People carrying an injured person at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after gunfire was heard in Las Vegas last Sunday. In the wake of the shooting, Google and Facebook carried fake news about multiple shooters, Islamic State involvement and fictional victims. (AFP PIC)

WHAT is fake news? To put it simply, it means false stories masquerading as news, especially in non-traditional news sources such as social media.

Globally, online fake news is becoming a major problem as digital audience grows. This is especially so in the United States, where two-thirds of adults in the country get some of their news from social media, according to Reuters.

Last week’s Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 58 people and injured more than 500 others was another example of the consequences of fake news.

After a deadly shooting in Las Vegas, Google and Facebook both briefly promoted fake news, then offered apologies that were curiously similar.

Google blamed algorithm for highlighting stories that wrongly identified a totally innocent man as the shooter.

This has been the usual excuse by Google and Facebook. Google’s detractors have claimed that Google’s search algorithm appears to be systematically promoting information that is either false or slanted with an extreme right-wing bias.

In the case of the mistaken identity of the Las Vegas shooter, millions of people were linking an innocent man’s face to the shooting, causing untold grief on him and his family.

His family had to call a press conference to clear the air and put the blame on social media for spinning the story out of control.

In the wake of the shooting, Google and Facebook also carried fake news about multiple shooters, Islamic State involvement and fictional victims.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has made changes to its algorithms after it was strongly condemned for promoting offensive and false conspiracy theory videos about the Las Vegas shooting.

The fake news about the Las Vegas incident is not an isolated incident. Worldwide, this is proving to be a major problem.

Malaysia is no exception. It has come to a point where the authorities must step up enforcement and prosecution of those behind false news.

Facebook, for example, has come under close scrutiny over its disclosure that Russians used fake pages and ads, designed to look like the work of American activists, to spread inflammatory messages during and since the 2016 US presidential campaign.

But there is evidence that Twitter may have been used even more extensively than Facebook in the Russian influence campaign last year, according to The New York Times.

In addition to Russia-linked Twitter accounts that posed as Americans, the platform was also used for large-scale automated messaging, using “bot” accounts to spread false stories and promote news articles about emails from Democratic operatives that had been obtained by Russian hackers, it said.

Media experts say both Facebook and Google must come to terms with the problems that algorithms, or the automatic systems, have created.

To them, the more the number of clicks or likes on their content the better.

As such, they have emerged as the two most popular digital ad platforms online, diverting most ad revenue from premium publishers.

Their algorithms decide what people are engaging with and sharing. This is exactly how fake news became such a massive issue.

The writer feels in a digital world, the winner does not always take all

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