FEATURES » The increase in fake news

The increase in fake news

Fake news has become an increasingly worrying phenomenon in Italy. Not only bogus reports appear daily on social media but also in newspapers, mostly as a result of journalists’ failure to check sources.

To crack down on this emergency, the Italian government has launched an online service where people can report what they think might be fake news via a “red button” system on the website of Italy’s postal police, the division that tackles online crime.

The alerts will be analysed through a special software by a dedicated team that is going to establish, on the basis of its source, if the information can be trusted.

In the run-up to the 4th of March election, senior politicians have vented concerns that fake news could sway public opinion.

The interior minister, Marco Minniti, reassured the public opinion saying that the initiative was only aimed at protecting citizens from clamorous and flagrantly unfounded news and was not intended to interfere with the political campaign.

Franco Gabrielli, the national police head, emphasised that they would rely on mechanisms already in use to provide a more trustworthy service.

However, this has soon become a controversial issue, because most of the fake news is political and it’s not entirely clear how the police will verify what is fake and what is not. A key concern is the fact that the Police don’t define “fake news” anywhere. The official press release only refers to “false and tendentious news” which could be against the law if it disturbs the public order. This grants the police a great deal of power in deciding what kind of information is suitable online.

The inconvenient truth is perhaps that fake news can be seen as a consequence of the crisis of journalism. It is striking that much fake news appears in newspapers, not just on social media.

Newspapers should check their sources and pay their journalists the right amount of money which a professional journalist deserves. 

Concerns over fake news in Italy first mounted in 2016 ahead of the referendum on the constitutional reform which caused the resignation of the former prime minister Matteo Renzi. On that occasion, a network of untrustworthy news sites was said to have influenced the outcome of the vote.   

Matteo Renzi called on Facebook to stop the spreading of fake news before the vote of the 4th of March. Facebook has welcomed the challenge by tasking a team of independent fact checkers in Italy to hunt down and reveal fake news on the social network. This will be the first time that professional fact-checkers will have a “proactive role” in finding bogus news on the site.

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