How can the world save it­self from fake news?

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

HIL­LARY Clin­ton was about to be in­dicted, Pope Fran­cis en­dorsed Don­ald Trump: The bat­tle over fake news is heat­ing up af­ter a White House cam­paign in which the mis­in­for­ma­tion in­dus­try may have swung the out­come of the vote.

It’s not just the US – fake news also dom­i­nates so­cial me­dia in Myan­mar, where na­tion­al­ist memes and ques­tion­ably sourced photos and videos of­ten com­pete to sway the na­tional dis­course on eth­nic group vi­o­lence in bor­der re­gions.

Last week, Google and Facebook moved to cut off ad rev­enue to bo­gus news sites. But me­dia watch­ers say more is needed to stamp out a pow­er­ful phe­nom­e­non seen by some peo­ple as a threat to democ­racy it­self.

One of those peo­ple is Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who has warned that fake news threat­ens the ba­sic prin­ci­ple of free­dom of speech.

“If ev­ery­thing seems to be the same and no dis­tinc­tions are made, then we won’t know what to pro­tect,” Obama said dur­ing a visit to Ger­many.

The hoaxes of the 2016 elec­tion sea­son were in many cases spec­tac­u­lar – “Did the Clin­tons Com­mit Mur­der?” – and cre­ated by groups purely out to make money from clicks and ads.

And since Trump’s vic­tory, re­ports have ex­posed the dark un­der­belly of op­er­a­tions – run from Mace­do­nia to Cal­i­for­nia – that boast of mak­ing easy money with wholly fab­ri­cated sto­ries, un­der such head­lines as “Look At Sick Thing He Just Did To STAB Trump In The Back”.

An anal­y­sis pub­lished by Buz­zFeed News found that the 20 top-per­form­ing bo­gus sto­ries from hoax web­sites and ex­tremely par­ti­san blogs gen­er­ated slightly more than 8.7 mil­lion “shares” on Facebook to just 7.4 mil­lion from ma­jor news web­sites, in the three months be­fore the elec­tion.

Now, the out­cry over fake news and its ap­par­ent role in the elec­tion is prompt­ing calls for Facebook to con­sider it­self a me­dia com­pany, with ed­i­to­rial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, which the so­cial net­work has re­peat­edly re­jected.

Ar­biters of truth? Wash­ing­ton Post me­dia columnist Mar­garet Sul­li­van ar­gued that Facebook “should hire a top-flight ex­ec­u­tive editor and give that per­son the re­sources, power and staff to make sound ed­i­to­rial de­ci­sions”.

For Gabriel Kahn, a for­mer jour­nal­ist who teaches at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, “they’re in the same busi­ness as pretty much ev­ery me­dia com­pany, which is ag­gre­gat­ing au­di­ences and us­ing that to sell ad­ver­tise­ments”.

And Kahn be­lieves that Facebook, by con­sid­er­ing it­self a “neu­tral” plat­form, “al­lows the me­dia ecosys­tem to be pol­luted” with bo­gus news.

Facebook founder Mark Zucker­berg on Novem­ber 18 of­fered ad­di­tional in­sight on plans to curb on­line mis­in­for­ma­tion while ar­gu­ing for cau­tion.

“The prob­lems here are com­plex, both tech­ni­cally and philo­soph­i­cally,” Zucker­berg said in a post­ing.

“We be­lieve in giv­ing peo­ple a voice ... We do not want to be ar­biters of truth our­selves, but in­stead rely on our com­mu­nity and trusted third par­ties.”

Zucker­berg said none­the­less that Facebook would step up ef­forts to weed out fake news with “stronger de­tec­tion”, an eas­ier process to re­port hoaxes and “third party ver­i­fi­ca­tion” from “re­spected fact-check­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions”.

Tech en­tre­pre­neur Elad Gil said it should not be too dif­fi­cult for a com­pany like Facebook to ap­ply its tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise to de­ter­mine when a news story is fake.

“In­trigu­ingly, a group of un­der­grads at Prince­ton were able to build a quick and dirty fake news clas­si­fier dur­ing a 36-hour hackathon,” Gil said in a blog post.

‘Click farms’ vs ide­ol­ogy North­east­ern Univer­sity jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sor Dan Kennedy ar­gued that it is im­por­tant to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween “click farms” which make money off en­tirely fake news and po­lit­i­cally driven news sites.

“I think Facebook could do a lot to crack down on fake news, and I think that’s some­thing ev­ery­body could agree on, but if they try to go against the ide­o­log­i­cally mo­ti­vated sites it will in­evitably get caught up in the cul­ture wars,” Kennedy said.

The preva­lence of er­satz news, an­a­lysts note, comes in a con­text of deep dis­trust of main­stream me­dia, which is of­ten ac­cused of one-sid­ed­ness.

Any ef­fort to fil­ter out those voices could “lead to the re­lit­i­ga­tion of an­cient dis­putes over me­dia bias”, said Kennedy.

Rea­son mag­a­zine editor Scott Shack­le­ford said it would be hard to draw a line be­tween fil­ter­ing bo­gus news and ide­o­log­i­cal cen­sor­ship.

“So a de­ci­sion by Facebook to cen­sor ‘fake news’ would heav­ily weigh in favour of the more main­stream and ‘pow­er­ful’ tra­di­tional me­dia out­lets,” he wrote. –

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