Dramatic Rise in Fake News & Addictive Portals: Where Does the Media Lie the Most?

How do Internet portals and digital media affect public perception? Why is freedom of expression online important? Which countries are freer in terms of media expression, and which have the strictest reporting rules?

Digital media have become the foundation of human everyday life, a platform that greatly influences the opinion of the entire public. We are witnessing how the media create the opinion of the people on a daily basis, but we are also witnessing the diverse attitudes of individual media groups. Digital media has become a ‘sensation machine’ that often enters too intense discussions and topics in the race for likes.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which recently published the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, addressed the issue of media and freedom of expression. The position of some countries on the index of media freedom is more than expected, but there are some surprises. However, it is important to point out a big problem – distorting public opinion and preventing freedom of expression. 

More about all this is below…

‘Dramatic’ Media Announcements to Get Clicks

Numerous Internet portals create great competitiveness in the market. In order for a web portal to stand out in the eyes of the end reader, bombastic headlines that attract people are needed. As a result, Internet portals have been trying for years to create bombastic headlines that users simply “must” open. In all this, there is a big problem that the bombasticity from the title has moved into the texts of the publications. That is, today it is no longer just bombastic headlines but also entire posts that users get to read. Thus, it seems to readers that they are always surrounded by some drama and problems. 

Maybe the comparison we are about to lay down is not proper but this resembles something that gambling operators in the UK have been doing for a couple of years now. They are making use of a loophole to target minors, producing games that appeal to kids without necessarily breaking the terms and regulations of the Gambling Commission. Children were enticed to play online betting games using their favorite cartoon and storybook characters (Peter Pan, Jack and the Beanstalk, Moon Princess, and so on). The stakes on the aforementioned games range from 1p to £600, and they are all available to play for free with no registration or age verification just like regular and well-known games at the best Kazakhstani casino sites.

In addition to dramatic announcements full of inflated information, fake news has been a big problem in recent years. There are more and more online media (if we can call them that) that deliberately (or accidentally) release fake news to the public. In this way, they create a polarized society that then begins to doubt everything that is happening around them. Fake news is a big problem that web portals and social platforms have been struggling with for years, but the problem is impossible to eradicate. It is becoming a growing problem to find out which news is fake and which is true in the sea of news – especially if it is some professional information. A good example of this is the numerous publications made during the epidemic. These posts regularly had bombastic headlines and content and often brought some fake news (which was difficult to identify due to the expertise of the subject).

More and More Media Is Regulated by the State

One of the burning issues pointed out by the RSF is the growing influence of states and statesmen on the media. The pressure on the media in recent years has been enormous, and more and more politicians want to run the media to their advantage. On the other hand, the media craves finances and agrees to all sorts of agreements – which often end in false and favored reporting, i.e. in favor of the desired political situation. 

The situation is particularly alarming in some closed countries that have long been known for censoring and manipulating the media where manipulation is increasing year by year. According to reports, the situation in Europe on this issue is still as correct as possible, but we will talk more about this below.

The big problem of manipulating the media is that the stories told through the media greatly influence the opinion of citizens. Many citizens today immediately trust the information in the media and thus create a fictitious image of the world around them. The power of the media in closed countries where the manipulation of citizens is at the highest level is incredible. Many citizens in such countries believe lies that have nothing to do with the truth at all. 

The events surrounding corona and the war in Ukraine have clearly shown how the media can control the opinion of a people. People in countries with manipulated media are not at all aware of what is really going on around them but believe in one fictional story by their governments. Unfortunately, many believe that the war in Ukraine was largely started due to manipulation in the media, which greatly affected the opinion of many citizens.

Distorted Opinion Leads to Tensions Between Nations

The polarization of the people and nations has always been a big problem, and although today we believe that we have greatly improved our thoughts and attitudes compared to our ancestors, data from the field show that we have not. The Latin thesis of “bread and circuses” showed long ago that people just need some polarization and enough food – and things will be great. 

Today, the polarization of the people is mostly done through the media, which are mostly politically inclined to one side or the other. Thus, the media create tensions between the divided people and thus lead to various conflicts. Of course, in civilized countries conflicts are mostly conducted verbally, and in less developed countries these conflicts can also be physical.

From a media perspective, creating a polarized nation is actually a goal that increases readability. If a web portal will always have the same attitude toward a topic, readers will eventually stop reading the news because they will already know what is written in the text. 

However, if the portals clash between two opposing opinions and attitudes, there will be increased interest from citizens. Increased interest means more clicks, which in turn means more money for further work and development of the web portal. We are thus entering a vicious circle in which it is important to create a constant polarization of the people. Unfortunately, in some cases, this polarization goes so far as to lead to armed conflicts, which is unfortunately never a good outcome.

Propaganda War in Countries with a Lack of Media Freedom

The propaganda war is a term that very well describes what is happening in many veiled countries that want to manage their media. In such countries, the leaders of the state create manipulated news that they distribute to the people through the dependent media. The propaganda that is spreading over the people day by day is very quickly becoming a reality in which the people believe. 

The problem is particularly pronounced in countries where there are not many free journalists because there is no conflicting opinion of propaganda. It should not be emphasized that these are mostly countries that do not value democratic rights but base their rule on some long-standing postulates of governance.

RSF has created an index of press freedom, which unfortunately shows major problems in a large number of countries. In as many as 28 countries (out of 180 analyzed) the situation regarding media freedom is very bad. At the bottom of the index is North Korea, where the authorities manage all the information that reaches the people. Eritrea holds 179th place, while Iran ranks 178th. Powerful China, which is today one of the strongest and most important economic powers in the world, also holds a very low position and ranks 175th. Russia is ranked 155th, while Belarus, for example, is ranked 153rd.

European Countries Have a Very Open Approach to the Media

According to an index published by the RSF, many European countries are at very high positions in the rankings. This specifically means that the situation regarding media freedom in Europe is satisfactory, that is, that there is much-desired freedom of the media. The situation is especially good in the Scandinavian countries, which have taken the highest positions in the rankings. Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are three countries that have reached the very top this year as well, as the freest countries in terms of media reporting. In these countries, freedom of public expression is guaranteed, i.e. the media can write as and what they want.

As far as free media is concerned, RSF has praised several countries this year for making great strides forward. It is especially worth mentioning Moldova, which took a relatively high 40th place in the ranking, but also Bulgaria, which is currently ranked 91st. As for the USA, which has been a kind of guideline for all other world media for years, it is in the 42nd place in the ranking. Perhaps a little surprising, but the situation with free speech in the US could have been better. 

Finally, we will only mention that the RSF used several important parameters during the evaluation to position the countries on the scale of media freedoms. The basic parameters are political context, economic context, socio-cultural context, legal framework, and security. 

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