Star­com’s Joubran Ab­dulkhalek on how to fight it.

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE - J OUBRAN AB­DULKHALEK Direc­tor of dig­i­tal at Star­com

Fake news first started pick­ing up steam in late 2016, dur­ing the US elec­tions. Since then, I have con­stantly been read­ing about this phe­nom­e­non. Re­cently I came across an ar­ti­cle pub­lished by WARC, which stated that me­dia groups are ‘ral­ly­ing’ to com­bat fake news with ‘The Trust Pro­ject’, which is hosted by Santa Clara Univer­sity’s Markkula Cen­tre for Ap­plied Ethics. Se­ri­ously, it’s taken a whole year?

Well, this is a good ‘step zero’ in com­bat­ing fake news, which is a cancer in to­day’s so­ci­ety on a so­cial and eco­nomic level. Tak­ing steps to in­tro­duce trans­parency stan­dards is the most ba­sic of forms of com­bat and long over­due, but a step in the right di­rec­tion.

I see fake news in two forms. One of them is po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated (con­spir­acy the­ory, any­one?) and the other is purely to gen­er­ate com­mer­cial prof­its. How­ever, to many peo­ple’s sur­prise, the lat­ter is prob­a­bly about 90 per cent of the fake news in cir­cu­la­tion.

A re­cent re­port from The&Part­ner­ship, m/SIX and Ad­loox es­ti­mated that in­valid traf­fic and fraud would waste $16.4 bil­lion in ad bud­gets this year glob­ally.

This $16.4 bil­lion is the pri­mary rea­son that fake news sites pop up; they want a piece of that pie. Sway­ing pub­lic opin­ion is sec­ondary to them, and the US elec­tion is a ripe ex­am­ple of this. It is just a means to an end.

In an econ­sul­tancy.com ar­ti­cle, the au­thors talked about many cases where these fake news sites were not in­tended to sway pub­lic opin­ion but in­stead to gen­er­ate ad rev­enue for their cre­ators.

Now, what is the so­lu­tion? This is the ques­tion ev­ery­one should be ask­ing. His­tor­i­cally, the best way to hurt any ‘il­le­gal’ op­er­a­tion is go af­ter their main driver, la plata – to bor­row a phrase from Nar­cos. This can be done in mul­ti­ple ways with a quar­an­tine/ in­cu­ba­tion pe­riod ap­proach:

30/60 days with­out be­ing able to make money on ads, so the fake news sites can­not be as ag­ile as be­fore.

Give them a min­i­mum ar­ti­cle view count to be able to ac­ti­vate ads (YouTube has done this for video, but not enough).

Tech play­ers pay pub­lish­ers close to the 15th of ev­ery month, and they re­ceive funds af­ter three days. You can cur­tail fake news by iden­ti­fy­ing the po­ten­tial sites by au­dit­ing them through Google’s ad-servers or Face­book tech­nol­ogy.

Work­ing with banks and pay­ment providers to halt ac­counts proven to be fake news.

The prob­lem here is that Google and Face­book are ac­tu­ally prof­it­ing from this, as there is no other place to mass-dis­trib­ute fake news other than their plat­forms. So, with the stock price at stake, how much will they ac­tu­ally play a role in this? Maybe if they are in­cen­tivised and the rev­enue share model is re­vised, this can sub­sidise the loss in profit from fake news by earn­ing more money through le­git­i­mate pub­lish­ers, a win-win.

Tech play­ers and le­git pub­lish­ers need to work closely to set up a mech­a­nism that iden­ti­fies fake news within cer­tain pa­ram­e­ters. I am sure fake news will come up with in­no­va­tive new ways to by­pass the mech­a­nism, but at the mo­ment tech play­ers are five steps be­hind. They have an army of more than en­abled pro­gram­mers and I think if they just fo­cus on this is­sue in the next Google or Face­book hackathon they will crack this wide open.

Dis­claimer: Views are my own. When speak­ing about fake news, this is not tar­geted to­wards the big me­dia com­pa­nies such as Fox or RT; it is tar­geted to­wards the smaller sites that use click­bait to get traf­fic.

The prob­lem here is that Google and Face­book are ac­tu­ally prof­it­ing from this, as there is no other place to mass-dis­trib­ute fake news other than their plat­forms.

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