In Who We Trust

Transparency will expose facts

Perspective by:
Research Squad
Moxi Ventures

Content becomes fake.

The sheer volume of digital information out there can be hard to comprehend. And it’s getting bigger every day. It’s changing how we share and discuss ideas. And how we produce and consume news. In fact, the news ecosystem has probably changed more radically in the last five years than it did in the previous 500. [1]

In this never-ending stream of new things, it can be hard to tell fact from fiction. A study published in Nature Human Behavior found that we’re all so distracted by the volume of updates in our news and social media feeds, that we can share misleading, distorted, or fake news without meaning to – and even if we’re actively trying not to.[2]

For some of us, the temptation to believe what we want to believe can be hard to resist. Especially when it comes to politics, religion, or social issues. And there are plenty of self-affirming social bubbles and partisan media outlets to pour fuel on the fire. We’re too ready to ignore the facts and stick to our guns when an issue cuts to the core of our personal beliefs.[3]

So fake news is down to human nature as much as anything. But social media companies know it’s a problem, and will keep looking for solutions. Instagram, for example, is cracking down on fake accounts in an attempt to diminish the influence of bots on its platform. Third-party services which create false accounts to boost follower numbers should be harder to create as a result.[4]  

But the information deluge has been harming public confidence in the media all the same. America’s trust in print media reached a record low in 2016 after years of decline from the highs of the early 1990s. But maybe the corner has been turned: 2017 saw the biggest uptick in public confidence for some time.[5]

Maybe we just have to accept that our extraordinary freedom to share ideas comes with a very painful side effect: an explosion in fake news and global distractions.

 

Misinformation spreads material harm.

Fake news is big news right now. And with good reason. Harvard University says up to a third of online reviews are made up.[6] Facebook thinks nearly one in every 12 accounts is fake.[7] And when artificial intelligence gets involved, those numbers are only going to shoot up. By 2020, the creation of counterfeit content by intelligent algorithms will outpace AI’s ability to detect it.[8] Scott Spangler, principal data scientist at IBM Watson Health, has said that technologies already exist that make fake information almost impossible to discern and flag, filter, or block.[9]

This phony news will spread real harm around the world. By 2022, it’s reckoned that a majority of individuals in mature economies will consume more false information than true information.[10] The devastating effects of this shift can already be seen. It’s there in Myanmar’s denials that attacks on Rohingya Muslims were happening. It’s there in the fabricated praise for Duterte’s drug enforcement campaigns. And it’s there in Cambodia’s crackdown on opposition voices.[11]

Maybe what’s needed is the right economic incentives to promote the truth. And with their platform that applies blockchain tokens to social news discovery, startup Userfeeds hopes to turn the page on fake news. By using blockchain to create a content audit trail, they plan to fix the broken system of elevating content through likes, upvotes, and weblinks.[12]

 

 Information will be qualified.

In the war against fake news, there’s no place for isolationism. It’s about getting stuck in at the front line. Google has started banning websites that peddle fake news from its advertising services. And Facebook has updated its policies to remove ads that show misleading or illegal content. [13]

Facebook has also teamed up with the Italian government in an initiative to help high-school students better spot fake news and conspiracy theories. In Canada, the company launched the Canadian Election Integrity Initiative to head off cyber-attacks and raise news literacy in the run up to the 2019 federal elections. The program includes a ‘cyber hygiene guide’ for political parties and a hotline for politicians concerned about hacking.[14]

Mozilla, too, is fully engaging with the fight against fake news. The Mozilla Information Trust Initiative is focused on forging partnerships and funding engineers to develop technology to combat misinformation, as well as investing in web literacy programs and research on the impact of fabricated news.[15]

And when fake news stories started emerging that the Zika virus was being caused by genetically modified seeds, Monsanto got involved with different social media tribes on Twitter and Facebook to dispel the rumor, myth, and misinformation.[16]

In the healthcare ecosystem, much of the same principles apply. The trusted providers will be those that create believable and curated content. Because in health, just like in news, truth matters.

[1] The Guardian; “How technology disrupted the truth;” posted July 12, 2016

[2] PBS; “Everyone is too distracted to stop sharing fake news, study shows;” posted June 26, 2017

[3] The New York Times; “As Fake News Spreads Lies, More Readers Shrug at the Truth;” posted December 6, 2016

[4] Business Insider UK; “Instagram is starting to crack down on fake account activity;” posted April 20, 2017

[5] Gallup; “In U.S., Confidence in Newspapers Still Low but Rising;” posted June 28, 2017

[6] WBIR; “Study: 15% to 30% of online reviews are fake;” posted September 9, 2014

[7] CNET; “Facebook: 8.7 percent are fake users;” posted August 1, 2012

[8] Gartner; “Gartner Top Strategic Predictions for 2018 and Beyond;” posted October 3, 2017

[9] Pew Internet; “The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online;” posted October 19, 2017

[10] Gartner; “Gartner Top Strategic Predictions for 2018 and Beyond;” posted October 3, 2017

[11] Forbes; “Like Trump, These Southeast Asian Countries Are Using 'Fake News' To Devastating Effect;” posted October 30, 2017

[12] TechCrunch; “Userfeeds aims to stop fake news by linking the blockchain to social content;” posted May 3, 2017

[13] The New York Times; “Google and Facebook Take Aim at Fake News Sites;” posted November 14, 2016

[14] Quartz; “Facebook is teaming up with governments to protect elections from fake news;” posted October 20, 2017

[15] Washington Examiner; “Mozilla rolls out new initiative to fight 'fake news';” posted August 9, 2017

[16] Financial Times; “Companies scramble to combat ‘fake news’;”

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