Countering “Fake News”
There is some dispute over the extent to which “fake news” is a problem. But assuming that it is a problem, how should governments, technology companies and media address it without infringing on human rights norms? Government restrictions on dissemination of false news are too often an attempt to shroud government intentions of restricting freedom of expression and criticism. Technology companies and media might also pose risks to human rights norms if they pursue types of censorship. Are there approaches that provide tools to address “fake news” while promoting and protecting freedom of expression?
While problems related to propaganda and disinformation were probably born with human communication and civilization, it seems reasonable to believe that the digital age has exacerbated, quickened, and possibly even ameliorated problems of “fake news.” According to Pew Research Center, 66% of Facebook users, 59% of Twitter users, and 70% of Reddit users get news from their respective platforms. Individuals generally have the ability to freely impart and receive information on the internet. While this freedom is undoubtedly useful and empowering, it is also vulnerable to manipulation.
There is an argument that social media has amplified the problem of “fake news” to unprecedented volumes. What role can technology play in addressing the issue? Are these steps in the right direction? Should other companies follow suit, and what types of companies should be held accountable?
In the News:
- Apple CEO Tim Cook identified fake news as a principle problem, but said there is no simple solution.
- Online encyclopaedia editors rule out publisher as a reference citing ‘reputation for poor fact checking and sensationalism.’ The Guardian
- Google plans ban on fake news sites that could crimp those sites’ revenue-raising.
- Google News Lab launches news verification project in time for French election with the goal of helping French electorate make sense of who and what to trust in their social media feeds.
- Facebook responds to criticism that fake news influenced fake news election with plan to introduce outside fact checkers for articles disputed as true.
- By attempting to censor posts and weed-out false information, social media companies will be doing more of a disservice to freedom of expression than anything.
- “Rather than asking Facebook to tell truth from falsehood, shouldn’t we be spending more of our time thinking about how we reduce our reliance on one dominant social media platform for our news?”
In a world where every person with access to the internet can publish and disseminate information with the click of a button, it is often difficult to distinguish professional journalism from other publicized information. Moreover, media outlets are competing with fake and satirical news in a battle of information. In many places, this is leading to a general distrust of media as a whole. How can media address this problem of distrust? What steps are media groups and journalists taking to help the public distinguish professional, verified information and “fake news,” and are these steps working?
In the News:
- The NPR broadcast discusses a Colorado newspaper’s threat to bring a defamation claim against a Senator who called the newspaper “fake news.”
- Fact-checking organizations sign the Poynter Institute’s code of principles striving for nonpartisan and transparent fact-checking.
- Researchers suggest that exposing viewers to small doses of fake news may help viewers to identify fake news in the future by building up a resistance to disinformation, much like a vaccine works.
- Brazilian journalists, media, and researchers aim to develop protocols and tools to distinguish quality journalism from other online news.
- News organizations in France ban together to create fact-checking service to identify disinformation and fake news.
Governments around the world, notably authoritarian ones, have long criminalized the spreading of rumors, speculation, and “false news”. At the same time, some governments criminalize “spreading false news” or “false rumors”, while others are monitoring fake news or considering what actions can be taken against social media sites for propagating “fake news.” Many disseminate false reports for a variety of purposes, including fabricating social media posts for purposes of distraction. Is government regulation in some instances related to efforts to constrain access to information or shape public narratives? How can governments avoid constraining access to information and create policies that manage the spreading of disinformation?
In the News:
- Just in time for two major elections in the European Union, the EU set up an agency to counter Kremlin disinformation campaigns.
- “The Culture, Media and Sport Committee said it would investigate concerns about the public being swayed by propaganda and untruths. The inquiry will examine the sources of fake news, how it is spread and its impact on democracy.”
- The German government, looking for some method to combat fake news, suggests fining Facebook for each fake post the site allows.
- Thomas de Maizière, Federal Minister of the Interior, proposes creating an organization to combat misinformation.
- “Centre will tackle interference in upcoming election as fears grow over propaganda websites allegedly linked to Russia.”
- Censorship of online sites in India has increasingly become more abundant.
Civil society organizations have already begun to address the issue by working with those who disseminate the news. For example, the nonprofit Poynter Institute and its International Fact Checking Network is working with Facebook to identify and limit fake news. Additionally, the nonprofit newsroom Correctiv aims to “make investigative and informative journalism affordable and accessible to media organizations throughout Germany.”
What role should educational institutions play? Indiana University’s “Hoaxy,” Columbia University’s “Emergent,” and The University of Pennsylvania’s “Factcheck.org” are tools that aim to verify rumors and identify fake news. Should more institutions join in? Should different institutions form partnerships to increase their strength?
In the News:
- “We need to start serious conversations about systemic social challenges, rather than tinkering with their effects.”
- Public participation may be the best way to protect freedom of speech online against bad takedown requests.
- Fake news is a problem. Finding a solution, though, is not simple, and censorship is not the answer.
- Nonprofit “watchdog” groups see spikes in donations, partly due to concerns about the rising problem of fake news.
- “A $1 million grant from the Craig Newmark Foundation, the charitable organization established by Craigslist Founder Craig Newmark, to the Poynter Institute addresses one of the thornier dilemmas arising from the recent election—how newsrooms should identify and respond to ‘fake news.'” NFOIC