Fake News

fakenewsFAKE NEWS!

The rise and rise of this term has made it even harder to determine what to believe, although it has a very long dishonourable history. I’ve taken to checking and rechecking posts before commenting. But yesterday a friend posted an article claiming that the BCC and CNN had faked reports of chemical attacks in Syria. Both those organisations attract criticism for bias but are generally respected for their journalism, so I checked. It’s been debunked as invented by Russian journalists. Shortly after someone posted a very unlikely-sounding story about massive ill treatment and incarceration of LGBTx people in Chechnya, the source was Daily Mail and I refuse to click on Daily Mail links but I can Google it. Horrifyingly it’s true, with multiple reports from credible sources.

How can you tell if something is really fake news?

Let’s be clear there are a number of ways a news report can be wrong.

  • error
    the news centre may have got its facts wrong. Reputable news organisations avoid this and apologise quickly when it happens.
  • bias
    the news centre may have a stated bias, The Economist for example is slightly right wing, the Guardian is slightly left.  You can read both of the same events. In fact that’s healthy.
  • misleading
    the news centre starts with a viewpoint and presents information to support that viewpoint. Most news centres are guilty of this at some point (and remember editorial is not the same as news). At last year’s remembrance service in London one news outlet claimed that the leader of the Labour political party had danced, and they had the pictures to prove it.
  • facts are fabricated with the idea of changing your opinion, this is what I would consider “fake news”, and the above story that BBC/CNN had fabricated information on attacks in Syria falls into this category. As does a certain head of state’s statements on many issues.
  • satire
    there are some great satire pieces out there, but as the news gets weird it can be hard to tell which is real. That is predicted by Poe’s Law.

There are four things to consider when examining the news

  • what quality is the source?
  • how accurate is the reporting?
  • is there bias in the reporting?
  • is it a joke (satire)?

There’s a graphic doing the rounds online that puts these characteristics into one handy chart. (Originally created by Vanessa Otero)

media analysis

I’ve seen some criticism out there already, from both sides, so please use this as a starting point to create your own guide on what to read. (Personally I’d have put “The Atlantic” to the right of the Grauniad).

There is a call for the various social media to do more to prevent the publication of fake news – particularly following the climax of Pizzagate when a guy with a gun turned up at an innocent Pizza joint based on fake news reports. BBC’s Click Podcast covered some of the reasons that technology is not and easy, or complete, answer.

FactCheck.org produced a guide on spotting fake news, their whole article is worth reading but this infographic summarises the main points.

How to spot fake news

Note that we need to check our own biases. A lot of news is being presented in a very binary fashion, with predictable partisan lines being drawn. Checking our own biases means being aware of how our own views play into what we want to believe. We all need to hold ourselves to a high standard in what we read, repeat, post, and believe.

My reaction to the flood of news reports from the various world horrors going on is to check and recheck the news I’m reading and to try to read mostly from the upper oval, in light green. I’m also trying not to get into link wars, but to have discussions and add links when asked for evidence. I have also take to asking people for evidence of their claims, so far none of the people asked have been able to provide any (even the Facebook friend who virtually shouted at me to “GO and READ”.)

There’s no technical solution to fake news.  It comes down to all of us paying attention. We need to find ways of distinguishing the real news, understanding our biases, being vigilant on what we believe and taking responsibility for what we post.

POSTSCRIPT

Alvaro Cabellero kindly sent me a link to Mike Caulfield’s excellent article How “News Literacy” Gets Web Misinformation Wrong. It’s a sixteen minute read; the tldr advice is;

I have a simple web literacy model. When confronted with a dubious claim:

  • Check for previous fact-checking work

  • Go upstream to the source

  • Read laterally

It’s a good process, and will get you to an assessment of the quality of the journalism pretty quickly.

Image:  News  |  Jenn   | CC BY 2.0

 

2016; What a Year

2016 What a Year

Well, wasn’t it?

There is the ongoing Syrian war, a humanitarian crisis as desperate migrants try to cross the mediterranean, there is a war in the Yemen, unrest in Iran, instability in the EU, Brexit, attacks in Nice, Turkey, Orlando and Germany, the continuing rise of the Islamic State, the election of Trump, clowns got creepy, a long list of celebrities who died this year, and to cap it off the word of the year is “post-truth“.  The Olympics usually cheer everyone up but even that had its moments with the diving pool changing colour, sexist coverage, and a certain US swimmer having his own “post-truth” moment.

The old news adage “if it bleeds it leads” is true, and the news cycle is so short and so global it feels like there’s blood all over my screen some days. Add to that the contentious comments generated on social media by much of the news and it has been pretty hard to read at times.

But did anything GOOD happen in 2016?

Ebola Vaccination

In 2014/2015 there were a series of Ebola outbreaks in east Africa with almost 30,000 cases reported and more than 10,000 deaths. This debilitating deadly disease now has a vaccination and the epidemic was declared over by WHO in June to little fanfare. Kudos to the scientists that quietly got on with developing the vaccine, and the bureaucrats who did their job to get it into the field. The medical teams – made up local and international experts – that stayed and treated the patients knowing that not much could be done and that a third would die are heroes.

Columbia at Peace

After 50 years of war, deaths of 220,000 and 6M displaced people there is a peace accord signed between the Columbian state and the FARC rebels. It’s now ratified by the parliament, and the President was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with a citation that includes “The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process.”

World Poverty Declined

By 58%, 74% or 5.6% depending on the measure used. The big difference in the numbers is due to differences in methodologies, the first two look only at income, the last at a more multi-dimensional view of poverty. Which ever is used millions of people are no longer living in poverty – which is good news. Of course this took more than just 2016, but the announcement was 2016. Small warning – if climate change continues this measure of progress will be reversed.

Animal News

Seaworld stopped breeding orca, Ringling brothers retired their elephants. Pandas were moved from “endangered” to “vulnerable”, making them a step further away from extinction.

Heroes

There’s a saying that when the going gets tough the tough get going, in 2016 some of the people who got going have achieved amazing things here are a few of my heroes for 2016.

MSF; this year and every year. They continue to provide emergency healthcare to people in the most vulnerable parts of the world. This year their difficulties have included bombing of their hospital in Yemen.  Their work continues in 2017, you can support them.

Ebola doctors & nurses; as above

Proactiva Open Arms; in 2015 a bunch of Spanish life savers decided to use their skills to rescue those flying Syria and trying to cross the Mediterranean and find safety in Greece. Since then they’ve expanded their operations to large boats and more areas and rescued thousands. They’re not the only group doing this, while governments stand by, and all those making the ocean rescues are heroes. You can support them.

We usually think of heroes in terms of those putting their lives at risk but there are thousands of people who have opened their hearts, and their homes, to support others in more need.

Dirty Girls of Lesvos, Knit Aid, Homes for Refugees, and there are more groups supporting the refugee crisis; here’s a long list.

I’ve gone on about the refugee crisis because it’s the biggest and most immediate humanitarian challenge we face. But there are other candidates…

Geena Davis, for establishing the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and continuing to work on the visibility of women in the media using the strap-line “If she can see it she can be it”.

The writer of the powerful victim statement in a rape case in the US, showing the insanity of the criminal process that still favours the rapist, especially when the rapist is a young white man with a bright future ahead of him. On the same note Lady Gaga for her haunting performance at the Oscars, and everyone involved in the making of “The Hunting Ground” exposing rape culture on campuses in the US.

On a lighter note; big thanks to all the people behind the Joebama memes, providing a light-hearted release during the US election insanity.

So there’s the good news and the heroes from 2016. Welcome to 2017.

Image; Clown – Ugo Rondine Exhibition, Rotterdam | Louisa Mac  |  CC BY 2.0

Fact and Fiction Online

Ever wondered how journalists make sense of the deluge of information posted online in a news event?

We used to talk about the information superhighway, that metaphor became outdated as the volume of information grew. The volume of information uploaded now is overwhelming, as quoted in the film it’s more than an hour of video on YouTube, and 58 photos on Instagram – per second. (This was recorded in November 2012, the Instagram figure may have declined).

There’s also a huge growth in what people can do with images and film, so how does a journalist find the best image for a story AND confirm that the image is real. Turns out the best way to validate the image is to find the source, and validate whether the source is trustworthy.

The Nolan explores three degrees of difficulty in assessing this;

  1. the source has an online persona and a reputation online that you can trust, the example given was around photos from Superstorm Sandy. When the source was confirmed as to known Manhattan food bloggers the image was accepted.
  2. look at whether other people online find this person credible, this can work across language barriers to identify a source that might be worth interviewing. In the case of the Egyptian revolution this type of analysis was done on twitter data, looking for ‘nodes’ who were retweeted. Then looking at those nodes as possible credible sources.
  3. if the source cannot be verified can other details of the image or video be confirmed to corroborate the story. He takes apart the details of a rather gruesome video to assess its validity. And cross-references what he finds to assess the credibility of 3 sources.

Most of the tools used are free, online, and available to everyone. Which creeped me out about three seconds before he said “Given a couple of clues, I could probably find out a lot of things about most of you in the audience that you might not like me finding out.

I like the cyber-detective aspect of his work, not sure I want to see some of the video/image content that comes across his desk.