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, citing Tim Wu’s book on 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.