Main interests: blogs, social networks, new media, information security.
Today, the political, social and economic agenda in Armenia is changing almost every day. One thing is stable: complaints and discussions about fakes, and those are becoming increasingly intense and unbearable.
The conversations give the impression that the subject of fakes is still quite new, or at least has become more common now. Are fakes really that new and that unprecedented?
Fake news and propaganda are old, like the first sin being used as a form of manipulation with guilt.
But by saying fake we don’t mean the traditional lie so much as the virtual, online version. And we are not alone in our pain. Around the world, fake news is widespread.
The Russian-Ukrainian Conflict in 2013-2014 and the aftermath of Russian fake attack during the 2016 US elections, which began an investigation in 2017, triggered global turmoil. After which, many cases regarding the usage of fakes were discovered one after the other. For example, during the elections in France, Macedonia, Germany, or in the UK during the Brexit referendum, and so on and so forth.
Of course, all of this is not new at all. The question is about the quantity, quality, and public influence.
In fact, fake news became a serious factor when the internet began to beat TV, and the percentage of internet users exceeded half the population of the prevailing world. If we add social networks, everything will fall into place.
Social networks have created an outpour of information that has made for uninterrupted news consumption, and naturally, it is difficult to control from each individual.
Aside from that, social networks created advertising-enabled tools which allow misinformation to be consumed individually, operatively and insanely cheap compared to old traditional methods.
Creating a fake information website today, placing some disinformation materials on it and distributing them through targeted advertising within 100,000 Facebook users, will take about half an hour and fifty US dollars.
Is all of this new to us? Undoubtedly, no.
During the 2013-2014 elections, fake websites and fake users were used massively. Bought Fakes from other countries were engaged, to influence online voting. We’re talking about tens and thousands of fakes.
The difference with today is the impact of the internet. At that time, Facebook’s internet penetration was much lower, with television still having a dominant role. But fakes were pretty tiring, hard work.
If we talk about earlier times, one could say more. Armenia was one of the first victims of fake internet influences.
Thus, fake news was spread by a fake Armenian news website created by Azerbaijanis called xronika.am even in 2008, during the days of the Russian-Georgian war, which disseminated various pieces of misinformation, which had quite a serious negative impact on Armenia.
At the time, this was still new technology, and these materials were not spread through social networks (which still weren’t created), but through blogs that were the social media of the time.
Such false information is being created regularly, and to this day a similar Azerbaijani fake program, called armenianreport.com which for many years has presented itself as an Armenian oppositional news magazine, and even cites some political titans, such as Artashes Geghamyan.
We can write about fakes all day long. The question arises, how can you fight against them?
Today’s international experience says that there are some ways to reduce their impact. For example, social networks are trying to use methods that allow people to get rid of manipulative materials and blocking access to potential fake users.
There are many organizations that specialize in identifying misinformation and fact checking. For example, Sut.am in Armenia.
Editorial staff today are creating specific positions for fact checking, who will be able to orient themselves in the torrent of social networking. In countries with more stringent approaches, they try to block sites, find users and hold them responsible.
Does it give any results. It does, but the impact of fakes, on the contrary, is gradually increasing.
Even news reports that are serious about the information can’t keep up. A striking example of this is when news was spread by a fake Hayk Marutyan page regarding the reformation of urban transportation. This false news spread across almost every media outlet, which generally approach fact checking information responsibly.
The information field’s immunity is gradually falling.
In fact, today the media is infected with disinformation as though it were AIDS, as it seeps through, practically unpreventable as it spreads among the public.
Is there any salvation from this? There are no absolute solutions, naturally, but with education alone one can solve the problem. No restrictions, legislative solutions or forms of internet filtering will solve the problem.
Massive public vaccinations should be provided to educate on the correct method of consuming information.
And naturally, journalists need to be retrained, because in the last year, manipulative technologies have become more evolved and expanded, and in many cases, even a professional journalist can be powerless to information fraud if they are not trained and their arsenal upgraded.
The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.