Friday, November 25, 2016

The pedlars of fake news are corroding democracy; Guardian, 11/25/16

Andrew Smith, Guardian; The pedlars of fake news are corroding democracy:
"With misinformation being incentivised in this way, who could be surprised when Buzzfeed found a group of young Macedonians copying the most outlandish fabrications to more than 140 specially created pro-Trump websites and sexing up the headlines to gain clicks and go viral on Facebook?
This is important, because a recent study by the Pew Research Centre found a majority of American adults using Facebook as a source of news (which means Britain is sure to follow). Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been resistant to the notion that his company, social media, or the web in general are undermining democracy (“a pretty crazy idea”), even after dozens of his own staff formed a covert taskforce to address the problem post-election. It’s easy to see why he bridles too, because if he accepts the truth that his algorithms function no more objectively than a human editor, then he bears responsibility for their choices. And once he does that, he allows the equally obvious truth that Facebook, whether it wants to be or not, is now a media organisation and must vouch for the information it disseminates...
What can be done? O’Neil champions the idea of a Hippocratic oath for the “quants”, people who create and nurture algorithms, and of regular algorithmic audits to assess their effects. More fundamentally, it would be easy for us to decide as a society and legislate accordingly that Facebook et al should be treated as media organisations, and held accountable for the information from which they profit. And it’s important that we act now, because the same truth trolls who disgraced the US election are turning their fire on the socially minded entrepreneur Elon Musk, perhaps fearful that he might go into politics – and rest assured that it won’t end there."

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