Trust Project to Crackdown on Fake News, Reviews, and Robots

trust in media

In an effort to rebuild trust among users, search and social media companies have partnered with traditional media companies to crackdown on fabricated news, fake reviews, and robot accounts. With the help of social and search giants Facebook, Google and Twitter, ten media companies – including The Washington Post, The Economist, the Independent Journal Review, Mic, and publishers in Canada, Italy and Germany – are rolling out the Trust Project. News officials hope that this approach will reverse America’s historically low confidence in the news media.

There are categories of folks who really do want to be informed, but they’re having a hard time being able to tell what’s trustworthy or not. – Sally Lehrman, Senior Director of Journalism Ethics at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

The new system of Trust Indicators will signal that an organization abides by a certain set of standards. In the process of developing these indicators, interviews were conducted with news consumers to figure out what kinds of aspects made newspapers more or less credible.

I just want news I can trust. I want to be able to open up a newspaper and not have to think about is this biased or false. – Craig Newmark, Trust Project Co-Founder

The eight trust indicators identified by the project can be independently applied to any story. They include categorizing the type of content (separating out opinion, analysis and sponsored content); indicating the presence of citations and references for in-depth stories; showing if a story is locally sourced; and showing whether a newsroom that produces a particular piece of journalism promotes diverse perspectives.

In addition to a “Trust” logo that is showcased on a newspaper’s website, the eight tags indicating a story’s various aspects are machine-readable and are able to appear on Facebook, Twitter and Google. As well, Microsoft’s Bing has agreed to use the trust indicators in some way.

Dangers To Society Posed By The Dissemination Of Fake News

dangers posed by fake news

With regards to the dangers posed by fake news, society’s safety is currently being compromised by a sense of confusion and misinformation about the origins and true nature of the threat. The seriousness of the distribution of misinformation disguised as news cannot be overestimated.

The flames of fake news swiftly carried on the winds of social and other media can destroy our society. – Robert W. Janke, Professor of Education at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, USA

There are a growing number of examples of the dangers posed by fake news stories, that range from intentional misstatement of facts, to outright lies, and conspiracy theories. In fact, we have also experienced foreign governments conducting cyber attacks and successfully disseminating fake news to destabilize Western society. Fake news has contributed to a concentration of voters with a particular worldview and a disregard for other viewpoints, no matter how factual or well-reasoned they are.

In 1987, the Federal Communications Commission eliminated The Fairness Doctrine, which required media to provide equivalent time to differing views. Some news outlets then began to adopt a business model that provided cost-effective advertising, with focus upon a target or niche group of citizens. As a result, they only reported news that confirmed a particular set of preexisting beliefs and demonized differing views. The Fairness Doctrine offered a system of balanced information, and should be restored.

Society has arrived at a time when people call legitimate news media “fake news” and even “an enemy of the people.” Others use the term liberally to describe any information they disagree with. The truth is that we all have biases and beliefs that may distort our perceptions of news. The greatest challenge may be for each of us to have the courage to objectively evaluate the news and, when presented with better information, be willing to change our opinions and decisions.

Facebook Fake News Solution is a Human Fact-Checking Effort

fact checking facebook

A few days after President Donald Trump’s November 2016 election win, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg discounted the notion that fake news had swayed voters. But, as it became clear that some fake political stories had received more traffic on Facebook than work from traditional outlets, Zuckerberg said he would “prioritize fixing it.” His main solution thus far has been a fact-checking effort.

In early 2017, Facebook contracted (for one year) PolitiFact, Snopes, ABC News, factcheck.org, and the Associated Press, to identify fake news on its social network. The biggest challenge has been that third-party fact checkers can only tackle a small fraction of the bogus news stories that flood Facebook feeds. In fact, it is a process that some partners say is too cumbersome and inefficient to stop misinformation duplicating and spreading.

There are whole hosts of copycats that spread a story. By the time we’ve done that process it’s probably living in 20 other places in some way, shape or form. – Aaron Sharockman, Executive Director of PolitiFact

An inside look at Facebook’s fact-checking operation suggests that the small-scale, human approach is unlikely to control a problem that’s still growing and spreading globally. At the moment, the fact-checking sites sometimes have to debunk the same story multiple times. Facebook has said it is working on adding two new partners to help with the workload.

Facebook argued that paying outside firms helped address the problem without making the social network the arbiter of what is true or untrue. Moreover, Facebook expects this manual fact-checking work to help the company improve its algorithm over time. Doing so will make it better at automatically spotting patterns and determining what stories might be worth showing, even before they’re flagged by users.

Looking to the future, Facebook announced its plans to provide further updates on progress before the end of 2017, and to begin communicating more frequently with fake news partners in 2018.

What Happens When Investors Believe Fake News?

when investors believe fake news

Investors are subject to the same sorts of biases and cognitive errors that people who consume political news are. However, there is a significant difference between these two types of people when they consume fake news: Investors have a fast and measurable feedback loop, which comes in the form of investment returns, that penalizes those who believe things that are not true. On the other hand, those who are not investing endure nothing more than the occasional shock of being proven wrong.

The iPhone 7 is a great real-world example. Shortly after the September 2016 introduction, stories began to circulated that initial sales of the phone were disappointing. As it turns out, that reporting was an example of bias, untrue, fake news. Sales of the iPhone7 were great and, since that time, the company’s shares have gained more than 50 percent. The penalty for those who were inclined to believe the fake news was an expensive, missed investing opportunity.

Also, consider what happens when investors believe an upbeat fake news story that turns out to be false. Look no further than the stories of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. and Theranos Inc., each was a costly disaster for investors.

News is hardly new. The vast majority of it is backward-looking, informing you as to what has happened already. Investing is about what is going to happen; what’s occurred in the past may be of interest, but it’s hardly germane to the investment process. Indeed, by the time the news is “out,” it already has been built into the stock price. – Barry Ritholtz

Sadly, the amount of useless news and misinformation seems to be as high as ever. This poses a danger to the investment community. Investors have a very strong incentive for not getting taken in by fake, misleading news and, as such, must remain vigilant in their pursuit of the truth.

Some People’s Use of Freedom of Speech is Harmful

free speech conditions apply

Many people forget that freedom of thinking and speech, includes the freedom to have the wrong opinion and to make mistakes in appreciating events. This means that people are free to share their version of the facts, as interpreted by them. The ability to speak, write, and publish freely is incredibly important for dialogue and consensus, as well as assisting in the search for the truth.

Some freedom of speech, whether fake news or bad reviews, can be very harmful. As a society we must determine out how to suppress or hold people liable. For speech that is libelous and that causes a threat to individuals, for example a troll attack that encourage violence, there are already existing laws that can be used to go after the perpetrators. But speech that incite hate and violence is a new phenomenon.

If unchecked, fake news cultivates a culture of lying. If purveyors are allowed to get away with their lies, they embolden government officials to also lie in order to escape accountability, crush dissent, and commit illegal acts with impunity. If fake news is not challenged, it will create lynch mobs out of certain people, turning them into an army of character assassins, who can be unleashed, with just one meme, to destroy an idea, a person, or an institution. – U.S. Senator Grace Poe

The challenge for individuals is to identify the differences between an opinion and fake news. Tony La Viña has suggested that the valid test for taking action against fake news should continue to be the “classic clear and present danger test.” To determine this, ask important questions, such as: What is the harm created by fake news? How serious is that harm to society? What is the least intrusive (to personal freedom) approach to prevent that harm? We also have to ask, that while it is the role of each individual to vet sources and check facts, what is the role of the government in addressing the lack of news literacy?

Both news and opinion should be based on the truth, but there is usually more conflict in the latter precisely because of the fact that one’s opinion is based mainly on feelings and beliefs. While there might be only one set of facts that could be reported, there could be different interpretations of these same facts.

While not perfect, traditional media does employ common and accepted journalistic methods of fact checking and verification, editing of content and language, procedures for getting the other side of the story, allowing for publication of replies, and procedures for issuing erratums and apologies. Some newspapers even have ombudspersons and reader’s advocates that monitor the work of their reporters and writers. But, regardless of how objective a person may purport to be, she or he brings her own biases in writing and/or editing her or his stories.

Hellenic Shipping News Spurs Investors to Make Bad Investment

hellenic shipping fake news

Time and again this publication has cautioned investors about relying on the advice of financial advisers. In most instances, as with the article by Alexis Assadi we reported on earlier, the money manager or adviser has an ulterior motive and misinformed investors. In this article, found in Hellenic Shipping News, the anonymous author (perhaps not even a financial adviser) has been paid to recommend that investment-seekers buy shares in a company called Toll Holdings, or Toll Group.

To demonstrate what terrible investment advice this is, we investigated Toll Holdings to expose the truth. This is what we uncovered …

Headquartered in Australia, Toll Group is part of Japan Post, a Japanese state-owned conglomerate. Japan Post bought the group as part of an attempt to catapult itself into the realm of global logistics. Instead, it has had to contend with what it says is weakening demand for logistics services, due to a slower Australian economy.

It was in February of 2015 that Japan Post made a A$6.5 billion cash takeover bid for the company. The purchase of Toll was completed a few months before the $12 billion IPO of Japan Post Holdings. The Japan Post IPO was pitched toward retail investors — stressing both the rock-solid reliability of the Japan Post brand and the newly globalised profile acquired through the Toll purchase. The IPO is estimated to have lured hundreds of thousands of Japanese families into the stock market for the first time. That same group of unsuspecting investors saw their Japan Post shares trade (for extended periods) below the IPO price of ¥1,400 per share.

Following the completion of the Toll purchase, Japan Post Holdings said it would report a Y40 billion ($360 million) loss for its first full financial year as a listed company, due to losses from Toll Holdings. The forecast loss at Japan Post arises from a ¥400.3 billion write-down of Toll Holdings, which the company deemed necessary after it was discovered that goodwill exceeded the original estimate and that Toll Holdings’ performance failed to live up to expectations. As a result, Japan Post is now writing off all the goodwill on its books for Toll — about $4.5 billion worth — and taking a further $400 million hit on the value of the Toll trademark and fixed assets.

Making matters worse for Japan Post, Toll’s operating income tumbled to $83 million between April and December of 2016, down more than two-thirds on the same period in 2015. In mid-2017, amid the continued losses, Toll Holdings Limited had to move quickly to implement changes recommended in an urgent 100-day strategy review. The recommendations in the report aimed to reduce Toll’s operational business units and eliminate 1700 jobs, mostly in Australia. The total job loss equates to approximately 4 per cent of Toll’s global workforce.

The Toll write-off has wiped out Japan Post’s earnings for the past year and dragged the Japanese conglomerate into the red to a total of ¥40 billion ($480 million) — its first loss since privatisation a decade ago. Japan Post had previously forecast a full-year net profit of ¥320 billion.

If investors were to follow the investing advice of the Hellenic Shipping News’ article and invest in Toll Holdings, the fake news and comments could have cost them a significant amount of money; just as it cost Japan Post a significant amount of money. This is once again an example of why investors need to beware of people offering investment advice. Their intentions may be self-serving and motivated by something other than helping others and encouraging financial success.

Facebook and U.S. Government Partner To Fight Disinformation

facebook fight fake news

On November 19th, 2016 in Lima, Peru, the former President of the United States – Barack Obama – warned Mark Zuckerberg about the infiltration of fake news on the Facebook social network. Obama made a personal appeal to Zuckerberg to take the threat of fake news and political disinformation seriously. Unless Facebook and the government did more to address the threat, Obama warned, it would only get worse in the next presidential race. Zuckerberg told Obama at that time that there was “no easy fix.”

To its credit, Facebook did make efforts to shore up its own systems, without impinging on free discourse for its users around the world. That said though, some critics say Facebook dragged its feet, and is acting only now because of outside political pressure.

There’s been a systematic failure of responsibility. It’s rooted in their overconfidence that they know best, their naivete about how the world works, their extensive effort to avoid oversight, and their business model of having very few employees so that no one is minding the store. – Zeynep Tufekci, Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

According to reports, Facebook initially discovered elements of the Russian misinformation operation in June of 2016, and notified the FBI. However, efforts to address and fix the problem stalled as the company and government officials struggled to diagnose and fix the problem. For months leading up to the vote, Obama and his top aides quietly toiled over how to respond to Russia’s brazen intervention on behalf of the Donald Trump campaign, without making matters worse.

Like officials in the U.S. government, Facebook did not foresee the strong wave of disinformation that was about to hit social media, or the political attention that would follow. Under pressure from U.S. officials, the social network has turned over more than 3,000 politically themed Facebook advertisements to Congress, that are suspected to have been purchased by Russian operatives.

The issue of fake news has forced Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies to weigh their core values, including freedom of speech, against the problems created when malevolent actors use those same freedoms to broadcast messages of violence, hate and disinformation.

3 Recommendations On How To Expose And Combat Misinformation

expose misinformation

In this age of “fake news,” falsehoods being quickly spread online are in need of quick debunking. After spending decades trying to understand how misinformation spreads, researchers have a better understanding of how to effectively debunk fake news. Based on the findings of recent experiments and research, here are three broad recommendations on how to expose and combat misinformation.

  1. Limit Arguments Supporting Misinformation
  2. Encourage Scrutiny
  3. Present New Information

Limit Arguments Supporting Misinformation

Researchers discovered that rehashing arguments in favor of misinformation can inadvertently reinforce it, strengthening the defense against the truth. This is especially true when the lie offers a simpler explanation than the truth.

Encourage Scrutiny

When debunking fake news, it is useful to get the audience in a skeptical mindset. It is also helpful to make the audience feel engaged with the skepticism. Just labeling the theory “false” is not as convincing to people who believe it as walking them through the reasons it cannot be true.

You lead them down the garden path, rather than do all the work for them. – Dolores Albarracín, Professor of Psychology, Business, and Medicine at the University of Illinois

Present New Information

Contributing new and credible information is especially effective in unseating fake news. New information allows people to revisit and update their understanding of events, justifying why they fell for the falsehood in the first place. New research published in the summer of 2017 found that videos could be especially useful in correcting misinformation. Fact-checking videos seemed to “increase attention and reduce confusion” when compared with text content.

As a society we are more commonly using the words “fake news.” To combat the rise of misinformation, it is important to show how it happens, where it comes from, and show how fake news is generated, why it is generated and how it is used as a political weapon.

Europe Addresses Russian Media Spreading Disinformation

russia media outlets fake news

There is increasing evidence that Russia is automating disinformation on social media and the West is failing to get control of Russian hacking and fake news distribution. The Russian tactics have been described as ”very systematic and a new way to spread propaganda among young people.” The concern is not just that Russian media outlets spread disinformation, It is also the automated algorithms, known as bots, that help false reports go viral much faster than politicians or fact-checkers can debunk them.

If you have hacking, fake news with a purpose, it is very difficult to react. We can find out what happened, but it is very difficult to prove. The whole law in this area needs addressing. – Edgars Rinkēvičs, Latvian Foreign Minister

Speaking on a visit to London, Latvian Foreign Minister brought attention to new NATO-sponsored research showing more than five times the number of Russian language tweets sent in Latvia concerning NATO came from bot accounts, instead of from individuals. The figure in Estonia was nine times as many.

In answer to the growing concern over fake news, German parliament passed a law at the end of June 2017 that will impose fines worth upwards of $50 million on Facebook, Google, and other social media companies that do not promptly remove what they deem to be “illegal content.” The European Union has also created an office devoted to debunking fake news, fake comments, fake reviews, and Russian propaganda. The Czech Republic has set up a police agency to monitor social media for disinformation and other “hybrid threats.”

Mr. Rinkēvičs urged U.S. Congress to press ahead with its inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. He believes that it is essential for all U.S allies to understand the mechanics of how to organize a cyber attack and then use it as an information weapon to influence people’s opinions.

Fake News, Fake Reviews Could Irreparably Tarnish Credibility

investor investment reviews comments

It is sometimes easy to forget that there is news that is fake, as in made up, manufactured, blatantly untrue. It is also tempting to dismiss the impact that fake news has on those who read it. Most people do not stop to consider the contributions fake comments and reviews make to this.

Awards and rankings have always been manipulated to some extent, but now that ranking is so often algorithmic and uncurated, the system can more easily – and, similarly, algorithmically – be gamed. The algorithmic world that we live in has turned so many measures into targets, and by doing so ruined them. “#1 Best-Selling” books are a great example.

In this post-truth age, it has become more common for authors to try and buy their way onto the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Amazon bestseller lists. Likewise, others try to target books they disapprove of with “review abuse,” i.e. a fake negative review. Just like fake news, it has become an arms race between the genuine and the fake.

Researchers have used AI to develop software that can write extremely believable fake online reviews. This is a major threat to websites like Amazon who rely heavily on them. Perhaps more dangerously, it hints at a worrying future where AI is capable of writing sophisticated texts, undermining public trust and spreading fake news.

In general, the threat is bigger. I think the threat towards society at large and really disillusioned users and to shake our belief in what is real and what is not, I think that’s going to be even more fundamental. – Ben Zhao, Researcher, University of Chicago

For many people, online reviews are their first stop when looking for a product or service. As such, they have become the lifeblood for many businesses. And, because of this, businesses like Google and Facebook are constantly on the lookout for unfair or fake reviews, planted by disgruntled rivals or angry customers.

Fake news and fake reviews are an all too real example of a problem growing all over the world. Fake news. Fake science. Fake credentials. Fake skills. People game, fake, or outright invent measurements of all kinds, whether they be verifiable facts and statistics, social media connections, degrees, or accomplishments. Allowed to rise unchecked, fake news, fake comments, and fake reviews could irreparably tarnish the credibility of news and product/service reviews, as well as have far broader and more worrying implications for society.