The fake news controversy that arose after the 2016 US Presidential election is the first time the issue of the reliability of news disseminated online has become a mainstream talking point. But the issue has been around for a long time.
There has always been a cultural bias in most societies in favor of the written word. The cost of creating the written word and the ability to trace a publisher of a physical item has previously meant that false claims were made less rashly and were easier to combat. Sustained fraud needed the broad concurrence of many members of society and the government. Of course this happened a great deal and still does. When I was growing up what we read and learnt about Russia, China, Cuba etc was mostly propaganda.
But an article about an individual member of society was less likely to be fabricated though certainly prejudice could be reinforced easily. As a young adult I was privy to a number of political events in Australia when I knew first hand what the actions, views and words of people were and then in the newspaper some entirely different set of points was published.
It turns out that as a society what we report and repeat about others tends to focus on the sensationalism and forwardability of the message less than the truth. This has probably been true from long before The Scarlet Letter.
So actually fake news, cyberbullying and defamation sites like www.ripoffreport.com and www.complaintsboard.com are not some horrible new phenomenon they are just digital superchargers of our core enjoyment of spreading bad stories about others. Our concern has always been how enjoyably salacious is the story not how true is it.
In fact almost nobody stops to question anything. Most people literally don’t click beyond the headline. So a whole bunch of businesses now make money out of precisely that. The guy behind the Ripoff Report has literally made millions by purpose building a site to spread defamation! It is customized to drive ad revenue and to entice anonymous fake posts and the behavior of people reinforces the business model.
So its fair I think to say its not an Internet and Social Media problem. Its a human nature problem. Basically if people can be anonymous they will mostly be cruel, rude and nasty. Its very sad.