Fake News Talking Business

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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


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


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


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


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


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


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


lies or news. The problem is made worse


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


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


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


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


and part-time entrepreneur. In the studio with me


are the director of the museum in Washington,


as well as a Wikipedia editor Gentlemen, thank you


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


Andrew, to you... How should we be


defining fake news? I talked about it


as being about lies It is too broad


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


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


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


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


phenomenon of fake news into folks that might be intentionally


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


out of Macedonia that did this You have partisan sites,


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


that fall under this It's important to understand there


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


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


in this news ecosystem where there A lot more people have


their voices heard. But it also opens this up


to the possibility of people deliberately polluting


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


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


been highlighted, in recent times because the speed


and velocity of social media. You heard about the speed


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


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


to think about it. We have fake news coming out


of places like Macedonia, which is essentially no


different from spam. The rest of it is essentially


propaganda and now propaganda I think that is the reality


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


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


between real and fake and real and unreal,


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


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


ago that you would have Water Kronkyte, and a few


other anchors, and few in the United States very well


respected national newspapers This is likely to be true,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


to acknowledge their new role in this information ecosystem,


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


and posts to people, but that they mediate,


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


I think that the social media platforms can do a significant


amount that it is really If consumers demand good quality


news, the algorithms and the platforms are


provided to them. One thing that the traditional


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


of technology and social media. As was mentioned, things


are happening faster on social The most important thing


is uncontextualised. These are tweets, these


are Instagram posts, they are Facebook utterances


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


in part of the internet. What you are seeing


are some experiments, like the Washington Post


for example, right It says we are providing a new


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


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


checked right underneath it saying, Not too many people will


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


desktop browser and are installing It's kind of interesting


they are experimenting We have also seen that Google


and Facebook have realised that just being a platform,


and just link sharing with no responsibility,


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


accidental or unintentional Because they are sharing the news


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


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


from Facebook and Google right now, annotating and flagging trying


to get more information from the reader because readers


are demanding that now. I do believe the new gatekeepers


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


nefarious information They need to figure out the stuff


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


stopped right away - they have


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


they dropped the bar. Even just to kind of say


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


of lip service. In their universe, more attention


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


equals more profit. I want to talk about


the decentralisation of news. From rolling news, two


technology companies becoming How much of a role has that played


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


abundance of news sites. In many ways this is


the golden age of news. More people have access


to more sites and more information than ever before,


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


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


companies have a role. I don't want teenagers


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


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


for their shareholders. But the algorithmically-derived


results they produce are not particularly transparent and no one


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


the responsibility that individuals have with all this access,


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


algorithms help wipe out fake news? Algorithms help determine


which stories take precedence over Our comedy consultant has been


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


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


than you heard it said. Usually written by someone


on Facebook shouting virtually Now, sometimes people shout fake


news in a Facebook comment purely because they disagree


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


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


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


like a plausible news website and churn out stories that


looks sort of possible. How does that fake news


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


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


it's something to do The beauty of algorithms


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


if there are news articles which are being clicked on out


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


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


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


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


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


rational thinking human beings will do little bit of verification


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


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


confirmed so when we see something plausible on our phones


we just share it. So, controlling fake news


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


project for automated fact checking. Our mission is to solve


misinformation in online content. Solving online misinformation


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


level fact checking. This is identifying claims


that appear in text Machine intelligence


comes in using natural language processing,


to understand effectively What are the sources that


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


about and the hardest part, which is linking


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


which allows you to see highlighted sentence level claims


about statistics and it will link them to sources that,


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


those claims immediately. Our extension could basically look


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


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


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


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


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


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


on our website. Back here in Washington,


in the rapid and seemingly uncontrollable spread of fake news,


modern technology as Could it also turn out to be


part of the solution? Doctor Geoffrey from the Museum,


Professor Andrew Lee of Wikipedia and the technology writer


from San Francisco. Are we right to blame algorithms


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


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


Hopefully got up with machine learning there are all types of


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


determinations without human eyeballs double-checking them or


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


search results for, did the Holocaust happen with some very


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


equities. Private entities have responsibilities. It is not just


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


references to Wikipedia. Facebook and Google are employing people who


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


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


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


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


in Germany is trying out this experiment of annotating and putting


warnings around content. Not necessarily saying this is true or


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


company shows that people who provide a service with the public


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


inaccurate information question about right now Wikipedia does it.


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


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


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


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


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


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


goodbye. If you are fed up with this cold


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


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


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