A spate of fake news is hitting our Facebook feeds. Actual fake news, that is news which is deliberately fake and meant to go viral for purposes other than reporting news.
Over the past weeks, several ads have been popping up on Facebook newsfeeds reporting various great, but fake, successes by the Maltese government. A popular one, cleverly disguised as a “CNN tech” website (there is no such thing), reported how Malta’s Ministry of Finance acquired a blockchain startup worth $500 million.
Another ad reported how the Maltese government made a €150 million “game-changing investment”. Both ads lead to the same fake CNN website.
The ads are run by Facebook pages such as Traders Funds and Bigger Cubes, both with less than 100 likes each, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fooling people. The ads contain images of Maltese politicians that are clearly cropped from other sources, in an attempt to add credibility to their stories. And it seems like they are working.
Several people have approached Lovin Malta enquiring about the stories, and a substantial part of the Maltese public is taking them to be facts. The stories typically follow the same format. They announce some great bogus initiative of the government, then move on to discuss a particular company or source so as to direct traffic to that source. The end goal seems to be the marketing of some get-rich-quick, make $1,000-a-day-from-your-home service.
Ads like these have been circulating on social media for a while, but over the past weeks their exposure in Malta has increased significantly.
They are dangerous, not only because they can lead to innocent people being scammed, but also because they announce big stories that are likely to be believed and shared quickly.
It is also a worldwide phenomenon. Facebook has received heavy criticism globally for allowing fake news to be circulated via its platform. It was allegedly used by Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential elections, and countries such as the UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada are now looking to legislate specifically on fake news.
Another worrying factor is that fake news generators are now widely available and people can create their own fake news with a few clicks. Since clamping down on these generators and fake news in general might be somewhat ambitious, it is up to Facebook to ensure the platform it not being used to distribute these articles.
Speaking to Lovin Malta, a government spokesperson has confirmed that it is aware of the issue, and is considering reaching out to Facebook on the matter. Meanwhile, the public is being urged to be wary of adverts that don’t seem to have an authentic source, and to ignore them.
Facebook also has a reporting function which allows ads to be flagged as false news.