Fake news online: censorship and police crowds can not defeat people’s tendency to believe their own prejudices

Arturo Di Corinto

Fake news, the false news that pollute the public debate and democracy appear to be such a serious problem to make italian Minister of the Interior Marco Minniti decide to create a task force to fight them.

The initiative is worthy but perhaps insufficient and misleading if you think that fake news exists because someone wants to believe it.

Unfortunately it is true that through false news it is possible to manipulate public opinion and guide government decisions, delegitimize politicians and institutions and subvert the scientific debate. The fake news has always existed, but today they have a powerful ally: the virality of the web that facilitates its propagation with a couple of clicks.

And yet perhaps it is not true that they can be countered by starting from those who, on the business model of the selection and customization of online news has built real communities of consumers, such as Facebook, for example. The operation of its predictive algorithms is such that if you have clicked some news you will be ready to click on a similar one, even fake, and for this they will present them before others.


Newspapers and media in general are not immune to fake news. The newspapers accused by Trump of spreading false news about him were able to exhibit antibodies to their dissemination recognizing on the one hand the publication of inaccurate or inadequately verified news, on the other they were able to certify the bulimic Trumpian production of fake news, hundreds in the first year of presidency.

This means that it is possible to fight fake news and that newspapers and journalists have an important role to play in this arena. It is called fact checking.

“But the point is that even if we disclose what the fake news are, individuals do not want to recognize them as such.”

All reactions to an informative overload that leads us to simplify and trivialize the surrounding world. It is a basic principle of cognitive economics, but also the result of the all-human tendency to always be right that nourishes the “backfire effects”, that is, the aggressive reaction to those who think differently.

If we add to these “cognitive biases” the war of attention that the media fight with sensationalism and shouted titles, and that the business model of platform capitalism is based on the extreme personalization of information generated by sites, apps and social networks , we understand where most of the problem is.

Quality and pluralism of newspapers, radio and TV, fact checking, media literacy, respect and dialogue are the main resources to appeal to combat the misinformation that pivots on fake news.

Teacher, journalist, hacktivist. Privacy advocate, copyright critic, free software fan, cybersecurity curious.

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