THERE’S NO VALUE IN FAKING IT
THE fact that you are holding this newspaper or reading this on your preferred news website shows you are someone who places a value on content produced by established media brands. The biggest threat to the mainstream media is the fact that, in the digital age, many consumers take their news wherever they find it.
Many people, especially the young, scoop up information in the same way a whale eats plankton, absorbing whatever presents itself in the feed on their Facebook page or via Google News. So what, some would argue. That’s a commercial problem for old media with no negative social effect.
The coverage of the worst gun massacre in modern American history shows otherwise. Last Sunday was a horrendous day for hundreds of people who were watching a country music concert opposite the Mandalay Bay hotel. It was also a bad day for a man by the name of Geary Danley, who lives five states east of Nevada in the small Arkansas town of Bella Vista, who to his horror discovered that Google News had him pinged as the gunman responsible for their murder.
For several hours on Monday, if you typed the words “Vegas gunman” into Google, or went to Facebook to check the Googlesupplied feeds, the name that came up was that of Geary Danley. How Danley came to be named as the perpetrator of this massacre provides disturbing insight into the modern phenomenon of fake news.
More disturbing is how this episode shows that the new “news” giants, Google and Facebook, are bereft of ability or responsibility when it comes to undertaking the checks that are standard across the journalistic mainstream. They have farmed the rigours that come with well-run newsrooms out to robots and programmers, using algorithms to aggregate news on the basis of search terms and audience behaviour. Replacing the human factor with automation is often referred to as artificial intelligence. This week it was lashing out at the wrong family, wrong people,” Waltrip said.
This is what happens when you replace humans with robots and news discipline with a string of code written by a roomful of chinowearing IT dudes at the Santa Clara Googleplex. You get news faked and fabricated by cranks, then stolen and disseminated by organisations that wouldn’t know a news story from a block of flats.
As an experiment last week I typed the words “truth about vaccines” into Google and the first site it recommended was run by anti-vaxxers peddling dangerous lies about immunisations. I typed in the words “moon landing” and about 12 clicks in hit the mother lode of BS about whether it was faked.
Google’s lame response to the Danley scandal is to promise to have a look at the algorithms it uses. These people have got no idea. Nor have the social media platforms that peddle this tosh.
Social media is one of the worst phrases ever invented. When I got into this game “media”, to me, meant credibility. Something that had been judged to be in the public interest, sourced, checked, balanced and put through the devil’s advocacy process of an editorial conference before being published.
Online trash, agendas, bullying, vendettas and conspiracy theories … those are not news. I know it’s an unstoppable phrase now, but “social media” isn’t accurate. It’s a phrase that erodes the credentials of real media — publishing houses that invest in journalism and put news through proper filters. At Google, the rule seems to be that if it looks like news, it probably, hopefully, is news.
When they do get it wrong, they hide behind the cop-out argument that they’re not real media but “secondary” publishers, guilty only of distributing the erroneous work of others. It’s a hell of a business model and it’s making the world a less informed place. DAVID PENBERTHY IS A SUNDAY HERALD SUN COLUMNIST @Penbo