I remember during SARS in Hong Kong there was a rumour that smoking would strengthen the the body's immune system. I know, laughable. But many people took it as fact. The rumour disappeared after doctors explained why this was fiction and smoking did the exact opposite.
Fast forward to today, and fake news and rumour mongering has become infinitely more sophisticated and the reproduction to a wider audience can take seconds. Some fake stories can be discounted, proven to be false, and yet still rise up from dark recesses on the Internet many years later.
Fake news comes in many flavours; hoax news, fictional stories, deepfakes, synthetic media, pseudo news, misinformation, manipulated images, and videos.
[Anyone who has ever used a filter to manipulate / enhance an image is also a creator and distributor of fakery.]
Yet the fake news swamp is murky. On one hand, there is very real effort and resources being pumped in to rid the world of misinformation. On the other, there is a desire to push the fake boundaries for entertainment, to push agendas or for a myriad of other reasons.
Serious efforts to counter fake news
But what about the creation of something clearly fake that has worldwide appeal?
Lil Miquela, model, singer and has a huge following of over 1 million followers on Instagram. Not bad for a computer generated personality AKA virtual influencer. If you are thinking Max Headroom, Lil Miquela is a million times more lifelike and believable. Some photos it's hard to decide if she's real or fake.
As we know, influencers are a huge business even if the wheel is coming off (ability to 'buy' followers, 'like' syndicates, and more). Better to have a computer generated influencer who can be moulded to wear clothes / accessories from sponsors, and do things followers want or desire.
Does this spell the end of human influencers as we know and love them? Not yet but more of these virtual influencers are appearing.
Ultimately, the fight against fake news will be a blend of technology and humans flagging content as bogus. Posts will need to be reviewed by human reviewers who will be responsible for deciding whether a post is false or of content falling foul of policies / laws.
Of course, the system will never be tamper proof.
But there are many sites that let users create fake profile photos or change their appearance. They are funny for a short while. Then you realise just how scammers can use these filters to fool and trick people. Here's the result of a minute playing with the new Snapchat filters.