How to Outflank Fake News
The battle for Syria. The protests in Hong Kong. The bargaining for aid to Ukraine. What do these events have in common?
Fake news coverage. We’ve all heard of it, and with U.S. presidential campaigning in full swing, it’s bound to gain even more notoriety. But what is it, and why is it so hard to detect? If Facebook, with its expansive workforce and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, has difficulty identifying fake news, what hope is there for organizations providing content to professionals?
AI has come a long way. Not only can it identify fake news, it can also produce it—in the form of everything from deep fake videos to the printed word. The Wall Street Journal reports that AI capable of producing realistic articles has been implemented only by researchers, thus far, and hasn’t been used maliciously. What’s more, it has limitations that keep the stories from seeming too believable.
But experts warn that it’s only a matter of time before that changes. Sarah Kreps, a professor at Cornell University who co-wrote research on the credibility of articles produced by OpenAI’s GPT-2 software, says in the WSJ article that large-scale synthesized disinformation is cheap and credible, and that its spread across the internet could open the way for malicious influence campaigns. Even if people don’t believe fake articles are accurate, she says, the knowledge that such stories are out there could have a damaging effect, eroding people’s trust in the media (and, by association, any organization developing and distributing content).
What’s the solution? You!
Fake news doesn’t have to be entirely fake. It could even be 99% factual, but that missing one percent is why the piece was produced. Fake news, whether produced and disseminated by people or AI, eventually will be exposed. As a content manager, however, you don’t have time to wait for that exposure. Your role is to recognize the fake content , and not to promote it. That takes expert editors with solid knowledge of the topic at hand and the resources to collaborate any information that seems questionable, or is not verifiable through traditional means.
The ferreting out of useful, credible information starts with a search for relevant content. Chrome, Mozilla, and Bing’s search algorithms will spit out the stories that fit your criteria, but it is the content provider that must sort through the fluff to get at the real news—the stories that will most appeal to the targeted professional audience, which the content expert knows best.
Once the content has been selected, it must be carefully vetted. A discerning reader is one who takes the source of a story into account and questions whether that source is dependable, and if it is, whether it has an agenda. Is the author inserting his or her personal views into the story? If so, the story is no longer news, it is commentary—maybe even fiction—and should be treated as such. Can the story be corroborated by other, competing sources? Facts are facts, and should be the same no matter what outlet reports on them. The angle of the reporting may be different from source to source, but the facts should not change.
Organizations providing content should also avoid articles with sensationalist titles that are obviously meant to gain clicks, while often leaving the reader disappointed in the end—even if the content comes from reputable sources. Here are a couple recent examples:
‘Horns’ are growing on young people’s skulls. Phone use is to blame, research suggests.
For a Split Second, a Quantum Computer Made History Go Backward.
Sometimes you may hit on a gem that lives up to a sensationalist title. More often than not, however, that story turns out to be garbage. You be the judge.
Shavit Birenzvige is a content manager for SmithBucklin.
SmithBucklin Content helps you position your organization as an authoritative source of timely, relevant, comprehensive and engaging industry intelligence. Contact us to learn about partnering with SmithBucklin Content to create a customized content strategy for your organization.