Opinion Making on the Internet

How do fake news, social bots and filter bubbles influence our opinion?
Are you planning a workshop?
Here you can find the material to fill 90 minutes.

Please find the facilitator‘s guide for this 90-min workshop here.

Other versions of the workshop are 45 min and 25 min in length.

“Everyday life” in social media

In social media, many things are not what they seem. People often tend to change their photos, by using filters for instance, just to put themselves into proper perspective. Watch this video to see how everyday life and its representation in social media can be very different.

What is fake news?

“Fake news plur. <Engl.> (false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting)”. (Collins Dictionary, 2017)

Fake news is no more than false information. However, in many cases, it is difficult to distinguish real news from fake news. That is why fake news is often classified as true and then spread further. This is particularly easy to do in social media by sharing contributions. Often you can not even find the source of the fake news in social media. The mere fact that a message is often shared on social networks does not mean it is true.

True news can also be distinguished linguistically from fake news. For example, fake news often has headlines that want to attract attention. They are worded in a lurid manner or deliberately lead the reader in the wrong direction. In fake news, provocative buzzwords such as “scandal” and “danger” are often used to attract attention. Mistakes in grammar and spelling are also characteristic for fake news: fake news reports often contain a particularly large number of these.

True news reports come from sites you can trust. They have for example, an imprint which states a specific address and a contact person or person responsible for the site. The author of the news is also stated. The author reports factually and incorporates different views in his news. A further indication for the trustworthiness of a news report is that other trustworthy pages or sites have also published the report.

The presentation of the content in true news is neutral and without exaggeration. To make sure that the readers get the content, it will not be decontextualized or presented in a biased manner. Instead, the author shows different views. He takes a sufficient number of understandable explanations into account and cites evidences and sources.

Fake news often use images that actually come from a completely different context. In many cases, these images have been manipulated, e. g. cut up or pieced together from several different parts. However, a simple image search on the Internet allows you to quickly find the original photos and compare them with the images used in the news.

Is it real or a fake?

Flamingo Harry – a knight in shining armor

Northern Germany. A miracle happened at a zoo in Lower Saxony: Tilmann, a ten-month-old baby, climbed out of his stroller unnoticed by his parents near the flamingo enclosure and plunged into the enclosure pond. Tilmann could only be saved by the rapid intervention of the brave flamingo Harry. Harry grabbed the baby with his beak and carried him back to land. “Without Harry, Tilmann would have drowned”, sobbed Mrs. M., Tilmann’s mother. “Harry’s reaction was simply amazing”, said the local zoo director, who is planning on rewarding his new feathered hero with an extra portion of fish.

You decide: Fact or fake?

Is it real or a fake?

Genetically modified glow-in-the-dark plant helps you save energy

Cambridge, USA. Researchers of the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology have recently succeeded in breeding the first genetically modified plant that glows in the dark. At the first glance, the crop that goes by the name “Starlight Avatar” seems like something that would grow on radioactive ground. However, the plant glows solely with the help of natural substances. This innovation could soon even replace common street lights and thus help advance an energy revolution.

You decide: Fact or fake?

Is it real or a fake?

Twilight novels to be re-filmed

Los Angeles. Fans across the world are going to go crazy! The popular novels from the “Twilight” series, which revolve around the beautiful Bella and her vampire Edward, are going to be filmed – again. The production company Summit Entertainment announced yesterday in Los Angeles that they expect the success of the old films to continue with the new ones. “The series still has a lot to offer”, stated a member of the production staff. “We are not planning on pursuing any new paths artistically, but financially, there is still a lot to get out of it.” It should be interesting to see what the new films have in store for us. It is however, already certain that none of the old actors will be involved in the new films. On the one hand, the above-mentioned financial reasons (Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are sought-after stars) are likely to play a role, and on the other hand, new faces are intended to lure fans back into the cinemas. It is not yet clear when the new films will be released.

You decide: Fact or fake?

Can photos lie?

In the age of digital imaging, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish real from fake images. In the video you will be shown ten images that will get you thinking: Real or fake?

In many fake photos, individual image elements do not fit together. For example, in the case of photographs that have been manipulated, a certain part of the body may not fit the rest of the body or a person may be too large or small in relation to a building.

Often, certain objects in a photo indicate that it could be a forgery, these could be for example, a calendar date, time, road signs or license plates.

When editing an image, people often forget to adjust the shadows as well. Especially when a person or an object – that was not originally there – is inserted into an image, the shadow is often missing. This is a clear indication that an image has been manipulated.

In photomontages, people and objects that were originally photographed in separate photos with completely different light conditions are put together in one image. If this is not adjusted, differences in color and contrast are noticeable.

The majority illusion

Social media can influence our opinions. Kristina Lerman from the University of Southern California proved this in a study. The red and white balls on the wooden board represent different opinions. The white balls represent the opinion of the majority. However, they do not communicate much with the other balls. The red balls do, though. They represent a rather rare opinion, but they communicate a lot. As a result, the white balls often come into contact with the red balls and thus, with their opinion. It appears to them as if the red balls’ opinion is the majority opinion. Experts refer to this as the so-called “majority illusion”. Lerman’s study also showed that the white balls often end up sharing the opinion of the red balls.

Creating fake news

On the website www.react365.com you can see for yourself how easy it is to create fake news. Write a headline for your news report and choose the appropriate cover photo. Your fake news will be created in no time at all.

Form your own opinion!

Now you know, that news on the internet should be treated with caution. In this module among other things you became acquainted with criteria and tools to verify people and news.