Should Fake News Be Considered a Cyber Crime?

Fake news has been flooding the Internet and our social media news feeds for a while now and many people have trouble separating fact from fiction. Unfortunately, misinformation is not the only thing to worry about. Cyber criminals are using fake news to commit crimes when you click on their news stories. Although it is not currently a federal offense to create or spread fake news, it may soon need to be considered a cybercrime when it causes detrimental impacts such as violent acts.


Fake Documents

With the advancements in technology, people are not only creating fake news but also documents. Fake documents can conceal someone’s identity, give additional education licenses and certificates or implicate a crime. In this particular case, a woman faked her credentials to teach at a nursing college in New Mexico and later work in an intensive care unit and geriatric psych ward in Missouri.

Samantha Rivera falsified transcripts showing a master’s degree in nursing as well as her nursing license. In Missouri, Rivera claimed she had been an ER nurse in a level-one trauma center. She hyphenated her last name, so part would be from a real nurse whose license number she used. Initially, Rivera fooled management as her nurse leaders were unaware of their responsibility to track her credentials. Rivera was then fired from both places after a few months of work, but was only caught for fake documents after failing a basic ICU skills test at a staffing agency several months later. Rivera is now facing federal charges of heath care fraud and identity theft. 


Commit Crime

Fake news is being used to sway elections, shape public opinion through social media and commit crimes. Here are some of the cyber crime campaigns being spread across social media. Hackers create an ideological group that promotes and shares ideas and fake news stories relating to a specific topic. For example, in February 2017, doctored photos of the police setting fire to camps at Standing Rock sparked further protests and citizen outrage. The key to this campaign is promoting the audiences’ ideologies and promising an illusion of the future in order to compel them to join an imagined cause.

Another popular campaign is criminals defaming the integrity of real journalists. They post thousands of negative comments against the journalist and create news stories that popularize opposing views. This type of campaign can discredit a journalist or make the surrounding noise so loud that their voice is drowned out. Other hackers want to manipulate what is going to happen by using fake news to alter reputable sources or create new sites that cross-reference the facts. The success of this campaign rests on how quickly the fake news can spread. In order to stop these campaigns, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other essential figures in the tech field have been speaking out against fake news and working to identify it before it spreads.


Examples of Fake News

Cyber criminals are using fake news to grab your attention with psychological tricks that cause excitement, fear or spur action. News stories that are tragic or alarming gain more interest because it taps into human nature. Cyber criminals attack while information is relevant and timely to attract a larger number of victims.

Here are a few examples of fake news that many people believed. Amazon has updated its Alexa personal assistant to be compatible with pets. Petlexa allows dogs, cats and other animals to place orders from Amazon and activate smart home enable toys. Coca-Cola is being carbonated with a shot of helium. This creates a squeaky high-pitched effect on the drinker’s voice. Groupon launches a spa experience for gin lovers. Instead of regular steam, the water used is infused with a high quality gin. While all of these examples were produced for April Fool’s Day, the important thing to remember is some people were gullible and believed them to be true which is how cyber criminals are able to spread their fake news so easily.


Identify Cyber Crime

Experts have estimated that cybercrime costs more than $400 billion annually and cannot be measured on its economic impact alone. Like other forms of crime, it also affects the health, safety and psychological well-being of individuals involved. Cybercrime is growing significantly as technology advances but it is difficult to know specific measurements. Police precincts nationwide have problems dealing with cybercrime because it is harder to detect and criminals can be thousands of miles away from their victims. It is also hard to gain a full spectrum of information on the criminals because forensic data analysis has to be performed on affected networks and systems, as well as the hardware used by criminals. To strengthen and protect communities from emerging cyber threats, law enforcement agencies will have to partner together and embrace new ideas in procedures, personnel and technology.


Fake news is all around us and society needs to take a close look at an articles source before being share on social media. As more people become aware of fake news, cyber criminals will look at more sophisticated methods to capitalize on people’s interests and emotions. Therefore be aware to the possibility of false information and fact check to confirm your suspicions.

Security level: Public

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