MERIDA, Mexico – False news stories have always existed, but nowadays the phenomenon of “fake news” that is spread on the social networks as personalized manipulation constitutes a danger for democratic nations, Emilio Sanchez, the director in Mexico for Spanish news agency EFE, said on Thursday.
Technological changes have allowed unprecedented levels of personalized manipulation of public opinion he said in a lecture at the Autonomous University of Yucatan.
“Fake news is a serious problem: it manipulates en masse and affects every user of social media. It’s a phenomenon that produces big social changes and affects all countries,” Sanchez, the 2012 winner of US magazine Portada’s award for Digital Media Professional of the Year, told students.
He said that the 2008 global economic crisis provided the basic conditions for people to be more predisposed to digital manipulation.
Sanchez said that in using social media, users provide to online companies personal data that includes detailed information about their habits, on the basis of which purveyors of fake news, among others, can target them with manipulative messages.
“The 2016 elections in the United States were the first in history in which fake news was used in a massive way,” he said.
Sanchez said that the traditional media must update themselves and, at the same time, maintain their credibility to reaffirm the commitment they have to their journalistic mission.
“Fake news may be combated with the generation of new journalistic content, with new ways of telling stories in new formats,” he said.
Sanchez, whose journalistic career spans more than three decades in Europe, the US and Latin America, asked new generations of journalists “to avoid at all costs sharing news that does not have a verified source.”
“When someone reads a news story,” he said, “the first thing they have to do is identify the media outlet from which it comes and the source. In the case of international news agencies like EFE, they are credible and with that recognition you know that when you’re reading (something produced by) EFE it’s something serious, with relevant content and quality.”