These debaters know it will be a struggle to make facts great again

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK—There was no faking it. The Daily News Innovation Lab meetup last February 8 at Microsoft was packed for a good reason. The debate, “Proposition: We can solve fake news” had people giddy with anticipation. The debaters would not disappoint.

The hopefuls were Sally Kohn, political commentator and columnist, CNN and The Daily Beast; Dean Pomerleau, co-director, Fake News Challenge; and Melissa Ryan, expert in politics and technology.

The skeptics were John Borthwick, CEO of Betaworks; David Carroll, associate professor of Media Design at Parsons The New School for Design; and Jane Elizabeth, senior manager at the American Press Institute.

Justin Hendrix, executive director at NYC Media Lab moderated the debate with an equal dose of Orwellian seriousness and aw-shucks disbelief following the rise of fake news on social media platforms in the 2016 presidential elections.

The arguments on the pro side:

  • We have a moral imperative to solve it, because we won’t survive as a democracy if we don’t solve it
  • (Looking at journalists in the room) Without facts we won’t have jobs
  • I refuse to accept that there is a disease we can’t cure; let’s also solve social media  — and media
  • Solving fake news is not going to solve fake news; people will solve it (We learn things). We learned smoking can kill people (so we quit). People can learn to “quit” fake news
  • Fake news can be solved by technology. Fake news has parallels with spams. (We have) fewer spams now – and more filters
  • We have Snopes and Politifact
  • We (at Fake News Challenge) are developing smart algorithms and creating a tool to help fact checkers

The arguments on the con side:

  • Fake news is militarized: We live in a click-bait society, Tim Wu’s attention merchants
  • The Google and Facebook duopoly have no incentive to solve it, because they profit from it
  • 62 percent get their news on social media, Facebook
  • News is filtered to what you like (to read)
  • Technology is not democratic
  • 69 percent trusted media years ago; now it’s only 29 percent
  • World War 3 has begun. It’s the Information War or Culture War
  • We have algorithm bias
  • AI is nowhere close to solving fake news

Questions abound. One particular thorny issue concerns media literacy: How do we tell people about fake news without insulting those who believe in them?

The effect of fake news will also de-brand institutions while also opening a glitch in American democracy. But even most of the audience knows America has overcome worse things—real or fake.

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