danah boyd on fake news

I’ve hesitated to write anything about the fake news issue because I work at a company that is in the middle of it. SmartNews uses algorithms to curate the most important stories of the moment and we are constantly debating  how to best use the tools we have to discover, process, filter, and rank, filter, a “balanced” view of the world to our readers.

I’ve been frustrated with all the proposed “solutions” to the fake news problem because I appreciate the limits of technology and have great respect for human creativity.

danah boyd, ever a beacon of clarity on the intersection of technology and society, has written the post that had me nodding in violent agreement. Read it now. It’s the best thing I’ve read about where we are, how we got here, why past solutions will not work and the hard road ahead. Google and Facebook Can’t Just Make Fake News Disappear.

an excerpt (emphasis mine)

Even if the goal were to curb the most egregious lies for economic gain (or even just deception in business in FTC parlance), that conversation wouldn’t be quick or easy — folks forget that iterations in spam/SEO went on for decade(s) to get to the current status quo (which is still imperfect but less visible, especially to Gmail users and sophisticated American searchers). These are international issues with no good regulatory process or reasonable process to adjudicate what is real or not. Welcome to the high stakes game of whack-a-mole.

Try writing a content policy that you think would work. And then think about all of the ways in which you’d be eliminating acceptable practices through that policy. Next, consider how your adversaries would work around your policy. This was what I did at Blogger and LiveJournal, and I can’t even begin to express how challenging it was to do that work. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of images I saw that challenged the line between pornography and breastfeeding. These lines aren’t as clean as you’d think.

Although all eyes turn to Facebook, Google and other distribution points of the news they cannot flip a few switches and fix everything.

Technology is but a temporary routing algorithm for our motivations, a reflection, albeit supercharged, of our own cultural biases and societal divisions.

If we want technical solutions to complex socio-technical issues, we can’t simply throw it over the wall and tell companies to fix the broken parts of society that they made visible and helped magnify. We need to work together and build coalitions of groups who do not share the same political and social ideals to address the issues that we can all agree are broken.

A neighbor of mine is using private Facebook groups to “generate dialogue and engagement between divided communities” rewarding  “curiosity over confrontation.” (Spaceship Media).

Today I read about Alex Reinoso in NYC who is posting fliers around town with his cell number and email with the simple invitation. “Hi, I’m Alex. I’m a liberal. All my friends are liberal. My newsfeed is one-sided. Are you a conservative dealing with the same issue? If so I’d like to talk.”

Now that we have the means to connect and broadcast ourselves to anyone in the world, let’s now create technology that accelerates cooperation and amplifies empathy?