Fake News? – The Truth is Out There

Fake News is not News to those in the know

The concept of Fake News has now become inextricably linked with the machinations of political campaigning and to some extent commercial manipulation, using tools such as Social Media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. But Fake News has always been with us in many and various forms; from Government backed disinformation campaigns, to Newspaper smear stories and all forms of Propaganda, where elements of fact are mixed with conjecture to create misleading impressions to outright lies. The motivation remains the same in these cases, but now it is the speed at which a story goes from being just a throw away comment, or even just a snapshot of a story with no substantiation to being ‘shared or liked’ many times, becoming ‘the truth’ in that the volume of both its spread and reach provides the underlying endorsement for how ‘true’ something is perceived to be – or in more cases, is not. Originating and manipulating the stories is no longer the exclusive domain of a handful of rich Media moguls or Government mouthpieces, since the Internet or rather the WWW, now provides a digital soapbox for all and sundry. The half-baked conspiracy theory that amuses us in the Pub is now potentially given more credence because it gets ‘liked or even shared’ numerous times on one or more Social Media platform.

The Truth is Out There (with thanks to the X-Files)

There is now a clear division between the first elements of a breaking story appearing and what then constitutes true Journalism. Time to publication is now the key factor – considered analysis being left trailing. The immediacy of the WWW-powered communications network favours the briefest of editorial interventions and comment. Twitter embodies this in that there are many examples of virtually real-time publication of snapshots of (usually catastrophic) events that Twitter Users have captured on their mobile phone cameras. It is the embodiment of the picture, or rather the video being worth a 1000 words. Combine this immediacy and pervasive availability with our decreasing attention spans, plus an insatiable need to be ‘entertained’ by the next new thing and considered Journalism appears to have no immediate part in this process. However, Journalism is not dead in this scenario. The human condition also wants to know the what, the where and the why behind the imagery as increasingly we experience our lives through a multifaceted window of vicariousness. So where is the truth in all this? The viral nature of the first images and resulting comments (true or false) can propagate at enormous speed and span networks and multiple Social Media applications, so it is beholden on the Journalist to also have the means to tap into the immediacy of this process too. Speculation and conjecture play to our voyeuristic instincts, whereas the process of Journalism demands rigour, validation and analysis before comment. Time is not on the side of the Journalist unless we value ‘Truth’.

‘Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants’ (with thanks to Louis D. Brandeis)

The current climate within the traditional regulated Media is to clamour for the new unregulated Social Media platforms to ‘do more’ to manage Fake News, but how is this possible when some within these platforms have been known to deny that they are even

Media outlets at all. Facebook has a further problem all of its own too in that it is a fully self-contained single environment – the only other entity with that many followers is a Religion. How this manifests itself is that as comments originate and perpetuate within the confines of the billions of Facebook accounts, the data they contain cannot be easily exported to be processed by 3rd parties to analyse the detail and ultimately to audit their veracity. Twitter conversely does have an open (albeit expensive to access) API structure that can be used to cross-reference comments and in turn build a more comprehensive picture and timeline for the stories within. However, these are just 2 major platforms, but within the WWW we also have other platforms like YouTube, RSS feeds, independent Blogs, traditional PR and 24-hour Live TV to contend with. In short, you need to be able to ingest and process as many sources as available to build a comprehensive picture around any one piece of News – in as fast a way as possible. Transparency and openness does exist, but the processing of all the available data sources is now the primary challenge.

Truth Versus Virality – Heard Immunity?

In Medicine, the process of immunisation is shown to be most effective if the significant majority of the population is suitably vaccinated. This is known as Herd Immunity and the slightly modified analogy I offer is as follows: when a story breaks it will almost immediately spread through the on-line community, to be assessed, commented on, rebutted, endorsed and further re-published. To limit the effects of Fake News, the more sources that can be accessed and assessed or Heard, the greater the opportunity for the whole picture to emerge and the Truth to become visible. It is also somewhat ironic that the term Fake News in itself is now becoming discredited since it is an overused shorthand for the expression – ‘that’s a lie’, but given that it is spouted by some of the most unreliable public figures in the world, calling something Fake News has the opposite effect in that it encourages more scrutiny of the original claims and so potentially exposing the underlying lies and the liar.

The answer to managing Fake News is to find the balance of information between any single source and all the related narrative exchanges, as fast as possible.
Tools that provide Heard Immunity are now essential to manage the spread and limit the effects of Fake News.

ꟷGeof Toddꟷ

About the Author
Geof is an entrepreneur and serial inventor (holder of 8 patents), business mentor and thought leader (Innovation through Z-axis thinking). He is also a founding member of the team that created an AI powered, big data and social media search engine. He has over 40 years of commercial success in both media and technology and has built his track record on leading and delivering the changes wrought by Digital transformation and the WWW: in media, from the DTP revolution led by Apple, to 3D visualisation, the WWW and Big Data with SGI and as Director of New Business Initiatives at NDS (now Cisco) including IPTV and OTT Streaming (VP @ He is also a partner in his eponymous Independent Design and Ideas consultancy and enjoys the challenge of identifying and realising the opportunities presented through change.

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