First, it is important to understand the fundamental difference between social media websites and traditional news platforms as a source of news. The key difference is the centralized nature of the latter. In the case of a news portal, the information is obtained, presented, and distributed using company resources. On the other hand, the distribution of news on social media is done primarily by service users. At this point, it is necessary to mention that despite their extensive use for informative and educational purposes, social media are predominantly entertainment-oriented. Thus, the news that is the most attractive to readers or aligns better with their preconceived notions gets the most traction. In other words, the users tend to share news based on their perceived value rather than reliability. As can be seen, the responsibility for distributing fake news lies at least partially with the end-users.
This point can be illustrated with the example of anti-vaccination campaigns on Facebook. In most cases, the campaigns are organized by individuals who are honestly mistaken or deliberately misleading in their claims. In both cases, these individuals are at least partially knowledgeable on the subject. However, the bulk of dissemination is done by uncritical users who share the agenda based on its alignment with their views and beliefs without undertaking independent due diligence. At this point, the algorithms of social networks identify the increase in activity and assign it a higher priority, further amplifying the effect. As a result, the information attains a certain degree of false credibility.
Another example is the phenomenon referred to as the army of bots – large groups of manually managed or automated accounts used for the purpose of fake news propagation. According to recent estimates, the total number exceeds 50 million accounts on some social media platforms. In some cases, these groups can be used to promote certain political views and ideas by utilizing the mechanisms described above.
At this point, it is important to specify the partially decentralized nature of social networks. Social media services allow the consumers to participate in the decision-making regarding content circulation. At the same time, many of the companies behind these services are heavily centralized institutions that rely on rigid censorship mechanisms when granting access to information from different sources. As can be seen, social media outlets control the emergence of the information on their platforms but delegate the responsibility of verification to the end-users. Thus, the most reasonable approach would be to exercise independent due diligence before sharing or otherwise utilizing the information obtained through social media outlets.