Thursday, May 30, 2019

'News' that is really fake is likely to become more common; news media need to promote, and shore up, their reliability

Mike Allen of Axios wrote in his morning briefing yesterday, "Welcome to our sad, new, distorted reality — the explosion of fake: fake videos, fake people on Facebook, and daily cries of 'fake news.'
This week, we reached a peak fake, with Facebook saying it had deleted 2.2 billion fake accounts in three months, a fake video of Speaker Pelosi going viral, and Trump going on a fresh 'fake news' tear. A Pew survey last year found that two-thirds of tweeted links to popular websites came from non-human users (bots or other automated accounts). . .. Misinformation about vaccines has led to an alarming number of measles outbreaks."

And it's going to get worse, Allen says: "It's only going to get easier to generate fake audio, fake videos and even fake people — and to spread them instantly and virally. Fake polls, fake experts, fake fundraisers and even fake think tanks are proliferating. Fake influence has become the result of an internet that's filled with fake measurement and personas. More than half of internet traffic comes from bots, not people, Axios media trends expert Sara Fischer writes in this astonishing tour of our fake world: Dozens of content farms and internet hacks make money selling or amplifying fake video views or follower accounts to politicians and influencers. Distorted images can make any crowd size look bigger or smaller than reality. Around the world, fake polls are being set up to distort elections."

Allen acknowledges, "Fakes and personas have existed on TV, radio and print for years," but as New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg notes: "Legislators have failed to stay on top of social media platforms, with their billions of hard-to-track users from all over the world."

So, more than ever, journalists and their paymasters need to emphasize their essential role as reliable sources of information, and do all we can to be trusted. That can vary from platform to platform, market to market and outlet to outlet, but we must differentiate the news from entertainment, news media from social media, and fact from opinion. We must be different, or we will die. --Al Cross, director and professor, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

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