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Fake News

Michelle Fleury examines who is to blame for fake news and who should become the new arbiters of truth in a digital age.


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Did false stories have an impact on the outcome

:00:00.:00:10.

Ever since that question came up, fake news has become,

:00:11.:00:14.

On this week's Talking Business, we examine how fake news is spread

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and what, if anything, should be done to rein it in.

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Welcome to the programme. I'm Michelle Fleury in Washington, DC.

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From politics to the media to technology companies, lately a lot

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of people worked up about for the back of the spreading of

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lies or news. The problem is made worse

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because there is money to be made in the fake news business. This is how

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it works. So, who is responsible for the boom,

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and the containment of fake news? Here to help me investigate,

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we're joined from San Francisco by a web and technology writer

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and part-time entrepreneur. In the studio with me

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are the director of the museum in Washington,

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as well as a Wikipedia editor Gentlemen, thank you

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very much joining me. If I could start a question,

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Andrew, to you... How should we be

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defining fake news? I talked about it

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as being about lies It is too broad

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a definition in many ways. One of the problems with the term

:02:57.:03:01.

fake news is it encompasses many different types of news sources,

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websites, you find. So, I think, one of the better

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pieces written about this, to try to break down the whole

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phenomenon of fake news into folks that might be intentionally

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creating news for profit, so we saw there were some operations

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out of Macedonia that did this You have partisan sites,

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who have sites which are not prey A whole bunch of different sites

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that fall under this It's important to understand there

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are different motivations for these. It is hard to paint everything

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as one fake news phenomenon. I think we're only very early

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in this news ecosystem where there A lot more people have

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their voices heard. But it also opens this up

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to the possibility of people deliberately polluting

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was sabotaging the news. I think that's a long-term

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concern in many ways but it's been brought about,

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been highlighted, in recent times because the speed

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and velocity of social media. You heard about the speed

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and velocity of social media I think fake news, as Andrew

:04:14.:04:19.

defined, or tried to define, is actually the right way

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to think about it. We have fake news coming out

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of places like Macedonia, which is essentially no

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different from spam. The rest of it is essentially

:04:36.:04:39.

propaganda and now propaganda I think that is the reality

:04:40.:04:41.

of the news ecosystem right now, that it works at a much faster pace

:04:42.:04:49.

and a much larger So, it kind of blurs the boundaries

:04:50.:04:52.

between real and fake and real and unreal,

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and truths and half truths. I think part of the new era

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is that there are no It used to be only a generation

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ago that you would have Water Kronkyte, and a few

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other anchors, and few in the United States very well

:05:23.:05:24.

respected national newspapers This is likely to be true,

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this is likely not to be. Now, for all kinds of good reasons,

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those gatekeepers have been torn down and we have a much more vibrant

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and dynamic news system. In the early days of this new era,

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we don't have the gatekeepers. In many ways, it's going to be up

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to the individual now. To be a much more intentional news

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consumer than in the past. Aren't you letting off the

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platforms, the Facebooks and Googles I think they are now beginning

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to acknowledge their new role in this information ecosystem,

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that they're just not pipes by which they distribute information

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and posts to people, but that they mediate,

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they edit, curated the news At the end of the day,

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I think that the social media platforms can do a significant

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amount that it is really If consumers demand good quality

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news, the algorithms and the platforms are

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provided to them. One thing that the traditional

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gatekeepers have to do is to make themselves relevant in a new age

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of technology and social media. As was mentioned, things

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are happening faster on social The most important thing

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is uncontextualised. These are tweets, these

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are Instagram posts, they are Facebook utterances

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and they are not 3000-5000 word In isolation, in little bits,

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in part of the internet. What you are seeing

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are some experiments, like the Washington Post

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for example, right It says we are providing a new

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plug-in for the Chrome browsers. So, whenever you look

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at a tweet from Donald Trump, were going to put a little fact

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checked right underneath it saying, Not too many people will

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use this, obviously. How many people are using a Chrome

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desktop browser and are installing It's kind of interesting

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they are experimenting We have also seen that Google

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and Facebook have realised that just being a platform,

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and just link sharing with no responsibility,

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is also not a great thing. They are almost what we call

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accidental or unintentional Because they are sharing the news

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but they are not doing the fact checking or flagging of content

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in a way that we see A lot of the moves we are seeing

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from Facebook and Google right now, annotating and flagging trying

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to get more information from the reader because readers

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are demanding that now. I do believe the new gatekeepers

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are the social media platform. They have to make sure that

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nefarious information They need to figure out the stuff

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coming out of places like Macedonia, the for profit spam sites should be

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stopped right away - they have

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the infrastructure to do that. The fact they did not do it tells me

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they dropped the bar. Even just to kind of say

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that we are looking into the fake news, I think it is a lot

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of lip service. In their universe, more attention

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to whatever people are doing, or reading on their platform,

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equals more profit. I want to talk about

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the decentralisation of news. From rolling news, two

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technology companies becoming How much of a role has that played

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in what we have seen today? I think we see the

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abundance of news sites. In many ways this is

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the golden age of news. More people have access

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to more sites and more information than ever before,

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if they are willing to undertake If they just want to be passive

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and have things come at them, I agree that the technology

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companies have a role. I don't want teenagers

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in Macedonia flooding our news I don't want to assign too much

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authority to Facebook and Google. They are doing what's best

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for their shareholders. But the algorithmically-derived

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results they produce are not particularly transparent and no one

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elected them to become the I don't think you can mitigate

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the responsibility that individuals have with all this access,

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we're now going to have to pay Later in the programme, can

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algorithms help wipe out fake news? Algorithms help determine

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which stories take precedence over Our comedy consultant has been

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taking a closer look. In this week's Talking Point,

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he examines the role played You've probably seen it written more

:10:24.:10:25.

than you heard it said. Usually written by someone

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on Facebook shouting virtually Now, sometimes people shout fake

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news in a Facebook comment purely because they disagree

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with the previous Facebook comment. But, real fake news,

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if you know what I mean, that's where a company,

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or just two guys with a laptop, set up a website that looks

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like a plausible news website and churn out stories that

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looks sort of possible. How does that fake news

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and those made up stories get A former vice president at Intel

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here in Ireland and something of a tech and start-up guru tells me

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it's something to do The beauty of algorithms

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is they neither know, nor care, Likewise, in the news space,

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if there are news articles which are being clicked on out

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there and people with interests like mine are looking at real news

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items, they are looking at false news items that they are looking

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at who knows what news items. As far as the algorithm is

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concerned, this is a high hit rate. For somebody like Philip,

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so I'm going to present that to him. Wouldn't you think though that

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rational thinking human beings will do little bit of verification

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on the stories that they are served The problem is, we don't

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do that verification. We're too happy to have our vices

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confirmed so when we see something plausible on our phones

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we just share it. So, controlling fake news

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is going to have to be Fact Matter is a Google-backed

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project for automated fact checking. Our mission is to solve

:12:20.:12:25.

misinformation in online content. Solving online misinformation

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sounds like a noble cause, We're focusing on sentence

:12:29.:12:30.

level fact checking. This is identifying claims

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that appear in text Machine intelligence

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comes in using natural language processing,

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to understand effectively What are the sources that

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you could use to check that claim - what that claim is

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about and the hardest part, which is linking

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that claim to a fact. It will be a browser extension

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which allows you to see highlighted sentence level claims

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about statistics and it will link them to sources that,

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for example, the World Bank, it will enable them to verify

:13:06.:13:08.

those claims immediately. Our extension could basically look

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at a piece of content and say this is likely to be misleading because,

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overall, this piece of news contains The only problem with this solution

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is it may not be able to tell the difference between fake news

:13:25.:13:33.

and when someone is just trying to be funny, which is a problem

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I face myself quite often. Touching on the role of algorithms

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in fake news for that you can see more of his short films

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on our website. Back here in Washington,

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in the rapid and seemingly uncontrollable spread of fake news,

:13:55.:13:56.

modern technology as Could it also turn out to be

:13:57.:14:02.

part of the solution? Doctor Geoffrey from the Museum,

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Professor Andrew Lee of Wikipedia and the technology writer

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from San Francisco. Are we right to blame algorithms

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for the problem of fake news? You know, algorithms only do what we

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specified. They are just a set of instructions we have written.

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Hopefully got up with machine learning there are all types of

:14:40.:14:43.

things happening we may not know of. It is about the machine making

:14:44.:14:47.

determinations without human eyeballs double-checking them or

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steering them. We had a problem recently where Google was giving

:14:50.:14:53.

search results for, did the Holocaust happen with some very

:14:54.:14:59.

unsavoury sites at the top of those rankings? Google has repeatedly over

:15:00.:15:03.

the years said, sorry, that is our algorithm. If you want to see

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something different at the top, they're going to have to go on the

:15:07.:15:11.

internet and make it happen on the internet. Google did tweet the

:15:12.:15:15.

algorithm at the end of the day so Holocaust the Mars were not at the

:15:16.:15:19.

top of the search results. I'm sympathetic to the companies. They

:15:20.:15:23.

have to recognises his very early on. Three or four macro years ago I

:15:24.:15:27.

do not think Facebook was thinking, we are going to become the platform

:15:28.:15:30.

by which most millennial is get the news was that I do not think that

:15:31.:15:35.

was in their heads. It has happened at such a speed and has caused a

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significant change in demands facing the to respond. We also have to

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recognise these are companies unlike any we have ever seen in that they

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are truly global. The next million customers of Facebook weather will

:15:54.:15:58.

probably be in south Asia, Africa and East Asia. They have to be

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responsive to all of that but also. We rightly demand more of the

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companies. I am quite sympathetic. I respectfully disagree with you.

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Facebook had specifically targeted the media, the news business. They

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replicated the idea of Twitter because they knew that is how people

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keep coming back to the Facebook platform. News is one of the most

:16:32.:16:36.

addictive things for people to come back to a platform or a service or a

:16:37.:16:41.

brand. They intentionally went ahead and targeted the news business.

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Between Google and Facebook, 85% of the online advertising are going to

:16:50.:17:00.

these two companies. These are not, Babes in the woods. They are private

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equities. Private entities have responsibilities. It is not just

:17:08.:17:13.

Facebook. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, which owns the Being said

:17:14.:17:18.

engine and other entities like them need to sit down and figure out what

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is the right answer. I don't think the individual should bear the

:17:25.:17:28.

burden of trying to make decisions on every single piece of information

:17:29.:17:35.

they access on Facebook or any other service. I want to bring in Andrew.

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Wikipedia was mentioned. You are keen to jump in. What is the role

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for Wikipedia and the role free humans? Wikipedia has been around

:17:48.:17:52.

for 16 years when it first started in 2001. It was seen as an odd

:17:53.:17:56.

experiment on the side of the internet. You are not sure if you

:17:57.:18:01.

could trust it. It has been in the top ten most visited website in the

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world. Wikipedia has stayed at the top. There are debates of how much

:18:09.:18:12.

you should trust it that we have found that over the years it is

:18:13.:18:17.

still the go to place, including folks like Google whom I knit for

:18:18.:18:21.

information. Every time you do a Google search you will find

:18:22.:18:25.

references to Wikipedia. Facebook and Google are employing people who

:18:26.:18:30.

are learning from Wikipedia lesson. When you read an article will see a

:18:31.:18:37.

warning or the neutrality of a section is disputed. We need morsels

:18:38.:18:42.

is to verify this. Wikipedia has said, this is the best we know of

:18:43.:18:47.

this topic. We could use better sourcing and better facts. Facebook

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in Germany is trying out this experiment of annotating and putting

:18:54.:18:57.

warnings around content. Not necessarily saying this is true or

:18:58.:19:01.

untrue but to give more guidance to the reader. What do you think of the

:19:02.:19:06.

idea of crowd sourcing? All of these things should be implied. This is so

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compensated and it is so early, frankly, in the new ecosystem that

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we should be testing all of these things out. On the supply side, I

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think the platforms should do more. I think the responsibility of

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citizens also has to be explored. The Wikipedia example is a good one.

:19:26.:19:32.

The point it has lasted more than most tech start-ups or most tech

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company shows that people who provide a service with the public

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respect and demand that there is a market out there. Wikipedia is a

:19:40.:19:45.

financial model. I think we will have to explore all of these things.

:19:46.:19:50.

What we have seen in two or three years if there will become more

:19:51.:19:57.

clashes that they will become more sophisticated. What do you think

:19:58.:20:03.

about sites who debunk fake news? It is like racing a human against a jet

:20:04.:20:10.

plane. That is what we are dealing with. Fake news is happening at that

:20:11.:20:17.

scale and fact checking at human scale. We will always have that

:20:18.:20:25.

problem. I am all for it. If we find ourselves here a year from now

:20:26.:20:28.

having this conversation, what do you think would be talking about

:20:29.:20:33.

when it comes to this issue? I would say we will be talking about the

:20:34.:20:36.

same issue. The problem is much bigger. Other platforms are still

:20:37.:20:42.

dragging their feet. I agree we will still be talking about the problems.

:20:43.:20:49.

I think we will be a little bit more focused on crises and how public

:20:50.:20:55.

opinion can be manipulated in short duration, high stake crises where

:20:56.:20:58.

many of the safeguards we are talking about which may work over a

:20:59.:21:02.

few days and weeks will be useless when there is an issue like this was

:21:03.:21:07.

the back is what concerns me the most. Can we, as a society, or other

:21:08.:21:14.

societies be played in an economic crisis? All the things we have been

:21:15.:21:20.

talking about work better with time. We're not there yet in terms of an

:21:21.:21:24.

immediate response to a deliberate destabilisation. Can you get this to

:21:25.:21:33.

work at scale? We know that the classic quote, I could go halfway

:21:34.:21:37.

around the world before the truth gets its shoes on foot or can you

:21:38.:21:42.

make networks of annotation that fact checking, that get the good

:21:43.:21:46.

signal to consumers quicker and in a more useful way question what it is

:21:47.:21:53.

a big challenge. Twitter is a platform that is proprietary closed,

:21:54.:21:57.

Facebook is closed. Will they work together to combat fake and

:21:58.:22:00.

inaccurate information question about right now Wikipedia does it.

:22:01.:22:05.

That is where things end. There are little things going on like the

:22:06.:22:11.

Washington Post but are they going to work together? I am not so sure.

:22:12.:22:16.

I look forward to revisiting this at another time. Goodbye from all of us

:22:17.:22:24.

here in the studio. That is it from this edition of Talking Business.

:22:25.:22:30.

Next week Tania Beckett will be in London talking about how Browns can

:22:31.:22:36.

survive in an Iraq of algorithms and fake content. For now, it is

:22:37.:22:39.

goodbye. If you are fed up with this cold

:22:40.:22:55.

weather, there is a hint at the end of this broadcast that something

:22:56.:22:59.

more spring light might be on the horizon. Some sunshine today but you

:23:00.:23:05.

had to go quite a way to find it. For many of us

:23:06.:23:06.