Tag Archives: fake news

Friday #Content Reads 16.12.16

A list of my most interesting content strategy-related reads this week…

Hmm. A different kind of post this week as there were three particular articles that really caught my attention. The first was a remarkable piece by Matt Lees which I missed when it was first published. In What Gamergate should have taught us about the ‘alt-right’ he writes that everything we’re seeing now in the discussion around fake news had its precedent two years ago with Gamergate…

“The strangest aspect of Gamergate is that it consistently didn’t make any sense: people chose to align with it, and yet refused responsibility. It was constantly demanded that we debate the issues, but explanations and facts were treated with scorn. Attempts to find common ground saw the specifics of the demands being shifted: we want you to listen to us; we want you to change your ways; we want you to close your publication down. This movement that ostensibly wanted to protect free speech from cry bully SJWs simultaneously did what it could to endanger sites it disagreed with, encouraging advertisers to abandon support for media outlets that published stories critical of the hashtag. The petulance of that movement is disturbingly echoed in Trump’s own Twitter feed.

Looking back, Gamergate really only made sense in one way: as an exemplar of what Umberto Eco called “eternal fascism”, a form of extremism he believed could flourish at any point in, in any place – a fascism that would extol traditional values, rally against diversity and cultural critics, believe in the value of action above thought and encourage a distrust of intellectuals or experts – a fascism built on frustration and machismo. The requirement of this formless fascism would – above all else – be to remain in an endless state of conflict, a fight against a foe who must always be portrayed as impossibly strong and laughably weak. This was the methodology of Gamergate, and it now forms the basis of the contemporary far-right movement.”

That is truly a recommended read. Elsewhere, I was also moved by Marc Thompson’s recent speech on fake news

“Fake news is not new. The spreading false rumors for political advantage, for pure malice, or just for entertainment, is as old as the hills. Supermarket checkout magazines have been assuring us for decades that Elvis never died at all and is alive and well and eating unhealthy snacks inside a replica of the Sphinx on the surface of Mars.

And yet what’s happening now feels different. Whatever its other cultural and social merits, our digital eco-system seems to have evolved into a near-perfect environment for fake news to thrive. In addition to enthusiastic domestic myth-makers, it’s easy for hostile foreign governments and their proxies not just to initiate a fake news cycle – it is now widely accepted that it was Russian hackers who broke into John Podesta’s emails and gave them to Wikileaks, beginning the chain of events that led to Pizzagate – but to intensify it, and on occasion even to manage it with armies of human “trolls” and cyber botnets. This is a form of what the military calls “black psy-ops”, in other words covert psychological operations.”

And lastly, before we all point the finger at Facebook to sort this all out, Frederic Filloux had some great thoughts on why fake news isn’t going to be resolved by Facebook because news itself is not FB’s core business model.

“We must face the fact that Facebook doesn’t care about news in the journalism sense. News represents about 10% of the average user newsfeed and news can be cut overnight if circumstances dictate with no significant impact for the platform. (Actually, someone with good inside knowledge of the social network told me that news will be removed from users’ feed should the European Union move against Facebook in the same way it attacks Google on editorial issues).

In that broad context, the fake news situation is just a part of Facebook’s system, a bad apple in a large basket. It is impossible to believe that one of the best engineering companies in the world has not seen it coming; fake news was simply considered an unpleasant parasite, the wine lees at the bottom of the barrel… until Trump’s campaign made such a large use of fake news that it blew up.”

And lastly, for podcast enthusiasts, ProPublica published a fantastic interview with journalist Masha Gessen which discussed how we might approach a ‘taxonomy of truth’ to help guide us in the months ahead.

The Fake News Piñata

Since the US Elections we’ve read a lot about the topic of fake news and how journalism must adapt to ‘regain’ credibility and trust. I’m sure the debate will go on for some time, but in the meantime I thought it might be useful to gather all the different opinions I’ve read over recent weeks in one place. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Fake News Piñata!

From what I can see, this very special piñata is basically spit into three segments – publishers, platforms and people. I apologies in advance for the crude nature of what follows, this list is by no means exhaustive and I’m pretty certain to have over-simplified in places. But for now…

Publishers

  • We need to fight fake news with facts.
  • We need to fight fake news with facts that are shareable.
  • We need to fight fake news with facts, opinion and razor-sharp attention to the language we use.
  • Facts don’t matter because audiences don’t ‘care’ – because they’ve been told journalists are experts and experts are not to be trusted. Journalists need to work harder to communicate the benefits of what they do.
  • Facts don’t matter because audiences have been told journalists are biased (whereas politicians are not). Journalists need to work harder to communicate the benefits of what they do.
  • “Facts get shared, opinions get shrugs.” Alt-right institutions get more attention online now because their stories appear to be more fact-based than rant-based. They have the semblance of truth. Journalism needs to address this development through fact-checking services/teams to understand why fake news stories have become so shareable beyond outrageous headlines.
  • In the fight for ‘truthfulness’ publishers and journalists need to accept that they too make mistakes. Which is more damaging? A fake news story with a low audience or a slightly incorrect mainstream media story with a huge audience?
  • 99% of all journalism is commercially funded. Go figure, we are all doomed.
  • Are non-profit journalist organisations more truthful?
  • Has the ‘pandering’ to Facebook (shareability over ‘substance’) backed us into a corner? Do we need to focus on new metrics of engagement which recognises quality journalism and can be monetised easily. Is this just a pipe dream or the start of a long journey of collaboration across the entire media sector?
  • As an industry we should stop theorising, navel-gazing and soul-searching and get down to proper journalism i.e holding those in power to account and getting out there into the local communities.
  • Hmm. We might need to invest more in local journalism…
  • Er, what exactly is Fake News? “Does a falsehood only become “fake news” when it shows up on a platform like Facebook as legitimate news?”

Platforms

People

  • Most people have a low level of media literacy. Blame lack of education and poverty.
  • Most people have a low level of media literacy. Blame the government.
  • Most people have a low level of media literacy. Blame the media.
  • Most people have a low level of media literacy. Blame technology.
  • Most people have a low level of media literacy. Blame procrastination.
  • People lack the critical capacity to recognise what might be fake because they actively seek reflections of themselves. Confirmation bias.
  • Facts don’t matter because we’re all basically selfish and can’t escape our prejudices.

I’ll leave it there for now, please feel free to add further points via the comments below. For those interested in what the journalist/tech community is doing right now to navigate this new landscape, may I suggest this excellent, collaborate resource initially recommended by Jeff Jarvis.

Further Reading
Washington Post fake news story blurs the definition of fake news
Google, democracy and the truth about internet search
The tech/editorial culture clash
The Man Who Made Radio Viral
Facebook Shouldn’t Fact-Check
Trump has already defeated the news media. And it’s unclear what we can do about it.
Publishing in the post-truth era
Parallel narratives
FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE MAKE LIES AS PRETTY AS TRUTH
The Cynical Gambit to Make ‘Fake News’ Meaningless
Why Snapchat And Apple Don’t Have A Fake News Problem