sites and use bots to generate fake views and ad impressions can make a lot of money from advertising income. Fake news pieces are also sometimes used as references or citations to lend credibility to other fake news articles (although most media consumers barely ever click on or read citations anyway). The social media tech giants have been accused of generally being far slower to ban or censor more powerful people or celebrities who have huge followings (i.e. people or groups who bring their platforms a lot of advertising revenue) than accounts with smaller followings.
Internet memes are sometimes quite funny, although often in a dumb, OMG or WTF kind of way. Or they might concentrate on being insightful. They’re easy to share, modify and replicate. They play on the FOMO if you don’t see one when everyone else apparently has. And they may provoke controversy or debate. They’re shared by people who wish to communicate their identity or feelings, in the hope that others in one’s ingroup feel the same or get what one means. The best ones are simple, straight-to-the-punchline and visually strong to grab our attentions, and go viral when they capture the sentiment of the moment. Most of them are harmless.
But Internet memes are often sources of fake news too. Jokes are taken literally or seriously by those who want to believe that they’re true, to confirm their existing biases. Internet memes, manipulated images and echo chambers have indoctrinated people into supporting terrorism, extreme views and other harmful or misinformed beliefs. (Something being ‘extreme’ can naturally only be judged relatively to something else, and, problematically, very few people think their own views are extreme because they usually hang around others who hold similar views to them hence their views appear normal to them and whom they hang around with.) Pepe the Frog is/was a prime example of how a meme can spread, mutate and be co-opted in ways that are totally unpredictable even to its original creator. That example also highlights how different groups can claim to have come up with an idea or creation by themselves when they didn’t.
The forums and social media accounts where these memes are shared, and their propaganda, make these echo chamber groups – who are self-segregated by virtue of individuals choosing whom they wish to personally follow or ignore – feel more powerful, as if their worldviews are justified and their claim to what they want is rightful. These echo chambers make their members feel more numerous and powerful and so they feel more confident in expressing their views and pushing their agendas, occasionally violently. The Internet, and social media in particular, is frequently used as a weapon of political war.
Social media is currently the main source of most fake news, and although many people claim to be dismayed about fake news – most of these same people still use social media rather than reputable news outlets as their primary news sources(!) Most people are also unwilling to pay a subscription for proper journalism.
It’s unfortunate that sensationalised and/or emotionally inflammatory news stories tend to receive more attention, get shared by more people, and thus are more likely become viral, than cautiously reserved headlines that are awaiting for more verified evidence before forming a strong opinion.
The illusory superiority bias held by most of us (especially those of us who feel that our non-expert opinions about current affairs are important enough to routinely share on social media!) also means that many of us are quick to judge others (e.g. for being rude, ugly, stupid or selfish), even though we should be holding a judgemental mirror against our own self on social media sometimes (e.g. when we’re expressing disgust at someone else’s behaviour that’s been caught, when the story was actually taken out of context or was a hoax, and therefore one should really be disgusted at oneself for spreading our own high-and-mighty comments before knowing all of the verified facts!)
People can also forget that behind every username is a real human being – and many people wouldn’t speak to someone who’s right in front of them as they often do online when behind the safety of their own usernames.
More than wanting to be educated or informed – most people just want to be entertained. And fake news can provide entertainment more easily because it’s typically sensational, dramatic and emotionally provocative. It’s also unfortunate that stories that try to retract false conclusions or apologise for falling for hoaxes are usually written in small print and/or don’t get the same amount of publicity or viral effect as the original stories that published those false sensational conclusions or that believed in those hoaxes initially – meaning that a large percentage of people remain believing in the falsehoods that were circulated. (There are countless fake news stories regarding COVID-19 that have fed into ongoing conspiracy theories.)
False/fake news that manages to slip through into mainstream media coverage may eventually become retracted by journalists but it can already be too late as lots of people would’ve seen it, liked it, copied it and shared it, and it’ll pretty much permanently exist at least somewhere on the web. Such news can also result in a case of ‘crying wolf’ if, in the future, a true story emerges but sounds like a story of old that was labelled as fake, hence this true story ends up not being taken seriously.
In this age of so many different things trying to compete for our attentions, and advertisement business models that depend on continually grabbing our attentions, yet still only ≤24 hours/day that each of us can spend our attentions on – too much of the general and social media has become about trying to get things to go viral because eyeballs generate income; meaning that organisations and individuals have priorities and strategies that are divergent from purely stating plain facts or using responsible reporting methods. It incentivises the use of sensationalised headlines, by-lines and stories, and even hoaxes. Sensationalism, hyperbole, fear-mongering, etc. in the media (and elsewhere) is actually a problem caused by both creators as well as consumers of media – if we as media consumers didn’t keep falling for the psychological ruses they employ then news creators wouldn’t keep using them. But these ploys do exploit or play to our very core instincts and biases.
False/fake news can play to that ‘I think I remember I heard something about this from somewhere’ feeling but one has forgotten the source of that information and therefore its legitimacy. Lies can sit in the backs of our minds and unconsciously influence us when we’re in doubt about something.
Hoaxes or even clear works of fiction (e.g. science fiction novels) sometimes lead to conspiracy theories or new religious beliefs (e.g. Scientology). We start to ask ‘could this be real?’ and then the conspiracy theories or beliefs build as more and more people talk about it and feed the ideas off each other. In a noisy and partisan online news space – genuine stories are often accused of being hoaxes if doing so serves a side’s agenda.
A key strategy to curb our incredulities is cross-referencing information from multiple independent sources, rather than spending too much time on one source. So if you come across an unfamiliar website – open up other browser tabs and find other sites that might corroborate the information stated on that first site. Or don’t just click on the first page that catches your eye after a search but open several pages from different websites on separate tabs and read them all. (That’s what I purrsonally like to do.) Non-partisan fact-checking organisations can be super handy too. By taking a step back and taking a broader view, you can better place a particular source of information in its appropriate context (e.g. is it from the industry’s own perspective, a left/centre/right-leaning news site’s perspective, a seller of that product’s perspective, a journalistic source, an educational source, a medical source, an independent hobbyist’s perspective, or a scientific source’s perspective? Each may have their own intents and biases).
Meow. Viral content elicits an instinctive fear of missing out. Most viral content is harmless fun but some of it is worth missing out on and certainly not worth sharing.