Fake news, algorithms and filter bubbles

Journal issue, 16. April 2018.

CALL FOR PAPERS

Quaderns del CAC, number 44, July 2018

Deadline for presentation of articles: April 16, 2018

The next issue of the communication journal, Quaderns del CAC, which is published in three languages, Catalan, Spanish and English, is calling for papers to be presented for its monographic section.

Fake news, algorithms and filter bubbles

Fake news, filter bubbles and algorithms exist separately and can therefore be analysed. Their current notoriety results from them working together to create a veritable system that can construct parallel realities.

Fake news has always existed and information has always been manipulated. But in the previous environment of limited channels of communication, professionally organised and with institutionalised counterweights, it was relatively easy to detect what was fake and, if appropriate, penalise it, applying the rules of editorial accountability. The internet has radically changed this situation. On the one hand, distribution channels and devices to access information have increased exponentially. On the other, the agents producing and distributing content have also multiplied and their variety increased. In addition to professionals producing information following a series of conventions, including separating information from opinion, verifying facts, triangulation and using a variety of sources as well as gatekeeping to decide which events and issues are newsworthy, there are new corporate and individual agents which do not follow, and are not obliged to follow, any of these rules in carrying out their activity.

A perfect breeding ground for fake news. A large number of agents generate content for an infinite number of publicly or privately-owned distribution channels, not subject to rules of editorial accountability and without the filter of institutionalised professional conventions. This makes it very difficult to detect and block fake news. Although, in principle, today's hyperconnected society fosters political transparency and news pluralism and empowers citizens as never before, the very profusion of sources and content and the absence of editorial accountability applicable to all online activity create new risks for our society. In order to handle the huge amount of content available, large platforms and social media use search algorithms to propose to each user a selection of content which matches their preferences, deduced by algorithms based on the user's digital footprint. The algorithm acts as a gatekeeper without any kind of transparency in the criteria applied. Apart from reprehensible biases, users also run the risk of consuming only the information that matches their world view or ideology. This can create perverse situations, such as "echo chambers" or filter bubbles for each user, making them believe they are receiving /objective information on the world /rather than automatically pre-selected topics that match their profile. This completes the virtuous circle that makes fake news so effective.

Fake news is created using a credible design in an online medium that also has a credible appearance, and it is injected into the corresponding filter bubbles on social media. Using algorithms, these bubbles help to quickly spread the fake news item to all like-minded bubbles that match the bias of the fake news item, often using "bots" to multiply the effect and thereby helping it to go viral.

An increasing number of citizens, especially young people and minors, access information solely via this channel. Given the global, instant and viral nature of such platforms, a fake news item can create significant states of opinion in large segments of society. The danger of compartmentalisation is a logical consequence.

Fake news reaches a peak when items go beyond like-minded filter bubbles. This occurs particularly when traditional media pick them up and spread them, acting as amplifiers and, worse still, adding a patina of truthfulness that comes from their status as news media. The faltering business model of traditional media has contributed to such episodes, as they now have fewer resources to duly check the facts. This is also another consequence of using algorithms. Some media use "bots" with automated algorithms to produce news, which can act as a backdoor for fake news to enter the traditional media.

Fake news and filter bubbles become particularly important at times of political polarisation, such as the case of Brexit and the Catalan independence movement, as well as during election campaigns, such as the US and France.

Apart from using fake news to influence the state of opinion in favour of a certain political opinion or commercial interest, also important is the creation of a veritable fake news industry with great appeal, since it achieves a large number of hits on a global scale and therefore attracts advertising revenue.

Algorithms also play a decisive role in the digital communication of non-news content, both in entertainment and fiction. Using algorithms to process big data, provided unwittingly by users when they consume, generates the phenomenon of filter bubbles. Because of this phenomenon, content is suggested to users that matches their interests, limiting the diversity of products they access and resulting in a poorer cultural consumption experience. Equally problematic is the use of algorithms in the production process, with content design incorporating variables resulting from processing big data obtained as users consume.

Papers can cover aspects related to the following areas, as well as combinations thereof:

• Communication
• Journalism
• Legislation and regulations
• Politics and society
• Economics
• Technology

And among other topics:

• Concept typification: fake news, post-truth, disinformation
• Fake news as a means of political influence
• Legislation and the state's role regarding fake news and the transparency of algorithms
• The use of fake news in polarised political or social situations
• Frame war in polarised political communication
• Sources of information in the social media era
• How facts and truth are handled in news discourse
• Resources to detect and censure fake news
• Credibility of the different news providers
• Discourse-based aspects of fake news and disinformation
• Mechanisms used to produce and spread fake news
• Disinformation and virality
• Biases employed by algorithms to decide which subjects are newsworthy
• Risks to individual privacy
• Ethical problems of authorship and editorial accountability
• Filter bubbles and the segmentation of content consumption
• The declining diversity of media diet content
• Characterising filter bubbles
• “Bots” in content generation
• The problems of editorial accountability online
• The risks of automating news production
• Fake news as a business
• How “bots” help content go viral

However, we also encourage you to take part in the miscellaneous "Articles" section, devoted to publishing current research on audiovisual communication and culture. There is no deadline for papers for this section.

Papers must be original and unpublished and must not have been submitted to any other journal. Papers will undergo a double blind peer review and the publication undertakes to inform authors whether their paper has been accepted or not within maximum one and a half months after it has been presented. Papers must be presented in accordance with the manuscript submissions guidelines <https://www.cac.cat/pfw_files/cma/recerca/quaderns_cac/Q43_guia_articles....

You can send your paper to quadernsdelcac@gencat.cat