It’s been nine months since Donald Trump was elected, and I can’t believe we’re still talking about fake news! Not the fake news alleged by Trump in the media, but the original fake news, the fake news that uses social media to spread lying headlines and misleading stories. When Trump’s win was partly attributed to the popularity of fake stories denigrating Hillary Clinton, I thought “fake news” was just the new “hanging Chad.”
But fake news has persisted as a problem—in part because of Trump’s bloviation, but also because of the centrality of social media’s role in its dissemination. When, in December, Facebook changed its tune and copped to the potential influence fake news had on the election, the status of fake news as a threat was solidified. Facebook launched a variety of efforts to curb the spread of misinformation on its platform. Now, we are beginning to assess how successful those efforts have been.
In May, The Guardian reported that Facebook’s warnings were inconsistently applied, and in some cases ended up driving astronomical traffic to the worst offenders—a kind of media rubbernecking, perhaps. This week, Politico Europe reported that Facebook’s fact-checking experiments in Germany (the country is putting the most pressure on Facebook to disallow fake news) are too opaque to be useful.
Efforts to remove fake stories may be a Sisyphean game of Whack-a-Mole; as soon as you get rid of one, 10 more pop up. Another way to combat fake news may be to improve the credibility of existing content. Susan McGregor, assistant director for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, advocates at CJR for verified digital signatures on news stories. While they can’t vouch for every fact in the piece, such signatures confirm the identity of the author and the time of publication. “Although the technical challenge is substantial,” writes McGregor, “it’s also one that is important to take on, as new organizations strive to rebuild public trust and set their work apart from that of content mills and fake news factories.”
For now, fake news lives on:
- …and Trump’s rants continue. “Shouldn’t President Trump’s ‘fake news’ defense be dead by now?” asks Margaret Sullivan in her Washington Post column this week.
- CNN, which has suffered the brunt of Trump’s recent “fake news” allegations, can’t catch a break from angry Trump supporters. Digiday reported that even its mobile app got trolled with one-star reviews.
- What makes people susceptible to believing fake news? New research suggests it might be group psychology.
- As fake news moves into video (gasp), there’s a new Chrome extension for identifying fake content in these new media.
Other notable stories
- Is Silicon Valley the latest news desert? The Post reports that despite the media’s focus on the area’s industry, East Palo Alto’s community is woefully undercovered.
- Can automated news help combat the dearth of local coverage? In the UK, Google is funding a robot reporting project to scale up local news.
- FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon Jr. provides a useful reader’s guide to understanding unnamed sources, “who they are, how reporters use them, and how to tell if you should trust what they say.”
- “Thank God the brain cancer waited for the Pulitzer”: At CJR, David Holmberg profiles longtime Philadelphia Daily News editor Gar Joseph.