YouTube shooting shows how fake news spirals on social media

YouTube employees are seen walking away from Youtube headquarters following an active shooter situation in San Bruno, California, U.S., on Tuesday April 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 04 April 2018

YouTube shooting shows how fake news spirals on social media

PARIS: Within minutes of the shooting at YouTube offices in California, social media was awash with conspiracy theories and images of the supposed “shooter” wearing a Muslim headscarf.
Some Facebook videos were quick to claim that it was a “false flag” attack, carried out to discredit the powerful US gun lobby in the wake of the Parkland high school massacre in Florida.
With wildly exaggerated accounts of the death toll circulating, several pictures of the purported attacker and some of the “victims” posted to Twitter Tuesday turned out to be of well-known YouTubers.
Other widely-shared posts speculated that the attacker had been provoked by YouTube censoring political content, and one Twitter user posted a picture of the suspect as Hillary Clinton in a headscarf.
His account was later suspended.
Hoaxers too took advantage of the situation to post several pictures of the US comic Sam Hyde, who is known for Internet pranks.
None of which came as any surprise to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose report last month found that false news spreads far faster on Twitter than real news — and by a substantial margin.
“We found that falsehood diffuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information,” said Sinan Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
They found that false political news reached more people faster and went deeper into their social networks than any other category of false information.

While Russian troll factories have got much of the blame for attempting to poison the political discourse in election campaigns across the US and Europe, the team from the MIT Media Lab found that fake news spreads not because of bots but from people retweeting inaccurate reports.
Researchers found that “false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true one. It also takes true stories about six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories.”
While real news stories are rarely retweeted by more than a thousand people, the most popular fake news items are regularly shared by up to 100,000.
Emma Gonzalez, one of the Parkland students who has become a leader of the #NeverAgain movement pushing for tougher gun control, has become a particular target for misinformation attacks in recent weeks.
A doctored picture of her ripping up the US constitution trended last week, exposing her to vicious online vitriol. She had actually been ripping up a gun target in a photo shoot for Teen Vogue magazine.

Another fake meme went viral showing Gonzalez allegedly attacking a gun supporter’s truck, when it was in fact an image of the then shaven-headed pop star Britney Spears in a infamous meltdown from 2007.
Rudy Reichstadt, of the Conspiracy Watch website, said disinformation feeds on the “shock and stupor” that traumatic events create.
“We now have conspiracy theory entrepreneurs who react instantly to these events and rewrite unfolding narratives to fit their conspiratorial alternative storytelling.”
He said US shock jock and Infowars founder Alex Jones, a prominent pro-gun activist, had set the template for generating fake news to fit a particular agenda.
He plays up “conspiracy theories every time there is a new shooting,” Reichstadt told AFP. “He is a prisoner of his own theories and is constantly trying to move the story on (with new elements) to keep the conspiracy alive.”
The France-based researcher said there was now a whole ecosystem of fake news manufacturers, from those who “use clickbait sensationalism to increase their advertising revenue to disinformation professionals and weekend conspiracy theorists who sound off on YouTube.”
The MIT study, which was inspired by the online rumors which circulated after the Boston marathon attack in 2013, focused on what it called “rumor cascades” — unbroken chains of retweets after a Twitter user makes a false claim.
Aral said they concluded that people are more likely to share fake news because “false news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information. Those who do are seen as being in the know.”


Royal runaways’ media war follows them to Canada

Updated 23 January 2020

Royal runaways’ media war follows them to Canada

LONDON: Prince Harry and his wife Meghan may have quit Britain for a quieter life in Canada but their battle with the media has followed them to the new front line.
Harry believes “powerful forces” in Britain’s tabloids are waging a ruthless propaganda war to vilify his US former actress wife — and he is hitting back through the lawyers.
Having struggled with media scrutiny since their May 2018 wedding, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex abandoned their royal roles this month in a bid for a calmer and more independent life.
But their bombshell departure has made them even more of a story — and media, including paparazzi photographers, have now flocked to their Vancouver Island getaway.
Their lawyers have already issued warnings to the press over pictures of Meghan out walking the dogs near their luxury seafront home.
After a slew of negative stories in the British press, the couple are trying to seize greater control of the narrative.
But they are not shunning all publicity — far from it.
The Sussexes will keep working with their non-royal patronages, but now intend to work with hand-picked media only.
Meghan has already made a couple of visits to women’s charities in nearby Vancouver, while they continue posting content on Instagram, where they have 11 million followers.
Their success in becoming financially independent from the monarchy through creating their own commercial income will largely depend on them remaining hot property.
Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, which campaigns for press freedom, said the couple could not control media scrutiny.
“If Harry and Meghan had said: ‘we want to withdraw completely from public life and occasionally appear for good causes’, I think they would have achieved their aim but they seem to want to have their cake and eat it,” he told AFP.
Harry is “living in cloud cuckoo land” if he thought press relations would magically improve by him stepping away from representing his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II and moving to Canada, said royal biographer Penny Junor.
She said the situation could become worse now they are no longer in the royal fold, where pooled media access to engagements is facilitated through a long-agreed system.
Without that stream of content, news and picture desks might look elsewhere.
“The press might be less respectful than they were before,” Junor, the author of “Prince Harry: Brother. Soldier. Son. Husband.,” told AFP.
The 35-year-old prince, who is sixth in line to the throne, has always had a tumultuous relationship with the press, which he blames for the death of his mother.
Diana, princess of Wales died in 1997 in a car crash. Harry was 12 at the time.
A truce between the papers and the palace meant Harry and his brother Prince William were left alone while they were still in education, in return for a handful of pooled photo opportunities.
But afterwards, Harry quickly turned into a tabloid favorite with his party lifestyle and repeated misdemeanours.
He served 10 years in the British army, including two tours of duty in Afghanistan, and afterwards founded the Invictus Games for wounded veterans.
Harry was praised as a changed man who had found his calling.
“He recognized not only that he could do good things with his title — but also that he needed publicity to do those good things and that a good relationship with the press was very important,” said Junor.
The prince’s relationship with Meghan was welcomed across the board by the press, but media relations soon began to deteriorate.
Reports appeared of staff being unable to work with the “duchess of difficult.”
When their son Archie arrived in May 2019, they announced that Meghan had gone into labor hours after the baby had actually been born, infuriating newsdesks.
The couple’s animosity toward the press spilled over into legal action in October last year, with Harry suing over alleged voicemail interception and Meghan filing a claim over a private letter to her father Thomas Markle appearing in The Mail on Sunday (him having shown it to the tabloid).
“They are going to have to accept that their lifestyle will continue to go under scrutiny,” said Murray, adding that they were living close to the US border.
“The American media are different; they have a vigorous magazine market,” he said.
“There will be an appetite there and around the world for pictures and stories about them.”