The Truth About Identity Theft (FT Press Delivers Elements)

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This has brought significant changes to the news media industry. Digital platforms might democratise the creation and circulation of news, however, in doing so questions around what news is, how it gets made, shared and read in online contexts are also raised. One of the challenges to this issue is defining what is meant by the term fake news.

This term is not only misleading, but also generalizes the different ways in which news can be manipulated. This includes categories such as false connection; false context; manipulated content; satire or parody; misleading content; imposter content and fabricated content. The type of 'problematic content' used depends on the creator and their motivation.

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While heuristics like this are helpful, the more recent instantiation of fake news not only raises questions about the content, but also the way in which digital texts are disseminated through digital platforms. Through social media platforms, digital texts become a conduit for relational work between users. These relations affect the interpretive processes of individuals, positioning them to engage with the news article or headline in particular ways. So far there have been a range of responses to the supposed fake news crisis.

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In some instances, this approach might be helpful, however, it only addresses a small part of a much broader and more complicated challenge. Facebook and Google on the other hand have introduced different tools to their platforms to help users identify and report fake news. Facebook has avoided outright censorship of news and information and instead circulated a series of tips to help users spot fake news, as well as adding the option to report content that users believe to be fake Pogue, Ironically, Google have introduced human editors to evaluate the content of their search results in an attempt to train algorithms to detect low quality content Leong, While Google appear to be doing more to correct the situation, both companies still develop algorithms that are designed to deliver information that they believe users want to read, regardless of its truthfulness.

I see the issue of fake news as having particular significance to researchers and educators working in the field of digital literacies. Instead, this essay will focus on what the most recent moment of news media bias means for digital literacies educators. Using the platform as a framework for study, this essay will explore the features that lay the foundation for the current moment in fake news, with a particular focus on the digital literacies required to navigate these challenges.

Research into the dominance of the platform structure Srnicek, ; Bratton, and the platformization of the web Helmond, explains how platforms provide both the technical and economic infrastructure and the discursive framing for social and communicative practices. In line with this more critical approach, this paper uses the platform as an analytical framework to offer a more technical and reflexive account of the role that platforms play in the fake news phenomena. While I argue that the digital literacies required to critique fake news require an understanding of the computational, cultural and social layers of digital platforms, which facilitate the widespread and rapid dissemination of such digital texts.

To identify exactly what these literacies might be, I analyse seven features of platforms that have contributed to the current moment of news bias. In the context of social media platforms, the more users a platform has the more valuable it becomes as a communication service to its members.

Facebook, for example, has become the default social networking service in many parts of the world because the sheer number of users means that it is the most logical place for individuals to connect with friends online. However, institutions, companies and other community groups, are also drawn to using the platform because it connects them to the public in useful ways.

As participation increases, so too does the amount of data generated, which improves the reliability of the platform algorithms to suggest, recommend and match information between all parties. As Belleflamme and Peitz , p.

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For this reason there is a natural tendency toward platform monopolization. Most notably it has limited the number of news sources individuals consult to remain informed about what is going on in the world. In Australia, While these data only represent two countries they indicate a broader trend toward engagement with news on social media platforms, most notably Facebook.

There are two ways in which platforms frame information for users - through the architecture of the platform and the social networks that mediate the content that is shared. While platforms might appear decentralized, in reality it is only content creation that is decentralized. The platform position is one of an intermediary, managing or governing the terms of the relationships between parties through the manner and volume of interactions.

On Facebook, for example, links to the outside web are deprioritized in the Newsfeed, as operators aim to keep users on the platform for as long as possible Tufekci Official news organisations therefore have a difficult time connecting individuals to their content on Facebook, as the architecture of the platform mediates the distribution of information. In mid Facebook changed its algorithms to preference posts from friends and family and de-emphasise those from mainstream news media. When a news article, or digital resource is shared on a social media platform, it is done so via some kind of social relationship, be it a strong or weak tie.

Unlike other media, such as the newspaper or television news, the platform and the relationships it sustains, also act as a framing device for digital content. It matters that we are familiar with the individual who shared the article, as this can abate critical faculties and position the reader to engage with the text in particular ways.


On social media the underlying relationship or impression one has of the person sharing becomes particularly significant in how that information is interpreted. As Apperley and Parikka , p. When disseminated via a social media platform, a news article becomes more than just information; it becomes a conduit for affective relations between individuals. Specifically, social networks tend to be made up of like-minded people, meaning the phenomenon of confirmation bias, in which we seek out or more readily believe information that confirms what we know or value Braucher, , is enhanced.

While overall governance of the platform belongs with the platform operators, the user can manipulate the structure to suit their needs. Indeed, the utility and adaptability of digital platforms have helped secure their dominance on the internet. As Srnicek explains, platforms come with tools that enable users and developers to build their own services, products and marketplaces. The Macedonian teenagers, for example, were able to create Facebook identities that enabled them to reach American audiences and purportedly influence US politics.

Despite this, the credibility of the users disseminating these news articles was increased if their profiles were based in the US. Not surprisingly US based Facebook profiles can now be bought on the black market Subramanian, Despite enabling and promoting the participation of other parties, the platform operators hold little responsibility for what takes place on the service. Indeed, no news organization has ever had as much power to influence public opinion as Facebook. One of the most significant features of the internet is the large amount of news and information that users have access to.

While this has obvious benefits, the constant stream of information can be difficult for users to navigate. Many digital platforms aim for increased levels of personalisation.

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Google, for example, provides personalised results for search queries based on browsing histories and social connections Google , On social media platforms such as Facebook, information is not only filtered through user curated social networks, but also interface design and the News Feed algorithm.

While humans have always tended towards homophily i. Research by Del Vicario et al. Their findings on two hyperpartisan community pages suggest that whether a news item is accepted as true is strongly affected by the social norms of the group or how much 'it coheres with the community's shared belief system and values' Del Vicario et al. However, the News Feed algorithm also makes assumptions about the future content that users will be interested in based on which content they have engaged with in the past and which users they have most connections with Bucher, In a similar way, Google search will start to include and prioritise particular content that matches the users social networks and browsing history.

The Truth About Identity Theft

This also means factually incorrect information, or fake news, can be rapidly spread through social groups and networks which share the same or similar beliefs and values. In Facebook introduced an external like button - a plugin that can be included on any website. Indeed, the architecture of the Facebook platform - including the interface design and the proliferation of social buttons across the internet - mean news and information are easily shared both with an array of social and commercial actors.

Despite the control afforded to platform operators through the Facebook architecture users have, in the main, embraced its design, values and practices. In , there was an estimated 3. As Sumner et al. While the like is often used to share content, it is the relational work that it performs which is most significant.

However, its pervasiveness has led to expectations around use. Research by Egebark and Ekstrom suggests that the Facebook platform is an environment that constitutes conformity because it is highly visual and it is based around expression of beliefs and attitudes symbolised by the like button. The platforms that have most significance to fake news are Facebook and Google - platforms that Srnicek categorises as 'advertising platforms' or platforms that 'extract information on users, undertake a labour of analysis, and then use the products of that process to sell ad space' p.

The Google platform, for example, enables any website to be connected to a Google Ad sense account, regardless of the content that website disseminates.

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The teenagers of Veles were able to tap into the data assemblage and yield a profit through their Google AdSense accounts, which monetise the clicks on the ads that are embedded alongside the false and misleading articles. The content itself matters little.

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In some cases manipulating the headline is enough for an article to be shared widely on social media and attract attention and clicks to the external website. In the lead up to the US election the articles that were circulated the most often had an outrageous or exaggerated headline, however, the actual content of the article was sometimes contradictory or even true Silverman, On social media, individuals are encouraged to like, share and comment on digital texts. In the process these texts accrue credibility as well as value for those who circulate them, such as increased social connections and personal morale.

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The practice of sharing texts not only disseminates information across social networks, but also helps to distil and project a sense of self to the world. Adami argues that the culture of sharing often requires greater effort on the part of the viewer to retrieve and interpret the implied and intertextual meaning bound up in shared texts. While those who create fake news articles might be motivated by the need to make money, the user who shares the article through their social network is mostly seeking to maintain or perhaps expand their socialities, or associations with other individuals in society.

These digital texts gather credibility as they are shared across social networks acquiring likes, shares and comments from users. As these links and shares have value for the author and viewer, the motivation to prevent the spread of misinformation is diminished. Not only did they create news articles that would gather the attention of audiences across the United States and the world, but they were able to exploit the network effects of digital platforms to disseminate the news widely, and subsequently generate a personal income.