May 25, 2019

We live in a "fake" world

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Welcome to our sad, new, distorted reality — the explosion of fake: fake videos, fake people on Facebook, and daily cries of "fake news."

Driving the news: This week we reached a peak fake, with Facebook saying it had deleted 2.2 billion fake accounts in three months, a fake video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi going viral, and Trump going on a fresh "fake news" tear.

  • A Pew survey last year found that two-thirds of tweeted links to popular websites came from non-human users (bots or other automated accounts), per Axios' Neal Rothschild.

Why it matters: This is just a small taste of our unfiltered future. It's only going to get easier to generate fake audio, fake videos and even fake people — and to spread them instantly and virally. 

  • Fake polls, fake experts, fake fundraisers and even fake think tanks are proliferating.

More than half of internet traffic comes from bots, not people, in this astonishing tour of our fake world:

Fake influence has become the result of an internet that's filled with fake measurement and personas:

  • Dozens of content farms and internet hacks make money selling or amplifying fake video views or follower accounts to politicians and influencers.
  • Distorted images can make any crowd size look bigger or smaller than reality.
  • Around the world, fake polls are being set up to distort elections.

The hottest political tactic this cycle is forcing a candidate or politicians to defend themselves against a hoax or fake news story. 

  • On the campaign trail, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was falsely accused of sexual assault by right-wing trolls.
  • Kamala Harris has found herself caught up in a storm of fake news memes questioning her identity and race.

Fake fundraising is becoming easier. The inability to vet real personas online makes it hard to be discerning about how money is transacted on the internet. 

  • A California con man set up bogus websites for Bernie Sanders and Beto O'Rourke to defraud donors, NBC reported in March.

Be smart: Fake reports, fake stories and fake personas have existed on television, radio and print for years. But as the N.Y. Times notes: "Legislators have failed to stay on top of social media platforms, with their billions of hard-to-track users from all over the world."

What's next: The inevitable result of a fake information universe is real crisis manufactured by fake news.

  • Misinformation about vaccines has led to an alarming number of measles outbreaks.
  • And fake online pharmacies have led to a spike in deaths.

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