The unverified allegations in a report on the exploits of President Donald Trump in the Moscow Ritz have raised a number of interesting questions regarding ethics and integrity. One of the more thought-provoking discussions the dossier has raised is the prevalence of fake news. The Presidential election was inundated with a swarm of wild unsubstantiated news stories and articles that were little more than conspiracy theories, but which were taken as fact by certain naïve and biased groups in society.
The fake news phenomenon has arisen for many reasons, like hyper-partisan websites or people in Eastern-European countries hoping to generate revenue from the web traffic. It is not illegal to create websites with fraudulent stories and it is possible to argue such activities are the epitome of free speech. Such activities, however, have far ranging consequences. For instance, ‘Pizzagate’ (the allegation that Hillary Clinton was complicit in a paedophile ring run through a pizza restaurant) may have led people to vote in a certain way and therefore arguably could have changed the outcome of an election.
This exact same principle is replicated across the business spectrum as well. There is a real danger of people being misinformed as more people read news articles on their social media accounts rather than on news sites, or read news stories on sites that appear genuine but are in fact working to a specific agenda. This, coupled with a lack of any verification and fact checking and the very human desire to only believe what you want to hear, results in a mind-set that only deals in extremes. The fake news phenomenon has a wider influence as well. Should such pieces be removed or deleted if proven to be false, or should the responsibility lie with the reader? The accusation of Russian intervention in the electoral process is disturbing as it may insinuate that such false news could be advanced as a form of hybrid warfare, to be utilised to incite an electorate of a foreign power to assist in the selection of a candidate more favourable. As in the world of security, the best defence against this new phenomenon is healthy scepticism and intelligence.