By David Nagrosst | Not every crime writer is a criminal, said Lionel Shriver, nor is every author who writes on sexual assault a rapist. “Fiction, by its very nature is fake.”
Yet how many of us query, question and judge when confronted by blogs, images, videos on our feed, on our alerts.
When we chuckle along, we clearly reinforce and legitimise something, even though it may be fake; we share it because it is entertainment, because it’s easier to laugh at something, go along with that and forget about it.
Protestantism – The Twitter Of 1500s
“A new technology emerges that allows people to spread information to massive groups of people faster than ever before. While it’s used to promote new ways of thinking and believing, it also helps to incite fear and anger to amplify a cause” – University of Toronto.
A familiar scenario but here, it refers to an incident that took place more than 500 years ago – the Protestant Reformation. Cheap, small pamphlets rendered the Church no longer in control of information. Sure, a multitude of interpretations abounded, some buccaneering for sure, confusion but there was also, rigorous questioning of previously accepted facts.
Fake News In ASEAN
Misinformation has always been with us, but the difference today is how we get our information. The internet makes it possible for so many voices to be heard, to be easily accessible, directly, globally – the barriers that once existed to be published, to be heard on the radio or seen on TV, have been greatly reduced.
Has this been a boon or bane for journalism?
Take 1MDB in Malaysia, which has been – and is currently being – investigated in at least six countries for money-laundering and misappropriation of funds, including an alleged US$681 million transfer into recently ousted Prime Minister Najib Razak’s personal account. The US Department of Justice filed several lawsuits to seize more than US$1.7 billion in assets believed to have been stolen.
The former Prime Minister denies any wrongdoing and his government in retaliation suspended media and blocked websites that position him in a terrible light regarding 1MDB and he launched a website to counter “fake news”.
Is that real fake news, or fake fake news?
WWW’s Double-edged Sword
How engaged are people as individuals and as citizens?
Interestingly, a survey was done – citizens who used the internet for news and political information were more likely to express greater criticism about their country’s autocratic political institutions and leaders. Therefore, they expected greater democratic reforms.
Engaging with citizens in a different method, the internet can actually harm democratization efforts. People as a whole, who spent more of their online time engaging with entertainment content, were more satisfied with living under autocratic conditions. These people were happy with the current situation and were uninspired, uninterested by the prospects of a different life, by freedom.
Vocal online political use seems to enhance democratic attitudes, while online use for entertainment rooted and deeply ingrains authoritarian acceptance.
The Glocal Disruptor
False information disrupts, as shown by the false narratives in the 2016 US presidential election and the British referendum on European Union membership.
The nature of the modern culture of communications, and to be more precise the business models of major technology and advertising companies, has been the front and centre of the issue – social media has transformed the way we buy and sell; how we work and live our lives; and, naturally, how we discuss and practice our politics and influencing our decision on the types of news to consume.
Managed and controlled by a small number of global conglomerates like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Tencent Holdings that harvest personal data from internet users and target selling of products and services to customers and advertisers on a scale and precision, never seen before.
Using sophisticated algorithms, bots and various systems fed by virtually limitless data banks, providing personal access to millions of subscribers, this business model thrives on ‘viral eyeball information’ delivering enough clicks to convert an ad, thought leadership piece into a sale.
It matters not whether the information is true or honest, or whether it has public purpose; what counts is that it is provocative and stimulating enough to attract attention.
With Knowledge Comes Power
While it is incredible that any form of information can circumvent the globe in seconds, it is easy to see how ‘platforming’ and cyberbullying can occur with very real consequences. However, in silencing and policing the news sites, would we be able to still have an informed debate about anything under the sun and have a less distorted understanding of the world as it stands?
Most people get their information from just a few platforms and the increasing sophistication of algorithms that draw upon rich pools of personal data for political campaigning, adverts, etc.
Few understand the threats and risks to democracy when harvested data is used unconstructively – the thrust of the issue lies in little to no distinguishing between high-quality sources such as professional, ethical journalism and people and groups generating hate-speech, or those who circulate and stream disturbing images of brutal inhumanity to get a point across.
The use of algorithms and robotic techniques to manage and distribute information regularly gets the big tech companies into major trouble – case in point: censorship by Facebook of an iconic Vietnam War era photograph – taken down by the company’s robots because of its depiction of child nudity.
All around the world, media companies struggle to maintain professional journalism – the economic costs are too high, coupled with the economic transformation of the media market where technology companies have sliced off the income previously lining the pockets of public journalism.
Where Is The Range Of Voices?
The inventor of the World Wide Web (WWW), Sir Tim Berners-Lee used the 28th anniversary of the web to speak out:
“One source suggests that in the 2016 US election, as many as 50,000 variations of adverts were being served every single day on Facebook, a near-impossible situation to monitor,” he wrote. “And there are suggestions that some political adverts – in the US and around the world – are being used in unethical ways – to point voters to fake news sites, for instance… Is that democratic?”
Fake News Spreads Faster Than Facts
In a recent study conducted over a 10-year period analyzing 3 million users’ tweets containing 126,00 stories, as reported by Robison Meyer of the Atlantic, “the truth simply cannot compete with hoax and rumor.”
Alarming social scientists, the study found that “a false story reaches 1,500 people six times quicker, on average, than a true story does. And while false stories outperform the truth on every subject – including business, terrorism and war, science and technology, and entertainment – fake news about politics regularly does best.”
Interestingly, the reason why this occurs seems to be human nature and not just related to bots or malicious actors.
Clicks Before Content
The new culture of communications is one in which truth and honesty are obscured by fake news, bigotry and malicious lies; where the threat of democracy looms large. Plus, it legitimises a political space that encourages ignorance, uncertainty and fear in the minds of voters. These realities raise bigger questions about fake news that not only concern the future of journalism, but also the nature of democracy itself.
People are now targeted, hunted like game. The sophisticated techniques used to promote political advertising is probably unethical and unfair. Rather like trophy hunting, only we are the game, devoured back into the system time and time again.
Are we mindless? It’s a question worth asking at every level of politics or about products being pushed by marketers alike.
There are solutions to fix this war by using technology and machine learning.
Create a new not-for-profit newsworthy site where freelance reporters can write using valid sources and trusted editors can edit and the community can validate and publish. Reputation scores are given by other trusted members first seeded by trusted reputable journalists.
A system of trust is put in place but it is not the only way the system policies the trustworthiness of the content. Another is an AI that consumes the sources (when available) of the written article to automatically cross-validate. When sources are not available another reporter or editor is chosen at random to peer review.
The system can be self-funded through cheap local mainstreet style ads and paid to the content creators, editors, publishers and hosting. The purpose of such a system is to eliminate bias and for-profit motives, but provide a good living to authors and editors.
While it is true that Wikinews has been around for more than a decade, the traction is quite limited in comparison to paid reports/editors of commercial news sites. There may exist an opportunity for a model between commercial news and completely free, an Uber-ization of news so to speak that can generate a wider voice and give local/freelance reporters/editors a platform to earn while the company itself does not seek a profit.
Develop representative democracy online where potential voters can create a profile and validated for uniqueness by GPS coordinates and phone number to make sure they are real. Voters then can create policy and engage others within their municipality, state, nation and push for votes, amendments, etc that would then give guidance to lawmakers that represent them.
The system can also pull the voting records to determine if the representatives they elected are voting aligned to what the people want. This would add a huge amount of transparency to government and enable regular people to engage with and play a larger role in their government.
While there are change.org and petition sites that function very well for specific causes, there seems to be no alignment and integration or the causes taken up and voting records of the elected officials to function as a check on local, state, and country governments.
Ideally, we would be able to develop a platform that links causes to voting in elected officials to policy creation and validation of represented officials voting record in an elegant visual way so people can see action – not just a bunch of empty words and legal jargon.
About The Author
David Nagrosst is VP of Bus Development at Green Eyes Capital, an exceptional APAC Tech Sales Leader and CISSP Qualified IT Security Expert with 20+ years demonstrable experience in business, sales and providing IT Security, Cloud, and Datacenter Solutions to organizations from startups to Fortune 150. He is also an international keynote and workshop speaker, and a member of AmCham Singapore. David is committed to developing, testing and continually creating new methods to drive efficiency, cost-saving, growth and profit alongside innovative technical expertise.