Today there is greater access to information than ever before and that accessibility grows by the day. While the internet, traditional media, and social media all play a positive role in spreading knowledge, there are times when these platforms are used to spread misinformation (whether it is done so knowingly or not). Thanks to the rise of social media, falsehoods that have the potential to cause great harm can spread rapidly. The algorithms social media brands use to encourage engagement can unfortunately help increase the speed at which misinformation spreads. As of late, misinformation (which is often referred to as fake news) has spread about very important topics such as issues relating to politics and health.
Work is being done to help combat the damage that fake news can cause and social media companies are attempting to shed light on which content is inaccurate by adding links to posts that direct users to official and updated information on the matter.
During the coronavirus pandemic, for example, we saw a lot of this happening in regard to drugs and vaccines, and many platforms deployed algorithms to detect this type of content and block it — especially social media platforms.
Unfortunately, the responsibility to engage with accurate content too often falls on the consumer, especially for those who engage in social media in languages other than English.
The Role of Linguistics in Fake News
The topic of fake news is gaining international relevancy and experts are using linguistics as a means to detect and prevent misinformation from spreading. Linguists in Norway at the University of Oslo are teaming up with computer scientists and artificial intelligence researchers at the independent research organization SINTEF to work to expose the language commonly used in fake news, which they are dubbing “Fakespeak”.
While this interest in learning more about how to fight the spread of misinformation online is excellent news, not everyone in the world is lucky enough to be exposed to these warnings, as oftentimes these detection mechanisms are only implemented and analyze text in English and a handful of mainstream languages. Many of these algorithms have yet to be programmed to work for less commonly spoken languages.
The Importance of Language Accessibility
It’s essential for social media platforms to consider other languages when they implement initiatives designed to help combat the spread of misinformation, as language accessibility is the key to equality when it comes to sharing information worldwide. Nowadays, many people learn the news via social media platforms and they don’t fact-check the information they are reading — they trust what they see.
As the internet continues to play a bigger role in our daily lives, it’s important that these platforms make conscious decisions about this and try to protect as many people as possible. Otherwise, they risk endangering their users who may make important and potentially life-threatening decisions based on the information they engage with.