The Spread of Fake News

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Over the last year, the distribution of fake news and news-related scams have escalated to not only affect the public, but also the political and business world. Here’s how to protect yourself.

 Among the wide variety of scams conducted using fake new advertisements, the Binary Options Trading (a form of unregulated trading of stocks) scam is one that has been affecting many victims around the world. Articles are set up to give the impression that Binary Options Trading was used by several high-profile individuals, such as Richard Branson and Tony Fernandes. The involvement of public figures in such trading is fictitious and is only used to hook potential victims. These scams are also supported by legitimate-looking websites complete with fake testimonials.

 Reporting Fake News Ads

  • Adwords: Individuals can report an ad by clicking on an ‘x’ icon displayed on the photo of the ad. You can also fill out a ‘Feedback on Adword Ad’ form located in the Adword Ad section. You can report an ad if it violated trademark policy, counterfeit goods policy.
  • Outbrain: Individuals do not have the option to report an ad by clicking an ‘x’ icon directly on the Ad (as provided by Adwords). The only way individuals can report as an ad is by emailing Outbrain’s support staff.
  • RevContent: Ad Content can be reported if it is categorized as fake news, misleading, not Interesting, offensive, repetitive, or another category.

Flaws in Reporting Mechanisms

All the mechanisms provided above are flawed and deficient due to several reasons:

  • These systems rely heavily on many individuals to responsibly report misguided information. This sort of feedback reporting system is unrealistic due to its assumption that a significant number of end-users will be both savvy enough to be aware they are looking at a fake advertisement, and proactive enough to take the time to report the ad. These systems allow ad services to relieve themselves of blame by placing responsibility on end-users who are in fact potential victims to these scams.
  • Due to these reporting mechanisms’ reliance on individuals, there is no coherent framework in place for organizations to report when they are being targeted or impersonated by Ads displayed. Ad service companies currently fail to acknowledge group entities, brands, and organizations. Such a gap results in brands and organizations being victims and facing severe losses in terms of their reputation and credibility.
  • Ad generating companies distributing fake news do not have a procedure in place to check facts. They lack any form of monitoring or news verification process.

Detecting Fake News Ads

Cybersecurity companies focused on brand protection initiatives for their clients take active measures in detecting online fraudulent content. However, such Cyber Security companies face several challenges in effectively detecting fake news ads:

  • Websites containing fake news articles are typically un-indexed in order for them to remain hidden on search engines.
  • There is no central hub currently in place to specifically search for Ads. This leads to a hindrance in taking proactive measures to detect and prevent organizations and individuals from being impersonated.
  • The prospect of two end-users viewing the same Ad is highly unlikely. Due to the algorithm in place, ad display is randomized and based on a number of factors such as the end-user’s geo-location, search history, and other site views. This presents a challenge to organizations who get reports from their customers about such fake ads.

Challenges in Preventative Solutions

  • The hiring of human editors: Human editing depends on trained professionals to assess news articles before they are entered into news streams. This method is viewed as more reliable than algorithms, however, this is not a cost-effective solution due to a large number of workers needed.
  • Crowdsourcing: Crowdsourced vetting allows the public to assess the news and rank its validity. This provides a more democratic approach, which would be less likely accused of bias opinions. Unfortunately, it could lead to people promoting fake news or automated systems promoting clickbait.
  • Algorithmic mechanisms: Companies such as Facebook are in favor of using algorithms to vet news articles for validity. However, they are struggling to identify and downgrade hoax news. Algorithms happen to be much more inexpensive and easier to manage than human editors, although they reflect the subjective decisions of their designers.

Who is responsible?

It is every individual’s personal effort to be vigilant with regards to online malicious and fraudulent practices. However, on a grand scale, the solution lies in the hands of Ad-generating companies, registrars, and hosts.

 Ad companies (such as Adword, Outbrain, Revcontent) and registrars/hosts (such as GoDaddy) have been financially gaining from the distribution of fake news and scams involving individuals and organizations – however, they are not proactive about taking responsibility for this distribution.

Therefore, it is important for Ad companies to take a stance and maintain a collaborative effort to work alongside cybersecurity firms specializing in brand protection. Such an effort involves monitoring companies distributing fake news and placing effective filters in place to discover fake news. Efforts also include taking proactive preventative measures to stop end-users from receiving such fake news. This is possible by maintaining vigorous fact-checking protocols in place to display credible content at all times.

How to identify fake news?

  • Who wrote it? Find out more information about the writer. Do they have a history of valid articles?
  • What claims does it make? Real news would provide multiple sources for facts, and if not, then verify facts yourself.
  • Where is it published? Ensure that the publishers have a reputable background, are legitimate, and have a strong fact-checking record.

Best Practices

  • Spread the word about fake news, especially to friends who might believe or share it.
  • Do not support fake news sources by clicking their links, which in turn grants them ad revenue.
  • Report or downvote posts that promote fake news on social media.

Organizations can prepare in the following ways: 

  • Employee awareness training: Inform employees about this threat, enabling them to be advocates of truth for the organization.
  • Communicate the business’s values to the public in advance.
  • Prepare responses to deal with fake news articles, instead of waiting for internal approval and delaying a reply. 
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