Do lawmakers get to decide what is, or is not, fake news?

The real challenge for democracies around the world is to decide who determines what is – or is not- fake news? At the moment, legislators are taking the leading role in deciding. This, for one, has had unsettling repercussions in Europe.

In January of 2018, a German satirical magazine’s Twitter account was blocked after it parodied anti-Muslim comments. Titanic magazine was mocking Beatrix von Storch, a member of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, who accused police of trying “to appease the barbaric, Muslim, rapist hordes of men” by posting a tweet in Arabic. Twitter briefly suspended the magazine’s account and prosecutors are examining if the comments amount to incitement to hatred.

A private company based in the United States decides the boundaries of freedom of the press and opinion in Germany. – Frank Ueberall, DJV Chairman

It is assumed that these actions were a direct result of a law that came into full effect on January 1, 2018. The new law can impose fines of up to 50 million euros ($60 million) on social media sites that fail to remove hate speech [and fake news] promptly. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms are scrambling to adapt to the law, and its implementation is being closely watched after warnings that the threat of fines could prompt websites to block more content than necessary. It would seem that Twitter, for one, has become less even-handed in its approach to free speech.

Many of the violations covered by the bill are highly dependent on context, context which platforms are in no position to assess. – David Kaye, the U.N. Special Rapporteur to the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Association of German Journalists (DJV) said the Twitter move [against the Titanic magazine] amounted to censorship, adding that the organization had warned law-makers of impending danger when the law was created in 2017.

Essentially, democrats are using very undemocratic means to “protect” democracy. This is unsettling because only authoritarian regimes try to control what the truth is.

Alexis Assadi Uses Fake News To Lure People To His Services

Apple CEO Tim Cook has a dire warning about the effects of fake news.

We are going through this period of time right here where unfortunately some of the people that are winning are the people that spend their time trying to get the most clicks, not tell the most truth.

He added that these faux reports are “killing people’s minds in a way.”

One such instance of fake news, written is an article written by a 26 year old amateur “investor, writer, and entrepreneur” named Alexis Assadi. Aside from this, Mr. Assadi is also what members of the Internet community commonly refer to as a “troll.”

A “troll” is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community – such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog – with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response, often for the troll’s benefit. – Wikipedia

Moreover, Alexis Assadi is nothing more than a hired gun who will attack his competitors, or the competitors of the companies he is hired by. One of his most popular tactics is to spread false, misleading information – more commonly known as fake news, in exchange for compensation. Dangerously, this unsubstantiated, fake information forms the shaky foundation for Alexis’ hypothesis about Davenport Laroche.

Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially. Often, the author will use sensationalist, exaggerated, or blatantly false headlines to grab the attention of the audience. With regards to Alexis Assadi and his news about Davenport Laroche, his misleading headline entices investors to visit his website, so they will ultimately employ HIM and HIS financial services; or at the very least sign up for his email newsletter.

Mr. Assadi’s use of fake news and fake reviews to lure investors to his services is shameful. Alexis has no intention of helping anyone but himself. Investors beware!

There Are Three Different Types of Fake News

According to a study commissioned by the Council of Europe and published by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, there are three different types of fake news: misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation.

  1. Misinformation is when there is an unintentional mistake, such as the poor use of statistics or quotes, or when an old image resurfaces.
  2. Disinformation is when false or manipulated information or imagery is deliberately used to do harm to someone. The Facebook ads created by Russia and targeted at American voters during the U.S. presidential election would be an example of this.
  3. Malinformation is when genuine information is used to cause harm to someone; for example revenge porn.

Rumors, conspiracy theories, and fabricated information are nothing new. As Sun Tzu explained 25 centuries ago, “all warfare is based on deception.” False information has become a part of our daily lives, whether it is individuals lying to save face or prevent hurt feelings, politicians making unrealistic promises during election campaigns, or the media disseminating misleading stories to gain a wider audience. That said, social media has added an entirely new dimension to the phenomenon.

There are two new and unique aspects of social media which have changed the game: Firstly, disinformation can be cheaply amplified through committed volunteers, paid agents or robots. Secondly, our information sources are becoming increasingly social, and therefore much more visual, emotional, and performative. And, as trust in institutions decreases, people are turning to their closest networks of family and friends for information. This has created a perfect environment for the spread of disinformation around the world. Ultimately, it is only logic and critical thinking which could save the world from the trap of manipulation.

Five Tips To Help You Identify And Refute Fake News

Fake news is a real problem that must be addressed quickly and effectively, foremost because it is not just about politics, but because its effects are presenting a real danger to society. After all, U.S. President Trump uses the phrase to attack mainstream media and describe to ANY news information that he believes is biased, unfair, or irresponsible.

In the face of relentless online attacks, it has become the responsibility of each and every internet user to identify and refute misinformation, disinformation, and fake news.

If you have a friend who shared fake news, you call them out. You point it out and you tell them, because you probably are sharing the same friends, and by you pointing it out, people will take down something they shared, or they will correct it in the comments, and that somehow fixes whatever that fake news has reached – Clarissa David, Professor, University of the Philippines – College of Mass Communication

These are 5 tips for identifying fake news:

  1. Tone. Look at the tone of the website’s articles. This will give you a sense of what kind of content it produces. If featured stories are about aliens, miracle cancer cures, and such, it is an indication of the publication’s integrity.
  2. Search. If an internet search shows that websites like The New York Times, ESPN, or The Washington Post are reporting on the same story, it is much more likely to be true. But, if all the search results you discover cite the same questionable source, that suggest that the story might be a hoax.
  3. Disclaimer. If you are unsure about a news source’s legitimacy, search the website for any type of disclaimer. If you discover one, it is likely that the website’s content cannot be taken at face value. This is much more likely to be the case if the disclaimer is worded confusingly. Legitimate sites don’t need disclaimers.
  4. Emotional. One of the biggest ways fake news websites have been so effective is by tapping into people’s fears and emotions. Many false news stories purposely play on fears and anxieties, knowing that it will elicit an emotional response from the audience.
  5. Fact Check. There are websites devoted to debunking fake news. The oldest, and perhaps most well known, is Snopes.com – which fact checks urban legends. Another is FactCheck.org, – which tends to scrutinize the statements of politicians and other public figures.

Increasingly, the term fake news has become weaponized by public officials who use it to undermine independent journalism and personal freedoms. They do so in an effort to reach the public directly through their own channels and better control the reach and content of their message. In countries where a free press is a luxury and freedom of speech is not guaranteed, the phrase “fake news” is being used by officials as an excuse to clamp down on both forms of individual expression. To combat this, people must learn to identify and refute all forms of fake news.

This is What is Unique About Fake News in Southeast Asia

Albeit propaganda and the spread of misinformation are not a new phenomenon, there is no denying that social media algorithms have played a significant role in amplifying their reach. What is unique about the situation of fake news in Southeast Asia, is that fake news and disinformation are operating within an environment where existing laws already inhibit freedom of speech and expression. In Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore, where there are existing laws that curtail freedom of expression, social media has become the new avenue for government to exercise control over the people’s right to free speech.

In South Asian countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Myanmar, disinformation, fake news and hateful rhetoric found online have had serious consequences for public opinion. Fake new reports and media hoaxes circulating in Indonesia for example, are being credited with the downfall of candidates in their gubernatorial elections. Moreover, Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi has been quoted as saying fake news has been “fanning conflict” over the Rohingya crisis.

There is consensus that it is the political establishment that has actively mobilized and used supporters to manipulate public opinion to their favor, through fake news, and also through hyper-partisan propaganda. These strategies have been in place even before the rise of Facebook as a platform, when fake comments and forum sections of websites are targeted to promote partisan, mainly pro-government content, or in the case of opposition blogs, counter content. The rise of Facebook has only made this phenomenon more virulent. – Ed Legaspi, Executive Director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

The sad reality is that for many countries in the Southeast Asia region, the fight against fake news is linked to the fight for greater freedom of expression, and therefore democracy. Presently, it would seem that even the most fundamental democratic freedoms are making a retreat from the region.

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

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

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

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?

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

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.