Ways fake electoral news spread
With the elections just around the corner, there are concerns on fake news and misinformation being spread, especially online. When such happens, it can also intensify social conflict, stir up controversy and even violence. Harriet James lists some of the means through which people could spread falsehoods this election season
Bots are computer algorithms (set of logic steps to complete a specific task) that work in online social network sites to execute tasks autonomously and repetitively. They simulate the behaviour of human beings in a social network such as interacting with other users, and sharing information and messages. Because of the algorithms behind bots’ logic, bots can learn from reaction patterns how to respond to certain situations through Artificial Intelligence. Bots help to propagate fake news and inflate the apparent popularity of the false information on social media.
2. Caption propaganda
These stories may not be completely false, but are distorted with misleading headlines and small snippets displayed in newsfeeds. In this case, click baits might also be used with exaggerated, questionable or misleading headlines or images to generate web traffic or make gullible readers believe in the information presented.
3. Imposter content
This impersonates general news sites to contain made-up stories to deceive readers. They may contain logos of renowned media brands to create information with damaging reputation of institutions or political leaders. It can also take the form of several websites trying to confuse readers into thinking that they are the online outlets of traditional or mainstream media sources. Like many other fake news sites, it is difficult to know who owns them and who’s spreading the information there.
4. Weaponising satire
Creating fake news for parody or entertainment is another way of spreading fake news. People deliberately use humour because it’s an effective way to get people to pay attention to the message they are spreading and this eventually disarms the viewer and makes them believe in the information. Presently on social media, what might seem to be harmless could be well-planned ways of making people buy into a propagandist idea.
5. Ghost polls
While polls could be an effective strategy to boost engagement for good and finding out what the audience feels and thinks about any issue, ghost polls can also be used to spread information about who’s popular or discredit a candidate. Not every poll dished out, especially online, is factual. Some are desktop-manufactured falsehoods that are aimed at distorting truths, influence opinions or impose certain perspectives on the electorate.
6. Codded language
This is the use of certain words that a specific group of people can only understand with an aim to communicate a specific message. Words such as madoadoa can be used to misinform or instigate one group of people against another particular group, which in turn could spread the hate and eventually lead to violence.
7. Invisible mobilisation
These are unseen or behind the scenes forces that come together for a cause, which maybe good or bad. In this case, invisible mobilisation can take the form of online messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, or Facebook communities that come together secretly to spread fake news to the members.
8. Gaming algorithms
This takes the form of making people choose on which candidate they’d prefer particularly on Twitter and then using that to make their agenda trend. But often what platforms consider “gaming” can be anything from deploying bot networks to influencers agreeing to join “engagement pods” to like and comment on each other’s’ posts.
9. Institutions’ discrediting
This is the tactic of discrediting constitutional institutions such as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission or the National Cohesion and Integration Commission by portraying them as partisan. What this does is to make people believe that the institutions are biased and cannot execute fair and credible elections. By and large, this is primarily intended to cause chaos as people won’t believe in the final electoral results, but based on the fake information spread on social media against certain institutions.
10. New battle spaces
Video is now the new form of social media content consumption and through platforms such as TikTok, fake news strategists are spreading their misinformation to the gullible audience. They might share false graphic content of opponents or mimic their voices all to discredit them and paint them in a bad picture.