Expert Answer:Preventing the Spread of Fake News paper

  

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Facebook Mounts Effort to Limit Tide of Fake News
By MIKE ISAAC
The New York Times
December 15, 2016
The new fake news feature on Facebook, as the site makes an effort to flag articles that are not
true.
For weeks, Facebook has been questioned about its role in spreading fake news. Now the
company has mounted its most concerted effort to combat the problem.
Facebook said on Thursday that it had begun a series of experiments to limit misinformation on
its site. The tests include making it easier for its 1.8 billion members to report fake news, and
creating partnerships with outside fact-checking organizations to help it indicate when articles
are false. The company is also changing some advertising practices to stop purveyors of fake
news from profiting from it.
Facebook, the social network, is in a tricky position with these tests. It has long regarded itself as
a neutral place where people can freely post, read and view content, and it has said it does not
want to be an arbiter of truth. But as its reach and influence have grown, it has had to confront
questions about its moral obligations and ethical standards regarding what appears on the
network.
Its experiments on curtailing fake news show that Facebook recognizes it has a deepening
responsibility for what is on its site. But Facebook also must tread cautiously in making changes,
because it is wary of exposing itself to claims of censorship.
“We really value giving people a voice, but we also believe we need to take responsibility for the
spread of fake news on our platform,” said Adam Mosseri, a Facebook vice president who is in
charge of its news feed, the company’s method of distributing information to its global audience.
He said the changes — which, if successful, may be available to a wide audience — resulted
from many months of internal discussion about how to handle false news articles shared on the
network.
What impact Facebook’s moves will have on fake news is unclear. The issue is not confined to
the social network, with a vast ecosystem of false news creators who thrive on online advertising
and who can use other social media and search engines to propagate their work. Google, Twitter
and message boards like 4chan and Reddit have all been criticized for being part of that chain.
Still, Facebook has taken the most heat over fake news. The company has been under that
spotlight since Nov. 8, when Donald J. Trump was elected the 45th president. Mr. Trump’s
unexpected victory almost immediately led people to focus on whether Facebook had influenced
the electorate, especially with the rise of hyperpartisan sites on the network and many examples
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of misinformation, such as a false article that claimed Pope Francis had endorsed Mr. Trump for
president that was shared nearly a million times across the site.
The site is trying to combat phony news, but says “the magnitude of fake news across Facebook
is one fraction of a percent of the content across the network.”
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has said he did not believe that the social network
had influenced the election result, calling it “a pretty crazy idea.” Yet the intense scrutiny of the
company on the issue has caused internal divisions and has pushed Mr. Zuckerberg to say he was
trying to find ways to reduce the problem.
In an interview, Mr. Mosseri said Facebook did not think its news feed had directly caused
people to vote for a particular candidate, given that “the magnitude of fake news across
Facebook is one fraction of a percent of the content across the network.”
Facebook has changed the way its news feed works before. In August, the company announced
changes to marginalize what it considered “clickbait,” the sensational headlines that rarely live
up to their promise. This year, Facebook also gave priority to content shared by friends and
family, a move that shook some publishers that rely on the social network for much of their
traffic. The company is also constantly fine-tuning its algorithms to serve what its users most
want to see, an effort to keep its audience returning regularly.
This time, Facebook is making it easier to flag content that may be fake. Users can report a post
they dislike in their feed, but when Facebook asks for a reason, the site presents them with a list
of limited and vague options, including the cryptic “I don’t think it should be on Facebook.” In
Facebook’s new experiment, users will have a choice to flag the post as fake news and have the
option to message the friend who originally shared the piece to tell him or her the article is false.
If an article receives enough flags as fake, it can be directed to a coalition of groups that will
fact-check it. The groups include Snopes, PolitiFact, The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and
ABC News. They will check the article and can mark it as a “disputed” piece, a designation that
will be seen on Facebook.
Partner organizations will not be paid, the companies said. Some characterized the fact-checking
as an extension of their journalistic efforts.
“We actually regard this as a big part of our core mission,” James Goldston, the president of
ABC News, said in an interview. “If that core mission isn’t helping people regard the real from
the fake news, I don’t know what our mission is.”
Disputed articles will ultimately appear lower in the news feed. If users still decide to share such
an article, they will receive a pop-up reminding them that the accuracy of the piece is in
question.
Facebook said it was casting a wide net to add more partners to its fact-checking coalition and
may move outside of the United States with the initiative if early experiments go well. The
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company is also part of the First Draft Coalition, an effort with other technology and media
companies including Twitter, Google, The New York Times and CNN, to combat the spread of
fake news online.
In another change in how the news feed works, articles that many users read but do not share will
be ranked lower on people’s feeds. Mr. Mosseri said a low ratio of sharing an article after it has
been read could be perceived as a negative signal, one that might reflect that the article was
misleading or of poor quality.
“Facebook was inevitably going to have to curate the platform much more carefully, and this
seems like a reasonably transparent method of intervention,” said Emily Bell, director at the Tow
Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.
“But the fake cat is already out of the imaginary bag,” Ms. Bell added. “If they didn’t try and do
something about it, next time around it could have far worse consequences.”
Facebook also plans to impede the economics of spreading fake articles across the network. Fake
news purveyors generally make money when people click on the false articles and are directed to
third-party websites, the majority of which are filled with dozens of low-cost ads.
Facebook will review those third-party links and check for things like whether the page is mostly
filled with advertising content — a dead giveaway for spam sites — or to see whether a link
masquerades as a different site, like a fake version of The New York Times. Such sites would
not be eligible to display Facebook advertising on their pages.
Articles disputed by the fact-checking coalition will also not be eligible to be inserted into
Facebook ads, a tactic viral spammers have used to spread fake news quickly and gain more
clicks on their websites.
Facebook said that in these early experiments it would deal with only fake news content; it does
not plan to flag opinion posts or other content that could not be easily classified. The changes
will not affect satirical sites like The Onion, which often jabs at political subjects through
tongue-in-cheek humor.
Facebook must take something else into consideration: its profit. Any action taken to reduce
popular content, even if it is fake news, could hurt the company’s priority of keeping its users
engaged on the platform. People spend an average of more than 50 minutes a day on Facebook,
and the company wants that number to grow.
Executives at Facebook stressed the overriding factor right now is not just engagement.
“I think of Facebook as a technology company, but I recognize we have a greater responsibility
than just building technology that information flows through,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote in a post on
Thursday. “We have a responsibility to make sure Facebook has the greatest positive impact on
the world.”
Page 3 of 8
How to Save the News
by William F. Baker
www.pbs.org/now/journalism-crisis.html
Octtober 16, 2009
William F. Baker, is president emeritus of WNET, the country’s largest PBS station, and a
university professor at Fordham University in New York City.
There’s no doubt that news in America is in trouble. Of the 60,000 print journalists employed
throughout the nation in 2001, at least 10,000 have lost their jobs, and last year alone newspaper
circulation dropped by a precipitous 7 percent. Internet, network and cable news employ a
dwindling population of reporters, not nearly enough to cover a country of 300 million people,
much less keep up with events around the world. It is no longer safe to assume, as the authors of
the Constitution did, that free-flowing news and information will always be available to
America’s voters.
It’s time for the public discussion to focus less on what has caused this swiftly escalating crisis—
the mass migration of readers to the Internet and the effects of the economic meltdown feature in
most explanations—and start talking seriously about solutions. Saving journalism might seem
like an entirely new problem, but it’s really just another version of one that Americans have
solved many times before: how do we keep a vital public institution safe from the ups and downs
of the economy? Private philanthropy and government support are the two best answers we have
to this question.
One of the best-known examples of philanthropy’s response to the news crisis is ProPublica
(propublica.org), which was founded in 2007 by editor in chief Paul Steiger with retired banking
tycoons Herbert and Marion Sandler. The group, which relies mainly on grants from the Sandlers
to stay in operation, maintains a staff of thirty-five reporters and editors, who specialize in hardhitting investigative journalism with a long memory, the kind that cash-strapped commercial
media have always been wary of supporting. With stories on Hurricane Katrina and Guantánamo
already published in places like the New York Times, the Washington Post and The Nation [see
A.C. Thompson, “Katrina’s Hidden Race War,” January 5], the group exemplifies how valuable
the nonprofit news sector can be.
The group’s finances and the scope of its operations, however, are a perfect example of why
philanthropy can never be the sole answer to America’s news crisis. ProPublica’s annual budget
of $10 million is exceptional by philanthropic standards, but it is still less than a single
newspaper, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, was losing per year before its owners shut it down.
An army of ProPublicas is needed before America can replace the capacity for good journalism it
has already lost.
That said, the private, not-for-profit news sector is worth paying attention to. Some of the new
organizations cropping up might be models for others, if they’re successful. Two representative
examples are the Investigative Network (currently a for-profit, with plans to become a hybrid
not-for-profit and for-profit entity) and the Under-Told Stories Project. Founded to fill a void in
coverage of the multibillion-dollar Texas Statehouse budget, the Investigative Network
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(pressforthepeople.com) aims to use the revenue it gets from selling subscriptions to niche
information streams to fund investigative journalism in the general public interest. The group’s
founder, investigative reporter Paul Adrian, hopes that funding will also come from story
syndication and philanthropy. Groups with such a diverse mix of support as part of their initial
business plans are likely to become more common.
The Under-Told Stories Project (undertoldstories.org) is devoted to increasing public awareness
of underreported international topics. The group is funded partly by sale of its stories, most of
which end up on public television and radio, and partly by its institutional partner, Saint John’s
University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Organizations that get some support from endowed
nonmedia institutions might also become more common.
It’s also worth noting that in an environment of diminishing opportunities for young journalists,
the Under-Told Stories Project arranges internships. Ensuring that good reporting will be around
in the long term is just as important as preserving what we have now, and the private, nonprofit
media sector would do well to pursue it more vigorously. (Full disclosure: I am an unpaid
adviser to both the Under-Told Stories Project and the Investigative Network.)
Because such fledgling enterprises are potentially so valuable to the health of our media, they
should be loudly and publicly encouraged at this stage, even though there will never be enough
of them to solve the news crisis on their own. At Harvard’s Hauser Center, I’ve launched a
database of nonprofit news efforts (hausercenter.harvard.edu/medialist). Many of the listed
organizations are in the early stages of development, and now is the time when publicity and
donations can make a decisive difference. If you’re looking for somewhere to donate, or if you
know of a group that we haven’t found yet, I urge you to get in touch. But for a nation in the
midst of a crippling news crisis, my list is still alarmingly short, and, as a potential replacement
for our commercial media, it can never really be long enough.
I would love it if supporting the news were seen as a routine civic obligation—”this month’s city
hall coverage adopted by the Elks Club” is easy to imagine—but those days, if they ever come,
are likely far in the future, and adopting a stretch of highway is a far cry from building it in the
first place.
To survive the current crisis, we need bigger, faster solutions. We need to do what other mature
democracies have long done: fully fund our public media with tax dollars. Calling in the
resources of the central government to bear on any national problem is sure to be obscured by the
fog of ideological and partisan distractions permeating the debates about the climate crisis and
healthcare. I can already hear the hysterical, clamoring opposition to “socialized media” or
“government takeover of the news.”
Better funding for All Things Considered on NPR or NewsHour on PBS will not turn either
program into a propaganda outfit for the government. The BBC is not Pravda, and Japan and
most of Europe, which have enjoyed extremely well-funded public media for decades, are not a
network of totalitarian states. German public television, for example, is amply funded with
revenue collected under the aegis of the central government but administered through a
decentralized system designed to preserve regional independence. There are numerous
Page 5 of 8
democratic nations with public broadcasting systems that are both well funded by their central
government and also well shielded from its political influence.
In America, more robust public media won’t weaken or constrain our commercial media. No
matter how well funded PBS and NPR become, American cable news will still be free to devote
22 percent of its total coverage to stories like the death and burial of Anna Nicole Smith, as it did
in February 2007.
Even though it goes against habits of American governance, and even though the Obama
administration and its allies are mired in the slow advance of other ambitious projects, now is the
moment to advocate greatly expanding our public media. The rapid corrosion of our commercial
news demands that something be done soon, and it is still early in the administration of a
popular, progressive president, when sweeping changes are possible.
John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney have correctly deemed efforts to solve the news crisis a
national infrastructure project [see “The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers,” April
6]. We don’t leave it up to private nonprofits to maintain our roads and bridges, outfit the Army
or provide public transportation. Volunteer militias and private fire departments rightly did not
survive the progressive reforms of the nineteenth century. You can still hire a private security
firm or travel in a private jet, but the government also assures a basic measure of protection and
mobility to every taxpaying citizen. Why shouldn’t it be the same for the news and information
whose circulation the founding fathers saw fit to protect in the First Amendment?
Total federal support for American public broadcast media in 2007 was about $480 million. That
might seem sufficient or even impressive until you compare it with the BBC, which serves a
nation with one-fifth the US population but which received the equivalent of $5.6 billion in
government money in 2007. When it comes to public media, the United States is decisively
outspent by the governments of most other major democracies. Japan, whose population is less
than half the size of the United States’, spent the equivalent of $6.8 billion for public
broadcasting in 2007; Germany, with one-third the size, spent about $11 billion; and Canada, a
tenth the size, spent $898 million. Even Denmark and Ireland, with populations smaller than
New York City, far outspent the United States per capita, with respective budgets equivalent to
$673 million and $296 million.
The amount the government now sets aside for public broadcast media is about what it costs the
military to occupy Iraq for two and a half days. Taking into account the hundreds of billions
lavished on the interim survival of our elite financial institutions, funding our news infrastructure
won’t be a hardship. Just a small fraction of the $45 billion—that’s billion with a “b”—Citigroup
alone has received since October 2008 would give NPR and PBS all the money they need.
Unlike the benefits that come from bailing out investment banks and insurance conglomerates, a
stronger investment in public media would give all citizens a concrete and valuable service. Turn
on cable TV news to find out about an event overseas, and you are likely to see a panel of wellcoiffed pundits sitting in a studio in New York, Washington or Los Angeles debating what might
be happening on the other side of the world. Switch to the same story on the BBC, and you are
likely to see a correspondent on the ground where the event is actually taking place. The BBC’s
Page 6 of 8
forty-one permanent foreign bureaus are more than twice the number maintained by ABC, CBS,
NBC and PBS each. This isn’t a difference of national character; it’s simply a matter of money.
For commercial TV, paying pundits is a lot cheaper than doing the real work of reporting. And
for public media, chronically small budgets often make extensive original reporting too
expensive, even for respected shows like NewsHour.
To discern the real view the American people hold toward public media, it is necessary to pay
attention to one fact: voluntary viewer donations provide the biggest chunk of the money that
keeps public media in business, and have done so for a very long time. The phrase “supported by
viewers like you” is more than a marketing bromide. Except for stalwarts like the Ford and
MacArthur foundations and Mutual of America, and in years past Exxon and AT&T, foundation
and corporate giving has never provided as much to public television as small individual pledges.
But despite its reliability, voluntary public subscription is no way to fund a major public service.
Throughout the two decades …
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