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Fake News, we are the best weapon against it

Fake News exists since journalism and espionage were born

The false story of the immigrant without a ticket on a train in Italy brings the issue of Fake News back at the heart of the national and international debate. Yet, Fake News has always existed. At least since journalism and espionage exist. One of the first cases of Fake News in history is the tale of the Trojan Horse in Virgil’s Aeneid, where the Greek soldier Sinon (Odysseus’ cousin), posing as a deserter, convinced the Trojans to let the giant wooden horse inside the city.

Deception, from The Art of War to PsyOps

In his treatise, “The Art of War”, the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu explains that all war is based on deception. The same strategy that Alexander the Great and Gengis Khan choose to adopt. The modern psychological operations (PsyOps) were born during World War I (WWI), and then widely employed during World War II (WWII) and the Cold War. In this period, they were turned into disinformation, which Russia largely exploited, also creating some ad hoc newspapers in the United States.

Fake News and the evolution of journalism

In the world of journalism, Fake News was once called “poisoned bait” or hoax. The substantial difference was that, in the first case, there was an “instigator”, a prompter. In the second, an error by those who reported the hoax. No matter if it came by a verified source or was just than an unconfirmed indiscretion. Once, those who spread Fake News were agents of influence, and they used print media, press agencies and newspapers. Conversely, in these times of cyber intelligence, the best vectors for a global spread are the Internet and the social media. However, actually, the medium is not the one to blame. The disseminators of Fake News, and those who write or read it, equally share the responsibility. Algorithms and the Web may give a greater visibility to some content over another. However, we ultimately choose what to consult and which source to believe.

The effects of globalization in the media industry have some responsibilities, but they’re not alone

There is no doubt that globalization and its impact on the media industry played a major role on the boom of Fake News. Newspapers and press agencies chase one another so as not to miss a story. For this reason, when the first article published on a popular issue contains a typo, you will probably find the same typo repeated by all those reposting the story. The causes are the recent “thirst” for news of all kinds, which thanks to the Internet are disseminated in real time wherever there is a connection or signal, and the willingness to give more and more content to users, so as not to lose shares of a market in deep crisis. This rush led to a lack of time to apply what once was an essential rule of every journalist: the verification of information sources. However, this is not the only element to consider.

The user is the true culprit. And now we have Fake News on Fake News

Users must take the blame for Fake News spreading so quickly, and managing to influence even political elections. An essential concept is missing here: the difference between information and opinions. Qualified subjects produce the former, every one of us the latter. Now, on the contrary, everybody speaks and publishes contents on any subject, often with superficial knowledge, or lack thereof. This produced a perverse effect, in which a post is often considered the same thing as news. How many times did we ear the usually alarming sentence “I read a news that said…?” Then, a quick check reveals that the “news” was just someone ranting on a social media, most likely indulging in baseless criticism. So, on a Fake News another Fake News is born.

The recent education reforms in Italy favor the spreading of Fake News because they set their results more on competences than on knowledge

A role in the creation and diffusion of Fake News in Italy is being played by the latest education reforms, which focus their results more on competences than on knowledge. There can be no competence without knowledge. In Italy, the level of education is assessed through the INVALSI tests. The assessment consists of the same standard tests throughout the country: closed questions with multiple-choice answers, and open questions. The latter follow an Anglo-Saxon binary education model (0-1), very different from the liberal art one. Also, schools seem inclined to stop teaching composition, so that the students would not be trained to have a critical and analytical approach. Thus falling out of the habit of using their mind to ultimately reason with someone else’s head (the manipulators of the masses). As Albert Einstein said, “The mind is like a parachute, it only works if we keep it open.”

Einstein: the mind is like a parachute, it only works if we keep it open. The school should always have as its aim that the young man leave it as a harmonious personality, not as a specialist

The worst enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge. As Einstein argued, “the school should always have as its aim that the young man leave it as a harmonious personality, not as a specialist.” This, in some measure, applies also to technical schools, where students will pursue a very specific profession. Developing a general attitude to think and judge in an independent way, and not just the acquisition of specialized knowledge, should always be a priority.

Everybody spreads hoaxes on the web, but for different reasons

Unfortunately, seeing Fake news inside Fake news has become a routine. Its diffusion is not a responsibility of ordinary people only, those easily impressed by sensational front-page headlines or contents. “Erudite” people are not immune either. While usually less pervious to the most flagrant examples of Fake News, they make other kinds of mistake. All they need is just someone in their group of people (hence, a credible source) circulating Fake News.

The “likes” and “share” effect

They will start spreading it immediately with “likes” and “share”, with a disruptive effect. In some cases, a headline striking the right note, and with an appearance of reality, is enough to unleash hell. The original source is not properly analyzed. This does not necessarily mean a conscious will to spread Fake News. Sometimes the news is misinterpreted, sparking unnecessary alarmism. The case of the Italian satiric website “Il Lercio” is representative. Some of its contents have been circulating as facts, creating a panic. While actually they were just a joke. An obvious one as well.

We just entered a new Middle Age

We still do not realize that we just entered a New Middle Age. Information technology and Internet providers represent the Vassals of the emperor, and possess 90% of global wealth. They operate with absolute deregulation, imposing to Vavasours and other sub-Vassals, but in particular to serfs (who have no knowledge), every innovation that may earn them more revenues. Not caring, in the process, for human factor and “humanitas”, the ethic value sustaining the ideals of attention and benevolent care between human beings that safeguard humanity itself.

Einstein’s warning: One day the machines will be able to solve all problems, but none of them can deliver us one

In addition, what Artificial Intelligence (AI) accomplished so far seems to follow the Hitlerian footsteps of the Arian race – infallible and perfect -, with a variant. In this case, technological perfectionism does not have a soul, only an autodidactic software. In this regard, Einstein argued that one day the machines will be able to solve all problems, but none of them could ever deliver us one. That is, how to prevent them to subjugate us. As the great scientist himself observed, “We cannot despair of humanity, since we ourselves are human beings.”

The best weapon against Fake News is the user

For this reason, we – content providers and readers – are the best weapon against Fake news. As content providers, we should restart selecting and verifying sources to draw upon. As readers, we should be more careful in choosing what to see and what to repost. That is to say, “switch on our brains” before taking action. And this applies both to news and opinions. The Internet and the social media are the true and only power multiplier for “poisoned baits”.

If you are not visible, you don’t exist

Those who fabricate Fake News want to influence a specific or wider target. In order to do that, they must necessarily spread it as much as possible. If their propaganda does not “catch on”, they have failed. With a little more attention and responsibility from everyone, the professionals of Fake News will find a lot more difficult to circulate their messages. In this respect, there is a very fitting saying among media people: If you are not visible, you don’t exist.

One of the best solutions against Fake News and propaganda is restart following the 5Ws rule of journalism

A solution against Fake News can come from journalism. In particular the 5Ws formula. WHO are the subjects, WHAT happened, WHEN, WHERE, and WHY. By asking these 5 simple questions, the reader will be able to get an idea of whether the content he uses is at least plausible. Especially in those cases where a piece of news stands in the way of consolidated reality. The ideal solution would be to go deeper, but with little time, you can at least make a comparison between different sources on the same theme, and look for the “official version”. Fake News agents cannot counteract such a mechanism. It would require too much time, and have little chance of success. Therefore, in that case they would move on to something else. All their work is based, in fact, on the speed of diffusion, which, if it fails, cancels the effects of propaganda.

By Francesco Bussoletti, Claudio Masci and Luciano Piacentini

English translation by Andrea Di Nino

Luciano Piacentini and Claudio Masci

Luciano Piacentini – Commander of Operational Detachment and Company in the 9th Paratroopers Assault Regiment “Col Moschin” (SF-Tier 1) of the Italian Army with the rank of Lieutenant and Captain. Assigned to the Army General Staff, he subsequently commanded the “Col Moschin” Regiment. Later he held the position of Chief of Staff of the Paratroopers Brigade “Folgore”. Then he has worked in National Information and Security Bodies with assignments in different areas of the Asian continent.

Claudio Masci – Carabinieri Officer coming from the Military Academy of Modena. After having taken over the command of a territorial unit mainly engaged in the fight against organized crime, he passed through National Information and Security Bodies. He graduated in political science. Among his contributions, “Intelligence between conflicts and mediation” (Caucci Editore, Bari 2010), and “The future of intelligence” (April 15, 2012, Longitude, the monthly magazine of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Claudio Masci and Luciano Piacentini – Authors of the article “The Future of Intelligence” (Longitude, April 15, 2012), and of the books “Intelligence between conflicts and mediation” (Caucci Editore, Bari 2010), and “Humint… this unknown (Function intelligence evergreen)”. Buy it from Amazon here.


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