[Educator-Gold] FAKE NEWS: Lies, Propaganda and Fake News: A Challenge for our Age

 

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FAKE NEWS:

Lies, Propaganda and Fake News: A Challenge for our Age

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Lies, Propaganda and Fake News: A Challenge for our Age

By Richard Gray

1 March 2017

BBC NEWS

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/
20170301-lies-propaganda-and-fake-news-a-grand-challenge-of-our-age

OR

http://tinyurl.com/hzstugd

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Who was the first black president of America? Its a fairly simple question with a straightforward answer. Or so you would think. But plug the query into a search engine and the facts get a little fuzzy.

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When I checked Google, the first result  given special prominence in a box at the top of the page  informed me that the first black president was a man called John Hanson in 1781. Apparently, the US has had seven black presidents, including Thomas Jefferson and Dwight Eisenhower. Other search engines do little better. The top results on Yahoo and Bing pointed me to articles about Hanson as well.

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Welcome to the world of alternative facts. It is a bewildering maze of claim and counterclaim, where hoaxes spread with frightening speed on social media and spark angry backlashes from people who take what they read at face value. Controversial, fringe views about US presidents can be thrown centre stage by the power of search engines. It is an environment where the mainstream media is accused of peddling fake news by the most powerful man in the world. Voters are seemingly misled by the very politicians they elected and even scientific research – long considered a reliable basis for decisions – is dismissed as having little value.

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Take another example. In the run-up to the US presidential elections last year, a made-up story spread on social media claimed a paedophile ring involving high-profile members of the Democratic Party was operating out of the basement of a pizza restaurant in Washington DC. In early December a man walked into the restaurant – which does not have a basement – and fired an assault rifle. Remarkably, no one was hurt.

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A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center towards the end of last year found that 64% of American adults said made-up news stories were causing confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events.

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Yet Wikipedia itself – which can be edited by anyone but uses teams of volunteer editors to weed out inaccuracies – is far from perfect. Inaccurate information is a regular feature on the website and requires careful checking for anyone wanting to use it.

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For those behind the made-up stories, the ability to share them widely on social media means a slice of the advertising revenue that comes from clicks as people follow the links to their webpages. It was found that many of the stories were coming from a small town in Macedonia where young people were using it as a get-rich scheme, paying Facebook to promote their posts and reaping the rewards of the huge number visits to their websites.

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Social media sites themselves are already taking steps. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, recently spelled out his concerns about the spread of hoaxes, misinformation and polarisation on social media in a 6,000-word letter he posted online. In it he said Facebook would work to reduce sensationalism in its news feed on its site by looking at whether people have read content before sharing it. It has also updated its advertising policies to reduce spam sites that profit off fake stories, and added tools to let users flag fake articles.

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Other tech giants also claim to be taking the problem seriously. Apples Tim Cook recently raised concerns about fake news, and Google says it is working on ways to improve its algorithms so they take accuracy into account when displaying search results. Judging which pages on the web best answer a query is a challenging problem and we dont always get it right, says Peter Barron, vice president of communications for Europe, Middle East and Asia at Google.

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When non-authoritative information ranks too high in our search results, we develop scalable, automated approaches to fix the problems, rather than manually removing these one by one. We recently made improvements to our algorithm that will help surface more high quality, credible content on the web. Well continue to change our algorithms over time in order to tackle these challenges.

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This idea of helping break through the isolated information bubbles that many of us now live in comes up again and again. By presenting people with accurate facts it should be possible to at least get a debate going. But telling people what is true and what is not does not seem to work. For this reason, IBM shelved its plans for a fact-checker.

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There is a large proportion of the population in the US living in what we would regard as an alternative reality, says Lewandowsky. They share things with each other that are completely false. Any attempt to break through these bubbles is fraught with difficulty as you are being dismissed as being part of a conspiracy simply for trying to correct what people believe. It is why you have Republicans and Democrats disagreeing over something as fundamental as how many people appear in a photograph.

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One approach Lewandowsky suggests is to make search engines that offer up information that may subtly conflict with a users world view. Similarly, firms like Amazon could offer up films and books that provide an alternative viewpoint to the products a person normally buys.

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Search algorithms are as flawed as the people who develop them, says Alexios Mantzarlis, director of the International Fact-Checking Network. We should think about adding layers of credibility to sources. We need to tag and structure quality content in effective ways.

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Mantzarlis believes part of the solution will be providing people with the resources to fact-check information for themselves. He is planning to develop a database of sources that professional fact-checkers use and intends to make it freely available.

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But what if people dont agree with official sources of information at all? This is a problem that governments around the world are facing as the public views what they tell them with increasing scepticism.

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Ultimately, however, theres an uncomfortable truth we all need to address. When people say they are worried about people being misled, what they are really worried about is other people being misled, says Resnick. Very rarely do they worry that fundamental things they believe themselves may be wrong. Technology may help to solve this grand challenge of our age, but it is time for a little more self-awareness too.

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The complete article may be read at the URL above.

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Sincerely,
David Dillard
Temple University
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jwne@temple.edu
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[Educator-Gold] FAKE NEWS: Lies, Propaganda and Fake News: A Challenge for our Age

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