It is time to create a system that will objectively review news content
Unless you live under a rock, you definitely have heard about the rapid spread of fake news across the Internet. These false news stories, intended to misinform, shock, and infuriate, are often viral. When you add advertising revenue to the equation, it is easy to understand why fake news articles are so common.
Fake news is by no means a new occurrence. From Spanish-American War yellow journalism to Cold War era propaganda, journalists (if we dare call them that) have blended truth with fiction to prop up the media industry while shifting public opinion. However, the rise of high-speed Internet and social media have completely changed the fake news landscape.
In today’s world, for-profit platforms like Breitbart and Infowars circulate bombastic headlines to people on Facebook and Twitter. These articles are often laden with outlandish claims that are not backed by sources. While spotting these fake articles may seem like a simple task, many of the readers simply do not care. This is a clear case of confirmation bias in action.
Misinforming the public with fake news has massive consequences. People vote based on news about candidates. If radicals are elected because of lies, peddlers of fake news gain the power to change the world, and democracy dies. Freedom-loving people must demand a halt to fake news to preserve the virtues of representative governance for future generations.
Inadequate Responses to Fake News
While there have been many outcries against fake news, neither the government nor tech companies have created solutions to curb fake news. Sure, Facebook and Google have altered their algorithms to stem the flow of misinformation, but this does not mean much in the grand scheme of things. This is a monumental problem that requires an equally monumental fix.
My greatest fear is that governments will use a command-and-control solution that restricts the flow of news across the Internet. This could stop the large fake news publishers, but numerous spin-offs would rise in their place. You simply cannot expect to cut off a few heads to slay the hydra. As the spin-offs emerge, governments would resort to stricter and broader policies to hinder fake news. I would not be surprised if governments desperately cast a wide net across the Internet to identify and eliminate fake news. This would also give governments ample opportunities to monopolize the fake news industry with state-run media outlets.
[For an example of how spin-offs emerge after a large site is shutdown, read about Silk Road. Silk Road 2.0, 3.0. and 3.1 rose soon after the original site was seized by the United States government. American Kingpin by Nick Bilton is a great book about the topic.]
This Internet dystopia can be avoided if entrepreneurs respond with a technology that vets news sources before they can be published on social media outlets. This market response is valuable for citizens in representative governments, and it would remove power from people who profit from deception.
An Innovative Solution?
Before you read any further, I need to share that I am not a developer by trade. I dabble in programming here and there, but the idea that I am about to propose is beyond my capabilities. Because of this, anyone with the proper skills is free to transform my ideas into realities.
The Vetting System
The main idea is this: Create a system that vets all news articles with a database of sources. This system would force anyone who wishes to share a news article on Facebook or Twitter to include citations at the bottom of their article. A program would identify these sources and check their validity by finding a match in a database of credible sources.
This process poses a new question. How will credible sources be added to the database? An algorithm of some sort will be required. Perhaps machine learning experts can create a system that analyzes articles for objective language (i.e., no slander or emotional rhetoric). These credible sources should also be able to prove an unbroken path to the source of the information. For example, a claim that the White House fired a staff member should link back to the original source (or at least sufficient details about source for fact-checking). For this system to work, we are going to need a bit more than “a credible source from the White House said…”. This will inevitably raise some concerns about informant anonymity, but that is a debate for another time.
The system should also employ a reputation system for all publishers. For example, if Infowars consistently does not provide credible sources, they will be placed on probation. If they do not correct their practices, their articles will be blocked for sharing on social media outlets. I cannot stress enough that this system does not exclusively target suspected publishers of fake news. All articles with news-style headlines will be examined by the system. Breitbart, Infowars, CNN, the Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, and other popular sources will all be examined fairly and equally with the system.
Fixing the Social Media Problem
It is important to note that this system does not ban fake news websites; it restricts their ability to share on Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter. Since most people find fake news on social media outlets instead of publisher websites, it is necessary to erect a barrier to entry. I believe that a system similar to the one proposed in this article can support the flow of accurate news. Of course, a partnership with the social media companies is required for this system to be effective.
Unfortunately, this system is also vulnerable to abuse. Clever individuals must find ways to ensure that the system does not prevent people from sharing opinions over the Internet. Perhaps additional machine learning applications can be applied to distinguish between different kinds of web content. This would ensure that blogs and editorials are not barred from social media outlets.
This is just one vision of how innovators can win the war against fake news. I challenge entrepreneurs and developers to draw inspiration from it. Market-based solutions are necessary to curb the influence of fake news while maintaining an open Internet and a free democracy.