Monday, June 24, 2019

Frustrated fact-checkers: the lies keep being told

Lies have a life of their own, and people want to believe them, especially when they are about people they don't like, "the other". Facts don't sway people.

As Laura Hazard Owen recently reported in Nieman Lab, three leading fact-checking organizations have said their work needs to go beyond simply calling out the lies of prominent people. This work is valuable, but the fact-checkers don't have big enough audiences to reach everyone who is receiving the false or misleading information. "Fact checkers are outspent by [political] campaigns 100 to 1 or more at election times," say the fact-checkers. 

So the fact-checkers have issued a call to action in which they don't just clarify or disprove the misleading information. They "publish and act". "We seek corrections on the record, pressure people not to make the same mistake again, complain where possible to a standards body. In other words, we use whatever forms of moral, public, or where appropriate regulatory pressure are available to stop the spread of specific bits of misinformation."

See also: Nieman Lab's list of news credibility projects 

Less than half of people in 38 countries trust "most news most of the time". And they have very little trust in the news they find in social media. From Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019, p. 21.

Declining trust in the media

According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019, across 38 countries and more than 75,000 internet users, "less than half (49%) agree that they trust the news media they themselves use." The level of trust is significantly lower in the news found via search (33%) and social media (23%).
This is bad news, and worrisome, but as I have mentioned before in this space, the scarcity of trustworthy news has led people to search for sources they can count on. The Reuters report offers proof of this trend:
"Worries about the quality of information may be good for trusted news brands. Across countries over a quarter (26%) say they have started relying on more ‘reputable’ sources of news – rising to 40% in the US. A further quarter (24%) said they had stopped using sources that had a dubious reputation in the last year." (pp. 22-23).
Recommendation engine

Media consumers are overwhelmed by an ever-increasing quantity of information, and they have had to rely on intermediaries like Apple or Google to filter and recommend news. Frederic Filloux, a journalist and software engineer working at Stanford University's Knight Center, has developed a recommendation engine called

It uses artificial intelligence to "surface and recommend high-quality content" to users based on their interests and preferences. Filloux defines quality as "value added" journalism from trustworthy sources. Small publishers that produce quality content could thus get greater distribution of their content and attract advertisers who want to be associated with it.

Yelp or Rotten Tomatoes for news

Credder shows user ratings of the most credible news sources.
A startup commercial venture called Credder has attracted investment with its model of having users and experts rate news articles for the credibility of their content. In essence, they offer reviews of articles much like users of Yelp offer reviews of hotels, restaurants, and retailers or moviegoers rate movies for Rotten Tomatoes.

The mission of Credder, like some of the other services mentioned above, is to help users find credible content: specifically "to accelerate the news industry’s transition from a ‘click-based’ to a ‘credibility-based’ economy of news." 


The click-based, scalable business models of Google, Facebook, and Apple, among others, have given preference to clickbait --celebrities, sports, scandals, sensationalism-- and helped spread slanderous attacks on public figures. 

All of the efforts mentioned above aim to reward publishers and journalists with audiences and financial support for doing quality journalism. As always, the amount of cheap, shoddy product will always exceed that of high quality. And these efforts will help ensure that quality wins out over quantity in the long haul.


Investigative journalism has a great return on investment

In Eastern Europe, a media battle for hearts and minds
Smart money is betting on local, trustworthy news 

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