In this context of the electoral campaign in which we are immersed, the 'political hoaxes' are becoming more relevant and it is expected that attacks to destabilize the parties and candidates in order to influence the electorate will increase.
As recent examples, let's remember that disinformation campaigns influenced Trump to win the presidency of the United States or to support Britain's exit from the European Union in the Brexit referendum.
The speed with which false articles and publications can spread in social networks and their consequences in electoral processes, make the Fake News or disinformation a problem of first magnitude. In fact, according to the National Cryptological Centre (CCN), dependent on the CNI, nowadays, "more than 20 million Spanish citizens are at risk of being victims of disinformation".
In this article we explain: why do we vote what we vote in the era of disinformation? How does Fake News influence electoral processes? And, most importantly, what can we do to avoid falling into this kind of manipulation?
Democracy at risk due to fake news and data misuse
According to the 2017 report of the National Observatory of Telecommunications and Information Society (ONTSI), 92% of the Spanish population between 16 and 65 years old is informed daily through the Internet, while 85% is informed through social networks.
As we see, we live in a world marked by the immediacy of information, technology and connectivity in which it is easier than ever to transmit content, including those that do not have the necessary transparency and accuracy.
This issue is even more serious if we take into account that we have stopped being passive subjects and have become active subjects who, beyond receiving information, also share and disseminate news, even without having any real proof that what we are dealing with may or may not be true.
But what exactly is disinformation?
According to the European Commission, "disinformation or false news consists of demonstrably false or incorrect information which is prepared, presented and disseminated for financial gain, to mislead the public or to cause harm".
"ONE OF THE BIGGEST PROBLEMS WITH FAKE NEWS IS THAT IT TOUCHES OUR HEARTS MORE THAN OUR MINDS; IT APPEALS TO OUR FEELINGS MORE THAN OUR BRAINS."
Precisely because Fake News appeals directly to our emotions and feelings, according to a report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 'The spread of true and false news online', Fake News is up to 70% more likely to be shared than true news, spreading faster and reaching a wider audience.
This is alarming considering that, according to another recent study carried out by the Spanish cybersecurity company S2 Grupo, seven out of ten Spaniards believe that false news or Fake News can alter the outcome of elections. While according to the latest Eurobarometer prepared by the European Parliament, eight out of ten Spaniards perceive misinformation as a problem for democracy, and for Spain in particular.
Fake news: emotion-based misinformation
Cognitive biases are 'mental errors' caused by the strategies our brain uses to simplify information processing.
These cognitive errors are transformed into prejudices, stereotypes or associations and are used by those people, organizations or political parties that try to convince, persuade or manipulate us. Avoiding falling into them requires training and working on their incidence.
When we go to the polls to vote, we may think that we act rationally but in reality there are many emotional factors that influence us in this decision, rationalizing a posteriori what the emotions have decided.
Different studies have found that aspects as banal as the climate on election day, the tone of voice of the candidate or the fact that he or she smiles, can tip the balance in one direction or another.
That is why political advisors specialized in neuropolitics or political neuromarketing want to know how the human brain works in order to manipulate it and influence the behavior of the voters. How? By resorting to cognitive manipulation, to unconscious impulses, pressing the button of emotions in the desired direction.
In short, it is vitally important that we know well how our brain interprets information and that as many people as possible are aware of the techniques of manipulation based on cognitive biases and mental schemes so that they are not influenced by false information and, much less, by their ideology or political orientation. The more critical thinking we have, the stronger our freedom and democracy will be.
What measures are in place to protect the upcoming elections from fake news?
The European Union is promoting measures for each country to set up a "Research Centre to combat the content of disinformation".
In the case of social networks, although much remains to be done in the creation of mechanisms to limit the creation and spread of false news, since 2018 Facebook has been implementing measures to combat misinformation, focusing on the review of content.
The social network has begun to criminalize and stop the dissemination of all content detected by its Artificial Intelligence (AI) as suspected of containing false data or political or ideological influences. According to the company's (Facebook) estimate, the existence of alerts of possible hoaxes can reduce the spread of these alerts by up to 80%.
Last but not least, there are agencies working to confirm or deny data.
As this article shows, the main victims of the "wars of disinformation" are us, the citizens. Avoiding it is everyone's responsibility.
If you have found the content interesting and useful, we ask you to contribute to the creation of a Culture of actions against disinformation by forwarding this article to the people around you.
The more we know about the tools for detecting disinformation campaigns, the less likely we are to manipulate public opinion and the more resilient our society and democracy will be.
Web Developer, Blogger, Creative Thinker, Social media enthusiast, Italian expat in Spain, mom of little 6 years old geek, founder of @manoweb. A strong conceptual and creative thinker who has a keen interest in all things relate to the Internet. A technically savvy web developer, who has multiple years of website design expertise behind her. She turns conceptual ideas into highly creative visual digital products.
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