In the United States, Facebook’s recent Cambridge Analytica scandal has many Americans up in arms over potential privacy breaches and the prominence fake news had during the 2016 presidential election. In Central Europe, the use of fake news is not a new concept, as it was seen during the Czech Republic’s 2018 election.
Fake news, known as deliberately misleading and used to spread hoaxes, can exist in the traditional form of print and broadcast news but primarily reaches people over social media platforms.
In 2014, a British political consulting firm called Cambridge Analytica started collecting personal date from Facebook users. Cambridge then used that data to influence voters to favor politicians that contract with Cambridge. The firm collected data from over 87 million Facebook users.
With this personal information, Cambridge created media campaigns for the United Kingdon’s Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Christopher Wylie, a former employee of Cambridge, told BCC News that the firm “absolutely” used the personal data of 50 million Facebook users to plant fake news and influence the US presidential election.
In the Czech Republic, presidential candidate Jiri Drahos received an onslaught of accusations that he was a pedophile and a communist. According to Radio Free Europe, these nasty accusations were a part of a broader attack seen on social media and websites that are suspected of peddling fake news.
On the other hand, President Milos Zeman, who won the election, was praised during the campaign by several websites that are seen as pro-Russian. The websites also spread false information that was anti-American and anti-European Union.
The presence of fake news during Czech Republic’s 2018 election was expected. Countries such as the United States, Netherlands, Germany and France experienced pro-Russian websites and fake news sources spreading misinformation during their own elections, according to Radio Free Europe.
Fake news, although at times can look so fake it’s comical, seems to actually have a significant influence in elections across the globe, underscoring the severity of the problem. Citizens are believing things they see on social media that are simply not true and as a result, voting a certain way based off those beliefs. In the Czech Republic, one campaign seen on social media websites tried to convince pro-Zeman voters that they did not have to vote because Zeman was going to automatically advance to the second round as the incumbent. This is propaganda. And it’s extremely dangerous to our democracy, as the American Sinclair Broadcasting Group would say.
Image of Milos Zeman courtesy of http://en.kremlin.ru/ and free to share through Google Advanced Search.
Feature photo courtesy of https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FAKE_NEWS.png