The internet is chaos but it could also be a good chaos as it highlights the diversity of thoughts, attitudes, viewpoints, dimensions, and ways of life. It shows that a one-sided story can actually have different ways of thinking. We may instantly notice bad ideas but without the internet, it may take more time to see.
On the other hand, the internet can also be awful because of fake information. It can be filled with an overflow of illogical emotions, blames, or hate aimed to destroy people as well as rumors used by those who want to take advantage of the situation.
One factor played a significant role in the recent US election (some even claim that it was the decisive factor), it was fake news. Many believe that both the Democrat and Republican battled with fake news and attacked competitors with false information on the internet which resulted in one of the “ugliest” election in history. Aside from the political parties, fake news also originates from people irrelevant to the US politics such as teenagers in Macedonia who lured people to click a fake website and generated income from advertising. Their “fake news” was not a political gesture but became a business.
An Ipsos Public Affairs research found that 3 in 4 US media consumers perceive fake news as true.
In Thailand, we also often see fake news which is meant for political outcomes or for fun. We find websites that imitate news websites like Khaosod (imitated as Khaohod) or Naewna (using another name). Their websites will lure people to share content, and once the content is shared they gain public attention while the content owner is entertained or gets paid. Even in mainstream media, old photos are sometimes reused because reporters believe that they are updated. A reporter once tweeted about a fire when in fact the incident happened several years ago.
So, what can we believe when fake and actual news are inseparable?
As fake news accumulates, media firms seek solutions and Storyful was created to dedicate itself to “fighting fake news”.
Image from website Storyful.com
It may be unfair to say that Storyful was created after the influx of fake news because, in fact, they have been around for 7 years (they began in 2009 and was acquired by News Corp in 2013 for 25 million USD). Storyful say they are a “social media researcher” based in Dublin. They provide consultation for news outlets such as ABC, The New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. They have a small team of researchers and reporters who “check the news” before news outlets mistakenly publish fake news and make a fool of themselves.
In the recent US election, Storyful’s obligations became more complex. The CEO of Storyful states that “Fake news has dominated 99% of our online conversations”. They launched a plug-in called Verify that allows users to “check fake news” when reading on browsers like Google Chrome. The tool will indicate whether the news has been verified by Storyful.
In 2016, the revenue of Storyful increased 52%. Today, Storyful generates an 8-digit income or more than 10 million USD annually.
Aside from using human reporters and researchers like Storyful, media firms are also seeking alternatives. Facebook recently announced a collaboration with fake news monitoring websites like Snopes and PolitiFact as well as launched “labels” which indicates verified content (Conservatives voiced their concerns that service providers collaborating with Facebook are mostly Liberals).
Dean Pomerleau, Carnegie Mellow professor, is also attempting to battle fake news with his personal savings of 1,000 USD. He is seeking collaboration from programmers and AI researchers around the world via #FakeNewsChallenge. Today, over 40 researchers have joined this program which aims to solve the problem using AI to help human. The AI will “filter” fake news before human review and make the final decision.
This attempt is still in the initial stage yet there is criticism that this matter is beyond AI’s abilities (Wired mentions the phrase “and they will fail”)
It doesn’t matter what will happen and whether or not we will have better tools to tackle fake news. What has always been more important is one’s judgment. Consumers should have the ability to identify opinions from facts, both from others and one’s own.