The Global Fake News Problem

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Fake news is all around us and in the news on a weekly basis, and it’s a global concern.

Facebook (and Google) is finding it harder and harder to avoid being seen as a media company. I’ve called Facebook, Google, Yahoo and many others — high-tech enabled media companies for more than a decade. I’m glad others are seeing that: publishing pages of content with advertising around it is a media company.

fake news

A video interview with Scott Galloway, marketing professor at NYU, underlies this issue of whether Facebook is really a media company? If it were classed as a media company it would create a little bit of a level playing field with traditional media because it would have to hire a lot of humans and its costs would rise dramatically. If Facebook loses its platform status you can bet it will make sure Google does as well.

Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at NYU and author of the new book “The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google,” discusses Facebook.

He says the company has embraced many aspects of a media company, but seems allergic to many of the associated responsibilities. He worries that the youthful management at Facebook doesn’t have the historical context for the importance media plays in our society, citing Russia’s manipulation of it during the 2016 presidential election. He doesn’t buy the excuse that Facebook can’t possibly screen its advertisers, and says they don’t want to do it because it would hurt their profitability.

During the recent hearings in Washington representatives of Facebook, Google and Twitter were asked if they were media companies– they replied that they identify as technology companies.

Facebook and Google don’t want to be classed as media companies because then they have to pay for the responsibilities of being media companies.

But these are rich companies and they can afford the extra costs of employing editorial staff. It would create a little bit of a level playing field with traditional media companies who have to carry the costs of civil responsibility.

Apart from expensive regulatory issues and face news, Facebook faces another problem: it’s a media company run by engineers.

This is why it has trouble dealing with media problems such as fake news. It doesn’t have any media professionals that understand the issue and know what to do about it — and have the seniority to execute. Facebook employs former journalists and editors but they were not hired to deal with fake news.

Engineering Fake News…

The Pew Research Center recently surveyed 1,000 technologists about the problem of fake news and 51 percent said nothing can be done while 49 percent said the opposite. Which means these “tech experts” don’t really know one way or the other.

Why not ask media professionals? It’s a media problem not an engineering problem. After all, you wouldn’t ask reporters about Javascript’s scalability in web projects.

Facebook is a media company that doesn’t know how to be a media company.

But it can learn. And it doesn’t have to learn the hard way by making business mistakes that the media industry solved many decades ago.

There’s several things that can be done very quickly that would go a long way to curbing fake news at Facebook, Google and elsewhere.

Engineers know how to code but media professionals know how to code the culture and spot the fakes. Media engineers will one day be a hot new profession.

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Tom Foremski
Tom Foremski is the Editor and Founder of the popular and top-ranked news site Silicon Valley Watcher, reporting on business and culture of innovation. He is a former journalist at the Financial Times and in 2004, became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time journalist blogger.

Tom has been reporting on Silicon Valley and the US tech industry since 1984 and has been named as one of the top 50 (#28) most influential bloggers in Silicon Valley. His current focus is on the convergence of media and technology — the making of a new era for Silicon Valley. He also writes a column at ZDNET.
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