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GeekWire Summit reportback: The real truth about fake news

by Melody Sabouri

Fake news has been around for a long time. But with the growing influence of social media, it’s now reaching a larger audience than ever before. The viral spread of fabricated news stories is making it almost impossible for us to determine if the articles we’re reading are legitimate. People are more skeptical than ever about the news, and with good reason.

At the 2017 GeekWire Summit a panel called “Tech, Media and the Future of the Truth” gave the audience some insight into the role technology is playing in the reach of fake news. The panel included Vinny Green, co-owner and VP of operations at Snopes, Jevin West, assistant professor at the University of Washington Information School, and Ina Fried, chief technology correspondent at Axios, a journalism startup aimed at fixing what’s “broken” in media.

“We are in this digital realm where we’re all very connected, and we have to work together to mitigate the risks associated with that,” said Green, whose company specializes in debunking internet rumors.

When you see a tweet coming from someone with a million followers, you almost instinctively believe that what they are saying is the truth. It’s becoming even tougher to know what to trust online anymore. So the big question is, how do we know what news is real and what is fake? And how should we be prepare ourselves to consume news as technology progresses?

Here are some of the most valuable pointers I learned from this panel of experts:

 

Know the origins of your information:

If you can figure out where a particular piece of information came from, you can evaluate if that source is trustworthy. How long the website has been around? If it’s brand new, chances are it’s not a trusted source. Look for pages that are flooded with ads or outbound links to clickbait, or articles that guide you through 10 new urls in order to read through the full article. These are all signs that the source isn’t to be trusted.

And are they open and honest with their audience when they do make mistakes? According to Green, if a website posted some misinformation and they were quick to make a public correction, it’s actually a sign of their legitimacy.

 

New technology is coming that will help (and hurt):

Technology is on the way that will make it even harder to identify fake stories, so we need to be more aware and skeptical of what we see and hear — and fight back with solutions that make it easier to debunk the fake.

One solution proposed by the panel was to try to speed up the delivery of context around the news, to match the speed with which faulty or incomplete information can spread nowdays.

And there might be solutions to give us the ability to know in real time (or pretty close to it) if something is real or fake — before the news has the chance to go viral. In the cases of live events such as political debates, tech that’s able to debunk misinformation of factual falsehoods right away could be very useful.

When it comes to social media, Fried argued that the same kind of algorithms used by Facebook or Twitter to tailor news to your preferences could be used to essentially weed out the fake the news.

“We’re not going to win if you have to debunk every fact,” she said. Smarter algorithms could eliminate the news from sources that are not credible, giving users the confidence that articles on their news feeds are coming from a reputable source.

But in an alarming moment during the panel, Fried warned that “photoshop for voice” is right around the corner. Technology that will allow people to seamlessly manipulate and alter someone’s voice on videos and audio recordings is coming, and once it’s perfected the possibilities for generating seemingly-genuine fake videos will be endless.

 

Stay skeptical:

So what can we do in the meantime, until helping technology is created and implemented?

“Simply stick to the source and create the habit of mind of being skeptical,” was West’s best suggestion. By staying engaged, informed, and critical about what we are reading online, we can each get better at separating the real from the fake.

Alex StonehillGeekWire Summit reportback: The real truth about fake news
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