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Fake news' and the Socratic filter


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Sur, Diario de Navarra

Gerardo Castillo

Lecturer at School of Education and Psychology

It is much easier to invent or spread a rumour than to make a journalistic researchthat allows to give contrasted news.

Information often reaches us all via the internet, without mentioning sourceor the date. It would be imprudent for us to spread it without first checking whether or not it is true, because it is possible that it is false information or a simple rumour that looks like news. Many people do not usually take this precaution.

The anonymity of users makes it possible for rumours and misleading news, also known as 'fake news', to be broadcast and disseminated. One example was the dissemination through social networks of a front page of the digital media 'El Time' about the supposed evacuation of the island of La Palma due to the eruption of the famous volcano. A lot of hoaxes circulated about the same topicwhich have already been denied: the volcanic ash is used to make toothpaste, the water of the whole island is contaminated and therefore undrinkable, etc.

Social networks allow any Usernameto be both producer and consumer of false information. This generates a vicious circle: a false news story is replicated thousands of times in a few seconds. All this happens in a context of post-truth, a term defined by the Oxford dictionary as the 'word of the year in 2016'. It means that objective facts are less important in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion.

Quality journalism and the right of readers to truthful information are currently suffering from the dissemination, by some media, of simple rumours: it is much easier to invent or spread a rumour than to carry out a journalistic researchthat allows for contrasted news to be reported. Hoaxes are much older than the Internet, but thanks to social networks, which allow low cost, anonymity and an enormous capacity for virality, they have increased exponentially.

There are several reasons why someone might spread hoaxes on the Internet. The Guardia Civil's departmentde Delitos Telemáticos classifies them into three types, depending on the creator's intention: those that aim to generate social alarm, those that want to make money and those that seek to reaffirm an ideology. There are hoaxes between governments and civil service examination, between commercial brands, between opposing ideologies, etc.

According to researcherFransesc Canals, director of the Internet Observatory, Spain is one of the first countries in the world to produce and distribute false news through social networks. This is due to cultural factors that Canals reduces to three: the capacity for propagation, the absence of defined sources and the lack of testimonies. Other experts add educational deficiencies, such as the lack of a moral and pedagogical code about how children, adolescents and adults should use social networks. To detect fake news it is advisable to do the following: find out the sourceof the news, and verify the author and the date of publication. If any of these datado not appear, it is a hoax.

The triple Socratic filter can also be used. It refers to an anecdote of Socrates. One of his disciples once told the philosopher that he had met one of his friends who had spoken ill of Socrates. The philosopher, before listening to him, gave him a brief examination, filtering what the person was going to tell him through three different filters: the filter of truth, the filter of goodness and the filter of usefulness. He asked him three questions: Are you absolutely sure that what you are going to tell me is true? (truth filter); is what you are going to tell me something good? (goodness filter); will what you are going to tell me be useful to me? (usefulness filter).

After the man admitted that he was not sure whether what he was going to tell him was true, good and useful, Socrates asked him: "Are you still interested in doing it?

I think that the best preventive measure to avoid being affected by 'fake news' is to learn to think, to inform oneself and to discern between truth and certainty, between truth and the appearance of truth, between the true and the false. Also between healthy curiosity and unhealthy curiosity, between the desire to learn and the simple desire for entertainment.