Digitalizationhas spread intoall areas of public lifeto an extent that has engendered phenomena such as digital media, digital justice, digital education,and digital culture. Digital literacy is no longer limited tothe technical ability to use aninternet-connectedcomputer, but encompasses also theopportunity for individuals to participate in a new, virtualkind of public life. The internet is viewedprimarilyas a limitless resource for information, but also as anability to communicate and, therefore, asa valuable platform for the media. The conventional dissemination of information via television, newspapers, magazines and radio is losing groundto the singleclick of amouse that separates onefrom the vast sea of information.

The digital age presents the conventional mass media  with awhole gamut of major communication challenges: a newtype of relationship with users (interactivity), new languages (multimedia) and a new grammar (hypertext). Not only is this media revolution changingthe angle of communication for ordinary users;it isalso openingthe mass communication system toa wide range of new players. And,alongsideother spheres of public life, digitization influencesthe mediaas well.News reach much larger masses much more quickly,thus increasing publicawarenessof occurrences, whether in close proximity or elsewhere inthe world. Yet thisawareness poses a greater peril: less than 20 years intothe new millennium, technologyhas become dominant in many aspects of human existence.  The spread of information within secondsincreases theriskthat people might succumb to disinformationdue to an inability to sift real from false news. This is accompanied by the emergence of the so called alternative news media, whose news presentation sacrifices veracity to cheapreporting, rid ofvalue and factsalike.

Some five thousand users of digital media infive countries (Germany, USA, China, Brazil and South Africa)were interviewed in a survey entitled “Shaping the Future Implications of Digital Media for Society” for the World Economic Forum in Davos. Statisticsshow that digital media users spendon average more hours online than onsleep; but also that traditional media account for less than half of the time devoted to themedia in general. Research further indicates that“The growth of content sharing through social media creates a “collective experience” and … trust in brands is now being heavily influenced by shared user  experiences. The more these experiences are shared through digital media, the more consumers are vulnerable to views, opinions and thinking that are not their own. This may result in group-thinking and could suppress individualism. For example, users are more likely to consume content that has been previously accessed and recommended by others (e.g. YouTube videos that go viral).”[1]But this “democratization” of content breeds greater quality-control issues. While in today’s digital age almost any citizen can be a journalist, the maintainance of journalistic standards is becoming a major challenge for the industry. What,then,are the dangers to mediathat lurk behind digitalization?


Fake news: a digital age-bred phenomenon

“Fake” is an English word, meaning “counterfeit, sham”. An item of counterfeit news could, therefore, amount to a deliberate disseminationoffalse (often libelous) information;however, afake news item might also be one basedpartially on truth,around which the journalist’s imagination has woven a web of sham – sensationalist or misleading — concoctions.One thing is incontestable, though: in either case the final product is disinformation. One of the majorproblems with fake news is that they spread on the Internet much faster than real ones, and users are the biggest factor in this. “According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, real news reaches its audience at one-sixth the speed of fake news. The study, coveringthe period from 2006until 2017, focused on 126,000 news tweets. [2]

False news ismeantto mislead the audience it reaches (and this occurs almost instantaneously across the web), and to bring its authors certainfinancial or political benefits. The trolls/botswhose function is to disseminate thefake newscould be placed into three categories: ordinarytrolls – people who, without expecting any benefit, put on social networks false news or citefalse facts as argumentsin a discussion in order to confuse/mislead/goadthe audience; internet trolls who generatefake news for financial and/orpolitical gains. The second type of fake news, the content of which is published for the purpose of material benefit, ismost frequently sensational“news”with headlinesintended to perduade emotionally the potential reader to open the article. It is precisely the attracted extravisitsto certain sites and the viewingof video content that brings the hosts of such sites increased advertisingrevenue. Their regulareye-catching headlines or entirely fictitious news stories are meant to increase readershipand sharing. This profit-generating method is popularly known as “clickbait”– the more clicks on an article, the greater the revenue for the site, with the inherent risk that there are no guaranteesas to the authenticity of the article. The spread of fake news hinges on the easy access to advertising revenue, the resulting political tension,and the popularity of social media, Facebookin particular. And the third type, the so-called political trolls, seeks todisseminate fake news in the form of false or controversial information, most often concerning a particular person, in order to manipulate and reshape public opinion. Extremely “profitable”has beenthe use of fake news duringelection campaigns. False information hasproved about 70 percent more likely to attract the interest of a user who would readily share it, due mainly to the element of its suddenness, especially if its concerns a politicaltopic,an act of terrorism, anatural disaster oran urban legend.

Andunlike bots, which tend to alternate almost evenly the reliableinformation which they generate withuntrustworthy news reports, people do tend to spread about much more readily and thoughtlessly any piece of news that has in somehowpiquedtheir attention.[3].

Many media have joined forces to combat fakenews. They’re all trying to help viewers and readers identify false information so that they don’t become its victims.[4]  To facilitate false-news recognition, reputable media around the world have created the following classifications of the types of fake news and have been providing advice on how to tell reliably whether any suspect news is fake or not.


Categoriesof false news:

Based on existing methods and the analysis of comparablecontent, fake news can be categorised into five different types:

  1. Deliberately fraudulent

News created for the sole purpose of misleadingthe reader;

  1. News satire

Sites which seek to make users laugh, while also occasionally carrying a certain political message. The problem with this type of “news” arises when users, instead of getting the joke, take the story out of context and start to shareit as truth on social networks, becoming themselves distributors of false news;

  1. Misleading

Newsitems written purposefully to deceive the reader, butreported in good faith by reputable sources of information;

  1. Distorted reporting

Deliberately selectedelements of a storywhich aim to convincethe reader in a particular thesis,usually without presenting otherviewpoints;

  1. Seemingly conflicting stories

Newsitems  which present two seemingly conflicting opinions without pointing out the genuine one.[5]


Examples of false news of public importance

On the national level, mosttelling as to the impact of fake news and thelack of accurate information in societywas the scandal surrounding the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (known popularly as the Istanbul Convention). At the end of 2017, and the beginning of 2018, it caused a veritable maelstrom onlineand a flurry of newspaper headlines.

In January2018, the government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov introduced in Parliament the Convention, which  Bulgaria hadsigned in April 2016, with a ratification votescheduled to take place before the end of that month.

The Government’s plans, however, ran aground following a massive campaign led by opposition leader Cornelia Ninova, Krassimir Karakachanov and Volen Siderov,with the latter two seemingly threatening the very future of the governing coalition if the convention got ratified.[6]A large number of religious groups also spoke out against ratification, most notablythe Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which claimed that accession to the convention would legalise same-sex marriagesin Bulgaria and encourage a rise in the number of young transgender persons in the country.Even President Rumen Radevopposed the convention, citing as a reason its purported inefficacyto curbdomestic violence in the countries that hadalreadyratified it.[7]

Bulgarian society was overrun by misleading claims as to the goals and content of the Istanbul Convention, based mostly on items of fake news. The online environment was inundated with scaremongering reports and clickbait sites which sought to distort the views of a public already disillusioned with the governing coalition. An opinion was widely imposed that the ratification of the convention would undermine the foundations of the traditional Bulgarian family,would increase the number of same-sex marriages, and would also lead to the ubiquitous presence of the so-called “third sex”.The English word “gender” gained a pejorative and largely derisive usage.This massivepublic discontent prompted the Government to withdraw the Istanbul Convention[8]and gave rise to suspicions that Borissov, who heads afar right coalition,had merely soughtto present himself in a more democratic light in front of Europeat a time when the country was hosting the presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Worldwide,there have also been abundant examples of false news. Atthe height of the refugee crisis in Western Europe in 2015, the outbreak of fake news originating from the opponents of the refugee flood included stories of beaten and raped girls, bribery attempts by cash-rich migrants and even the alleged theft from a German park of a goatwhich had ended up as refugees fodder. All of these allegations were quickly and easily refuted. Refugee advocates, too, resorted to fake news, like the photograph which a volunteer posted on the web of a Syrian refugee who had reportedly died while queuing at an aid facility.

In 2016, Israel was reported to be preparing fora nuclear strike againstPakistan if the latter sent troops to Syria. Misled by the fake news,Pakistan’s defence minister threatened Israel with retaliation.[9]Fake news also spread after the attacks in Germany, claiming that an alleged terrorist cell was planningfreshassaults. Carsten Reinemann, a Professor of Political Communication, viewsfalse news as ” a threat to democracy.”[10]Trustin”conventional” mediahas never been lower, and this is obviously the biggest single reason for the success of false news: people seek alternative sources of information, and often fall prey to ones that are “just a click away”.

In late 2017 the German Ministry of Interior was reportedto be considering afuture centrefor the combating of false news as sources of disinformation. Such steps by aruling class, however, could eventually erode into a suppression of the freedom of speech, and the German Government could easily attract accusations of attempting to restrict access to inconvenient information.


How to spot fake news

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) lists the following eight ways in which to spot fake news on the internet:

  • Consider the source – Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.
  • Read beyond – Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What’s the whole story?
  • Check the author– Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?
  • Supporting sources?– Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story.
  • Check the date– Reposting old news stories doesn’t mean they’ re relevant to current events.
  • Is it a joke?– If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.
  • Check your biases – Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgement.
  • Ask the experts – Ask a librarian, or consult a fact-checking site.

The Bulgarian website for safe internet,,offers its own check sheet for finding out whether astory is fake or not:[11]


1.The story titles do not reveal the contents of the textand, typically, make claims of the sort “Revealed: What shook the inhabitants of Varna”. The idea is to provoke the curiosity of the usersso that they will click onthe publication, thus increasing the site’s revenue.

2.Also typical aretitles using powerful emotional words orexpressions, such as “Startling Revelations Horrify Thousand to Tears”,sometimes written in all-caps to attract attention, like the notorious opening phrase “SHOCK AND AWE”.

  1. Another much abused bait is the eroticphotograph accompanied by an “18+” warning, plus an occasional mention of (VIDEO) in parentheses, to boost the effect.


  1. Sites which distributefake or manipulative information are often anonymous and lack an “About Us” page listing their owners, authors or editors.
  2. Often, they do not provide any contacts information in the form of a postal address, phone number or email address, or offer merely an online form of contact.
  3. Occasionally, there might be an “Äbout Us” page, but devoid of any identifying information, in lieu of which the user encounters catchphrases like “The Home of Real News”.

4.Even when names of editors and authors are provided, there is either no contact information, or each name is listed at one and the same email address, usually with a generally available free email service like,, or contrast, the staff of reliablemedia have email addresses in the media’s own domain, such,, name @ BTV. BG etc.


  1. Typically,false news or information provides no reference to itssource, but resorts instead to anonymities like “leading world scholars”, “experts in the field”, “researchers”, “the world media”or”knowledgeable parties”.
  2. Anothercommon ruse is the attributions to non-existententities such as “Americanscientists”, “a British research centre”, “an Institute forthe study of…”.

Sitesintended to manipulate their visitors politicallyare usually better camouflaged than most clickbait sites and do not feature any of the above-mentioned types of headingsor structural shortcomings, but nevertheless they, too, resort to content snares like the citing of obscure and unidentifiable sources. Like the more professionally designed clickbait sites, they should also be subjected to serious verification.


The new face of disinformation

We have seen thus far that the dissemination of false news – news of untrue or distorted content, is a way of manipulating public opinion to someone’s benefit. Inarguably, the media have always been part of political manipulation; the difference is that today’s digitalization makes this manipulation much even faster.

Disinformation is, by definition, the intentional dissemination of false or inaccurate information for propaganda purposes. Furthermore, disinformation also includes the distortion of credible information in a way which renders it useless. The Oxford Dictionaries define disinformation as “False information which is intended to mislead, especially propaganda issued by a government organization to a rival power or the media”.[12]In 2011 the draft of an international information security convention listed “disinformation” as one of the major threats to international peace and security in the information space, and defined it as “manipulating information flows within the information space of other nations, disseminating  disinformation and withholding information in order to distort the psychological and spiritual environment of the public, eroding traditional, cultural, moral, ethical, and esthetical values “.

This is a common practice in espionage and military intelligence. In politics, disinformation is most often encountered as a deliberate attempt to swing voters in a candidate’s favour by spreading false claims and innuendoes about an opponent’s alleged vulnerabilities. Disinformation techniques have also been observed in market-share battles.[13]

Unlike traditional propaganda, whose purpose is to attract emotional support, disinformation is intended to manipulate audiences at a rational level by communicating conflicting information or supporting false conclusions that makes it much more dangerous than “mere” fake news.  Generally speaking, disinformation’s overall technique is to mix a certain amount of truth with false conclusions and lies, or to reveal only part of the truth while alleging it to be the whole truth. Another favoured disinformation technique is to conceal the facts, or, if within the capabilities of its producers, to impose censorship; or, should an information feed prove unclosable, to represent it as unfit by smothering it with disinformation, dampening the signal and discrediting the opposition.



Virtual space has created increased opportunities for access to information and has altered the characteristics of the media sphere. It provides everyone with their own “soap box” and, thus, with the ability to create news. As a result, the information flow is turning into a tumultuous outpouring in which it is becoming an ever greater challenge to find one’s bearings. In the absence of any filter, manipulated truth within this massive flow is capable of distorting a person’s perception. The digitalization of mass media pumps up their potential as tools of political engineering. Mechanisms have emerged in recent years which allow adaptive players to utilise the opportunities arising with the internet space – proof that the internet will remain in future an important weapon in the pursuit of internal and foreign policy interests. In times of accelerated technological development and easy internet access, lives are becoming increasingly dependent on the use of the web. This, of course, is accompanied by a corresponding growth in its inherent risks.

The dangers posed by virtual space are legion, and false news figure prominently among them. The manipulation of public opinion, which is the goal of fake-news mongerers, calls for urgent measures to combat the problem.

But no matter what moves are made to overcome this growing issue, the driving force of change must come from the users themselves. They need to be able to distinguish real from false news, they must overlook sensationalist headlines and trust only reliable and authoritative sources. The successful neutralization of fake news and false information will prove beneficial to one and all.

[1]“Shaping the Future Implications of Digital Media for Society”, World Economic Forum, Davos.

[2], Дурал, Джанан,“Фалшивите новини се разпространяват по-бързо от истинските” – visited on 15 April, 2018.

[3], Дурал, Джанан, “Фалшивите новини се разпространяват по-бързо от истинските” – visited on 15 April, 2018.

[4] – visited on 16 April, 2018.

[5] – visited on 16 April, 2018.

[6]“Сидеров намекна за сътресения и предсрочни избори, ако Истанбулската конвенция бъде приета”is available on

[7]„Румен Радев в Брюксел: Истанбулската конвенция не трябва да бъде ратифицирана”is available on


[9]Pakistan issues nuclear warning to Israel in response to ‘fake news’ story, is available on


[11] ,,Дезинформация и фалшиви новини”, article dated 17 August,2017, visited on 17April, 2018.

[12]Disinformation: English Oxford Living Dictionaries, is available on

[13]Уикипедия, примери за дезинформация,, visited on 18April, 2018.