New Anti-Fake News Strategy Is Not Going To Work

Are you familiar with some new tips to spot fake news on Facebook? The social media company was investigate for spreading fake news (propaganda) during the US presidential election. It is clear that spreading fake stories about politicians trafficking child slaves or launching terrorist attacks without any consequences for democracy and society is a bad idea.

It was necessary to do something. Facebook’s depressingly incompetent strategy to combat fake news is now available. It has three parts, which frustratingly ineptly thought out.

New products

The plan’s first component is to create new products that will stop fake news stories spreading. Facebook claims it is trying to make it easier for people to report fake news stories and to identify signs such as if reading an item makes them significantly less likely to share it.

The story will sent to independent fact-checkers. Fake stories will flag and linked to the correct article. It sounds great, but it will not work.

Non-experts would not be able to tell the difference between fake news and real news, so there wouldn’t be any fake news problem.

Facebook also stated that they cannot be arbiters for truth themselves, given their scale and our roles.

Facebook functions as a megaphone. Normaly, the megaphone company is not responsible for someone saying something terrible into it. Facebook, however, is a special megaphone that listens and changes the volume.

Your newsfeed’s content and order are largely determined by the company’s algorithms. If Facebook’s algorithms spread hate speech from neo-Nazis all over the internet, then it’s their fault.

Worse, even if Facebook correctly labels fake news as contested it will still impact public discourse via availability cascades.

The message becomes more plausible and reasonable each time it is repeated from different sources. Bold lies can be very powerful as people are able to recall them being true by repeatedly fact-checking them.

These effects are extremely strong and cannot be fixed by weak interventions like public service announcements. This brings us to the second part Facebook’s strategy, helping people make better informed decisions when they come across false news.

We Can Help You To Help Yourself

Facebook will release public service announcements, and it will fund the news integrity initiative in order to assist people making informed judgments about what they read and share online. This is also not a good idea.

Cognitive psychology research has produced a lot of evidence about correcting systemic errors in reasoning, such as the inability to recognize propaganda or bias. Since the 1980s, we know that simply warning people about their biases does not work.

Similar to the above, it sounds great to fund a news integrity project until you realize that the company is actually talking about critical thinking skills.

Primary, secondary, and tertiary education all aim to improve critical thinking skills. What good will four years of university do for these skills? You can make some YouTube videos. Fake news FAQ. It is unlikely that funding a few research projects or meetings to industry experts will make a difference.

New Economic Incentives Are Disrupt

This non-strategy’s third prong is to crack down on spammers, fake accounts, as well as making it more difficult for them to purchase advertisements. This is a great idea but it’s false because most fake news comes from con artists and not major news outlets.

Fake news is Orwellian newspeak. It refers to a completely fabricate story that has been sourced from an unknown outlet and marketed as news for political or financial gain. These stories are most suspect and thus the least concerning. More insidious are the lies and bias from public officials, official reports, and mainstream news.


News Coverage Influences Countries Emergency Aid Budgets

News media only cover humanitarian crises in a selective way. Global news coverage is often intense for events that feature clear, dramatic imagery such as the 2020 Beirut Port Explosion. Contrary to this, long-term humanitarian crises, which are harder to access and explain to the public, like the civil war in Yemen, that has been raging for over a year, are rarely reported on even though the need is much greater. The graph below illustrates this clearly.

We often assume that this is because media attention has an impact on how governments allocate humanitarian aid. It appears that this helps explain why certain UN appeals for humanitarian assistance are almost fully supported, such as those for Iraq (92% target UN) and Lebanon (84%), while others only receive a fraction, such the Venezuelan crisis (24%), and South Sudan (10%).

Research has shown that news coverage and government aid allocations are strongly linked. One study on US foreign disaster assistance found that for every news story about a disaster in the New York Times, there was an additional aid allocation of half million dollars.

Is news coverage really a significant factor in the amount of humanitarian assistance a crisis gets? Are we confusing causation and correlation? These are crucial questions at a time when donor funds are not keeping up with the rapidly increasing humanitarian need. These questions can help ensure that humanitarian aid gets to the places it’s most needed.

Response To Crises

Our team of researchers from the University of East Anglia and City, University of London, University of Edinburgh, interviewed 30 top bureaucrats who were responsible for making decisions about humanitarian aid allocation policy. They represented 16 democratic countries with the highest humanitarian aid budgets. Journalism Studies published the results recently.

Interviewed bureaucrats said that in certain circumstances, intense and sudden news coverage could increase humanitarian aid levels, regardless of whether the crisis warranted it. One policymaker said that this was true in the 2020 Beirut blast.

We have a very small humanitarian assistance budget so normally Lebanon wouldn’t have been feature. But, the wide-spread interest in the topic. Meant that we called early to make a reasonable-sized contribution.

Our respondents also cited other examples of media coverage that increased official aid, such as the 2015 Rohingya refugee crises and the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

News Media Affected

The interviewees explained to us how news media affected them. This included triggering civil society organisations, the public, and elected officials. These groups then pressured government ministries to provide additional funding. One interviewee said:

When something made a major media topic, everyone starts asking questions

The impact of intense and immediate news coverage was particularly significant. Under these circumstances bureaucrats didn’t have much time to defend why they were not supporting an additional response.

Interviewees reiterated that national news outlets are more influential than international news outlets like CNN and the BBC. One interviewee said:

For our politicians, national media is important They are elect here so it is usually their public image in this country, how well-known they are here… It’s media that reach the wider public.

We therefore refer to these instances of media influence on humanitarian aid as sudden-onset national news effects.


The News Media Bargaining Code

In response to the call of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, (ACCC). The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Barbegaining Code was create in early 2015. It was design to strengthen the government’s ability to address the power imbalance between Australian news media platforms and businesses.

It was a complicated negotiation process that involved a three-way. Tug of war between the government, digital platforms, and news media. Organisations such as The Conversation and SBS have strongly criticised the code. Claiming that they missed out on deals despite falling under its definition of news.

A second concern is the $150,000 threshold that must met by smaller or regional news businesses to be eligible under the code.

The Department of the Treasury will begin reviewing the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Arbitration Code legislation in early 2022 to determine if it is still fit for purpose and if digital platforms can contribute to the sustainability of the Australian media industry.

How Will Media Accomplish This?

The code has not yet been used to identify digital platforms. The treasurer may not designate Google and Facebook if they are satisfied that they have contributed adequately to the Australian news sector.

A variety of commercial content agreements have been reach between Facebook, Google and news organizations outside the law. Their content can found on Google News Showcase or Facebook News Tab. There is no comprehensive list, but media coverage and company announcements reveal that deals have made with The Guardian Australia and Junkee, News Corp Australia and Schwartz Media.

These deals commercial-in-confidence, so very little known about how much they worth, how the money spent and how effective they will in supporting news businesses.

One, news organizations that have signed deals with Google and Facebook have made announcements about the possibility of hiring more journalists.

Media Announcements About Job Cuts

However, some companies have made announcements about job cuts and reductions in print services, even though they had struck deals with the platforms. It is unclear how these commercial deals have affected business decisions due to the lack of transparency. Difficult to predict the long-term effects of these content agreements on sustainability and the contribution to an Australian news ecosystem.

It will take a lot of work to review the code. The University of Canberra’s News and Media Research Centre (N&MRC), held a Chatham House Rules roundtable discussion with representatives of platforms, government, and the community to explore potential options.

It was intend to identify research gaps to inform future media policy. One of the most important topics was the bargaining code. We have developed a set of indicators that will monitor the impact of commercial content agreements on news business sustainability and the health of wider news environments.

Reflect The Different

Different indicators are require to reflect the different accountabilities of each of the key players. News companies, digital platforms and government. Some indicators are easily measure from outside. Other indicators will require collaboration from independent researchers.

To estimate the impact of voluntary content agreements on news industry, indicators could include:

  • Changes in the number and composition of journalists and other staff
  • News outlets may be close, contracted or expand.
  • The amount of investment made in staff and cadet training.

Another important measure would be to track public interest journalism content volume, readership, subscription, and membership numbers. Longer term indicators of industry health will include graduate employment outcomes and enrolments in journalism programs.