Radio Berkman 238: Fake News & How To Stop It
Even before Election Day, 2016, observers of technology & journalism were delivering warnings about the spread of fake news. Headlines like “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump For President” and “Donald Trump Protestor Speaks Out, Was Paid $3500 To Protest” would pop up, seemingly out of nowhere, and spread like wildfire.
Both of those headlines, and hundreds more like them, racked up millions of views and shares on social networks, gaining enough traction to earn mentions in the mainstream press. Fact checkers only had to dig one layer deeper to find that the original publishers of these stories were entirely fake, clickbait news sites, making up false sources, quotes, and images, often impersonating legitimate news outlets, like ABC, and taking home thousands of dollars a month in ad revenue. But by that time, the damage of fake news was done - the story of the $3500 protestor already calcified in the minds of the casual news observer as fact.
It turns out that it’s not enough to expect your average person to be able to tell the difference between news that is true and news that seems true. Unlike the food companies who create the products on our grocery shelves, news media are not required by law to be licensed, inspected, or bear a label of ingredients and nutrition facts, not that they should or could be.
But the gatekeepers of news media that we encounter in the digital age - the social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, search engines like Google, and content hosts like YouTube - could and should be pitching in to help news consumers navigate the polluted sea of content they interact with on a daily basis.
That’s according to Berkman Klein Center co-founder Jonathan Zittrain and Zeynep Tufekci, a techno-sociologist who researches the intersection of politics, news, and the internet. They joined us recently to discuss the phenomenon of fake news and what platforms can do to stop it.
Facebook and Google have recently instituted to processes to remove fake news sites from their ad networks. And since this interview Facebook has also announced options allowing users to flag fake news, and a partnership with the factchecking website Snopes to offer a layer of verification on questionable sites.