Recently, news has come out with Google and Facebook entering an age of censorship for deemed “fake news sites.” Some readers are blaming these “Fake news sites” for swaying the recent presidential election. As a result, two of the world’s biggest Internet companies have responded with action to censor these sites (see digiday.com and nytimes.com).
We at Revcontent have policies against this [intentionally misleading news sites] and take the enforcement seriously. We have shutdown sites for this in the past and if a site has a nefarious intent we do not want to allow that on our network, however we are very careful not to cross the lines into censorship. In fact, what most companies won’t tell you out of fear is this challenge is a lot bigger than just a headline. If user protection is the concern, we need to look big picture before we go too far down this slippery slope.
My real fear is that the second companies like Google and Facebook become our editors, that is the second we have lost all hope for the freedom of the written word.
I think earlier this year when Facebook hired people to adjust the trending recommendations on their newsfeed, it quickly became apparent that all people are biased and that the bias of people is the risk in itself. I do not trust a company willing to aggressively cross over that line. I believe we have to be very careful to recognize our own bias and that we ourselves are the greater risk to journalism itself as the platform being engaged upon.
I cannot find a major news organization that has not had issues with accuracy and fact checking – so where is the line? Where is too far? How do you have a compliance team draw that distinction without creating bias themselves?
If you ask, “Does this hurt the integrity of journalism?” I counter that the current state of the integrity in journalism is what has led to this. I read articles from the most established news organizations in the world, and they are all opinions. They have misleading subject lines, which state things as facts and then fanciful writing to express “opinions,” even though most people don’t read beyond the original headline. I believe even in the state that journalism currently is in it is still the single most important institution in each of our lives and those voices and ideas are the single most important thing we need to protect.
I believe we shouldn’t be calling for more censorship; we should be calling for more transparency. We should be calling for transparency of bias, which is a concept our team at Revcontent has actually invented using our machine learning technology. We can run through any articles and now understand political bias and whether that content is left leaning, right leaning, or centrist. I envision a world where people are made aware of the bias and a world where people can see a counter points to the current article bias they are reading, a world where the media can once again build trust with their readers.
This is the future of journalism and protecting people – give everyone a voice, do not shut people’s voices down because it’s the voice you don’t want to hear that we need to protect the most. Those are the voices that change our culture, our democracy.
I believe we need to be transparent with users about the trust of the source – we are working on a technology that will do just that, and using our same machine learning, show the trust level of the source before they click on it.
I predict that Facebook will use this same idea, and eventually its own Edgerank algorithms, to bring more transparency to users before they click on links, and this is just one of about a thousand potential editorial issues this will begin to address. I believe transparency is what saves the world as we know it, not censorship. I have to look at this situation and some of the current anti-free speech headlines in our culture and think ahead and think of a world where the greatest protection of our democracies and our freedoms is put at risk through censorship. I believe in the power of the written word and giving people a voice. I believe people are upset right now and looking for people to blame but now, now is the time we need to think bigger picture. Once we begin the tide of censorship, it will not stop, and I do not want to live in a world like that.
John Daniel Lemp