Fake news is not a new concept, but it has been amplified by the internet and technology ecosphere. Fake news, such as the infamous Pizzagate story, can travel halfway around the World Wide Web in first-class seats while the truth is putting on its leather journalism shoes. The proliferation – or, to load the terminology, propagation – of the black-and-white-and-read-all-over plague has a clear culprit: Facebook.
To its credit, Facebook, while stubbornly insisting it’s a tech and not a media company, and whose founder Mark Zuckerberg downplayed fake news’s effect on the presidential elections, does attempt to kill fake news on its eponymous social network in various ways, including allowing users to report it, decreasing its frequency on the feed, promoting news literacy, hiring human news curators, working with fact checkers, prioritizing personal posts over news posts, prioritizing news from user trusted sources, economically disincentivizing fake news purveyors, alerting users to disputed stories, siccing AI on fake news, giving context to articles and “reduc[ing] the visual prominence of feed stories that are fact-checked false” (I am not making this up)
There are a couple of problems with holding Facebook accountable for fake news and expecting it to solve the problem.
One is the very way social networks monetize. Thrilling, provocative and sensational pieces of mis- or disinformation equal engagement and interaction – liking, emoji-reacting, sharing, and commenting, the latter being as strong as the political emotions stirred by the fake info. Engagement is what Facebook wants, so a very engaged piece of fake gets shown more users, who also engage with it and so forth, creating an interaction positive feedback loop, which turns it into a cyberborne virus. Viral content brings a lot of traffic to Facebook (and to the sites that publish the fake news), and this in turn is translated into advertising dollars.
The other problem is asking an unprecedented global, gargantuan, commercial entity to function as a gatekeeper of news, when it is already torn between the regulation of governments, some of them tyrannical, the ire of users, who perceive the fight against fake news as censorship when it goes against their views, and its own financial and political interests.
In this episode of the Lex Cybernetica, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Cyber Security Research Center’s podcast, we will dicuss why fake news is so prevalent, how dangerous it is and how to fight it, with our guests, Prof. Barak Medina, who talks about regulating fake news, Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, who warns of the government interfering in news, and Dr. Nicholas John, who talks about how social networks are hardwired to propagate fake news, hosted by Ido Kenan.
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