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Case Studies

Fake news impacts

It’s not enough to prevent and respond to acts of terrorism, such as the 2017 Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge attacks. Rumours, conspiracy theories, ideological propaganda and fake news can be quick to crop up and spread on social media as in the wake of the murder of Jo Cox MP; similarly, in the Brexit referendum and other political campaigns. How do police and the authorities manage such misinformation, which might have baleful effects on communities that believe such narratives? Hence ‘fake news’ and its impacts upon public behaviours will be analysed by researchers at Cardiff University.

Results from the study will be used to help police design and deliver improved social media communication strategies that reduce community tensions and risks of public disorder in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. Working with members of the National Counter-Terrorism Network the insights will shape future policy and practice for a rapidly developing information environment.

Prof Martin Innes, Director of Cardiff’s Crime and Security Research Institute will lead the research. He said: “Recently there has been growing political and public concern about the spread of fake news and propaganda via social media and the internet, and lots of suggestions about how to tackle this new social problem. By rigorously studying how rumours and conspiracy theories emerge and ‘travel’ in the aftermath of terrorist attacks and other highly charged situations, our project will produce robust, independent, research evidence and insights about how and why some ‘soft facts’ are so influential upon public attitudes and opinion.”

The project is one of eight funded by the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST), led by Lancaster University, to address some of the security threats facing the UK.

Meanwhile, most cyber security people when recently questioned at a London annual info-security show believed that the UK’s political landscape has been manipulated by fake news. When asked if they thought that they had personally been affected by fake news, 61 per cent agreed that they had. When asked who they felt is the most susceptible to fake news, the majority agreed that their children are most susceptible (28pc) followed by their parents (26pc), grandparents (25pc) and colleagues and friends (21pc). Some 301 information security people were surveyed at Infosecurity Europe 2017 conference in early June.

Tim Helming, Director of Product Management at DomainTools, a network analysis product company, said: “A very high majority of cyber security professionals – some of the most cyber savvy people you will meet – said that the UK and even they themselves have been affected by fake news. This means that the majority feel that they are affected by fake news directly or indirectly. It is starkly clear that fake news is a significant phenomenon that needs to be properly understood and tackled.”

“There are good reasons to do a bit of due diligence when deciding which sources to trust. Looking at information such as domain Whois (registration) records can be illuminating: most established news organizations are quite up-front in their registration records about who they are. By comparison, fake news sites are often quite secretive about their ownership or origins. Going beyond the content of a site and learning more about the source itself can be an important way to combat the influence of fake news.”


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