A simple plan to tackle online saboteurs

Fake news has always been a problem, but website cloning adds another layer of complexity

Facebook’s decision to combat fake news is a tacit admission of its responsibility in how information is shared and consumed.

Fake news has been around for as long as there has been news to print, but the trafficking of deliberate misinformation has hit near epidemic levels in recent months. The consistent challenge for media outlets is to pursue accuracy while getting the story out quickly – although many seasoned observers would argue that the media has always been under pressure to get the story first, fast and to get it right – but this expectation has been disrupted and complicated by online saboteurs.

Now fake news has spawned an even more evil twin: counterfeit news. As The National reported, #WAM, the UAE's state-run news agency, was cloned in an attempt to spread misinformation about the country. "Some organisations," it said, "have been working on copying our website to publish false news about the country". Other prominent news outlets to have been deliberately targeted by similar actions include the BBC, Russia Today and France 24.

Traditional media outlets are well aware of their responsibilities, but how should the consumer react? In truth, the notion of buyer beware (caveat emptor) has rarely seemed more appropriate. Cloners rely on copying a website’s look and its content and making minimal adjustments to the web address. WAM’s response to the recent incident has been to encourage users to access their site only through official links as a way of guaranteeing authenticity.

Internet entities, such as Facebook, also have a role to play. The social media giant has made efforts to reduce the amount of fake news circulating on its platform by introducing a "fact-checking system", although its critics argue that Facebook is not moving fast enough in this regard. The problem is compounded when sources we trust – our friends and followers – share stories on social media from untrusted sources. While corporations and organisations work out more complex strategies to defend against cloning and misinformation, all of us should be inquisitive about where our news and information comes from.

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