The US election of 2016 in which Trump became president of the united states shed a light on fake news. Those are stories written similar in style to real news, but with faked content. One example of fake news is that Pope Francis supports Trump as a candidate.[Koe03] Another example is that Denzel Washington supports Trump.[Bum16]
So fake news is used to manipulate people. They can be completely imaginary, but they might get shared millions of times. And they might have had a significant influence in the last US election.
Now people are demanding from Facebook to "do something" against the spread of Fake news. Facebook is giving users the possibility to report fake news. If enough people reported a link as fake news, a human reviewer fact-checks it. If the reviewer decides it is fake, then users get warned before they view such content.[Ohl16]
However, this approach has many problems:
- Speed: Facebook might have problems to identify fake news before it gets viral
- Quality: What if the reviewers make mistakes?
- Power: Do we want to rely on Facebook for this?
I argue that fake news is just a symptom of an underlying problem which isn't addressed by anybody so far: News organizations don't give checkable sources and we don't demand it.
What we should do
Be skeptical. Ask for sources. Ask: "Why should I trust you?"
The first and most important part is probably the author of an article. If an article does not have an author, it is probably fake.
Even if there is a name, it might be imaginary. So we need a way to validate it. One way to do that is the following procedure:
- Author pages: Authors should have webpages. This does not necessarily mean they host it; there are plenty of services where you can put stuff about yourself online. For researchers, there is ORCiD, for journalists LinkedIn might be a reasonable choice.
- Links to author pages: The name of the author in a news article should link to the author page.
- Backlinks: The author page has to contain a link to every single article.
- Microformats: This is a technical bit. Microformats like hnews allow semantic tagging of content. This means we can write programs to extract meaning from webpages. For example, it is possible to tag which part of the page contains the name of the author. Or to make clear to simple programs that the page is a news page. This kind of semantic tagging makes it possible to automatically check if the minimal quality / trust criteria are met.
How does this help? Well, first of all you would know not only one article of the author, but all articles of the author. Second, the author wants to make himself as trustworthy as possible. In networks like LinkedIn, this might be possible by having endorsements or connections which seem trustworthy.
Demand Sources and Details
This one is for the "reputable" news organizations. Most newspapers barely give any references / sources for statements in their articles.
As an example, I had a look at the first article of the Washington post (The oil and gas industry is quickly amassing power in Trump’s Washington). Lets see which claims they make for which I would expect a source:
- After eight years of being banished and sometimes vilified by the Obama administration
- ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson is Trump’s nominee to be secretary of state
- “It feels like the grizzly bear in ‘The Revenant’ has been suddenly pulled off our chest,” said Luke Popovich
- George H.W. Bush, who co-founded and ran Zapata Oil
- “I think there’s a level to which the puppeteers have become the actors, a change unprecedented in its breadth,” said Dan Becker
Those are only the first few where I think sources should be added. It is not enough to say "said Luke Popovich". In this case I'm not sure if they spoke themselves with Luke Popovich (then I'd expect a note that he was interviewed by one of the authors) or if it was a public statement. Also: When exactly did he say so? In this case it might not be too important, but there might be many where it is.
Demanding sources as well as details like when a statement was made by whom and how or in which context is crucial.
By the way, we should not only ask for sources when journalists or newspapers make statements. Also when politicians do so. Just like Trevor Noah suggest to adapt to Donald Trump's Lies.
Build a Journalists Network
Currently, it is harder than necessary to check the reputation of a journalist.
I suggest we should built a web service which allows journalists and news
organizations to create public profiles. News organizations can say who they
currently trust and journalists can do so as well. Probably only for certain
topics such as
Every journalist can add articles to their profile. The articles have to contain a link to the same page to make sure they don't claim credit for something they don't deserve it for.
Every news article has its own page. The page allows comments / clarifications to be made as well as adding links to related articles.
Everybody can register, endorse journalists / articles and add friends. By this network, a trust score is calculated. For example, PageRank or Matrix completion algorithms could be used to complete the trustworthiness which you didn't directly assign.
Relation to Fake News
You might wonder how this is related to fake news. Well, imagine if journalists would add their sources to every statement. Imagine you could check an authors reputation as easy as I described it. Do you really think it would be that simple to create blatantly fake news as we have it nowadays?
No. We would look at it, miss the sources and close the news. Probably within seconds.
What I described in this article is a long-term solution for the problem of lies and propaganda. More immediate responses are described in We built a Twitter bot that replies to people who share fake news:
- Bullshit detector: A Chrome extension that warns users about unreliable news
- Fake News Monitor: A Chrome extension which gives websites a score for trustworthiness
- [Evo16] Dan Evon. Nope Francis. Snopes.com, 24.07.2016. (Source)
- [Bum16] Philip Bump. Denzel Washington endorsed Trump, according to AmericaNews, Breitbartt, USANewsHome — and Facebook. Washington Post, 14.11.2016. (Source)
- [Ohl16] Abby Ohlheiser. Mark Zuckerberg outlines Facebook’s ideas to battle fake news. Washington Post, 19.11.2016. (Source)