How Technology Disrupted the Truth

A day after the Brexit, former UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage admitted he had misled the public on a key issue. He admitted that UK’s alleged 350M Euro weekly contribution to the EU would not be directed to the National Health Service, and that this commitment was never made official. Journalists worldwide tweeted photos of the campaign ads — posted in conspicuous places like the sides of buses — debunking the lie. This incident illustrates the need for more political fact-checking as a public service, to enable the voters to make more informed and rational decisions about matters affecting their daily lives. Fact-checking is supposed to be a part of the normal journalistic process. When gathering information, a journalist should verify its accuracy. The work is then vetted by an editor, a person with more professional experience who may correct or further amend some of the information. A long-form article on The Guardian today underscores the challenges publications worldwide are facing today — most of them don’t have the luxury to afford a fact-checker (let alone a team of fact-checkers), and the advent of social media and forums and our reliance (plenty of people get their news on social media now) have made it increasingly difficult to vet the accuracy of anything that is being published. From The Guardian article:When a fact begins to resemble whatever you feel is true, it becomes very difficult for anyone to tell the difference between facts that are true and “facts” that are not.Global Voices’ adds:But the need for fact-checking hasn’t gone away. As new technologies have spawned new forms of media which lend themselves to the spread of various kinds of disinformation, this need has in fact grown. Much of the information that’s spread online, even by news outlets, is not checked, as outlets simply copy-past — or in some instances, plagiarize — “click-worthy” content generated by others. Politicians, especially populists prone to manipulative tactics, have embraced this new media environment by making alliances with tabloid tycoons or by becoming media owners themselves. The other issue is that many people do not care about the source of the information, and it has become increasingly hard to tell whether a news article you saw on your Facebook is credible or not. This, coupled with how social networking websites game the news feed to show you what you are likely to find interesting as opposed to giving you news from trustworthy sources, has made things even worse. As you may remember, Facebook recently noted that it is making changes to algorithms to show you updates from friends instead of news articles from publications you like. The Guardian adds:Algorithms such as the one that powers Facebook’s news feed are designed to give us more of what they think we want — which means that the version of the world we encounter every day in our own personal stream has been invisibly curated to reinforce our pre-existing beliefs. […] In the news feed on your phone, all stories look the same — whether they come from a credible source or not. And, increasingly, otherwise-credible sources are also publishing false, misleading, or deliberately outrageous stories.


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