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Advertising Week Europe 2017 Official Guide

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Page 208 of 299

How do you like your news? Real or fake? The internet may have opened up access to information on an unprecedented scale, but as more people turn to tech companies rather than mainstream media for their news, the democratisation of stories may be having unintended consequences. Almost half the US population uses Facebook as a source of news, according to Pew Research Center, while an estimated 74 percent of Americans and 87 percent of people in Britain use Google to find information. But until recently, neither company has been held ac- countable for the content on their platforms in the way a traditional media company is. The result has been a surge of fake stories, often in a format simi- lar to genuine news articles, appearing on both platforms. This may account for why almost a quarter of Americans say they have—know- ingly or otherwise—shared bogus articles on social media. During the American presidential election and the Brexit cam- paign in the UK, the spread of misinformation became rife on the web and social media—and many linked that to the surprise outcomes in both votes. Articles such as "FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide" and "Five Million More Migrants Could Enter Britain by 2030 if Turkey and Four Other Applicant Countries Join the EU" were widely shared on social net- works, yet neither was true. Google also listed a fake story, "Final Election 2016 Numbers: Trump Won Both Popular and Electoral College Votes," as a top news item on Election Day in America. Holden Frith, editor of The Week, puts the spread of fake news down to people inadvertently creating their own "filter bubbles" on social media. "Today, it's very easy for people to filter out the main- stream media and remain in their own interest groups online, on Facebook and on Twitter, where, if they are of a particular ideological persuasion, they can construct their own news sources that never challenge their existing views," he says. Fil Menczer, a professor of informatics and computer science at Indiana University, says that on platforms like Facebook, misinfor- mation that aligns with our beliefs spreads like wildfire thanks to confirmation bias—our tendency to ignore dissenting information and look only for what we want to hear. "Humans are vulnerable to manipulation by digital misinformation thanks to a complex set of so- cial, cognitive, economic and algorithmic biases," he said in a recent article in Scientific American. The UK Independence Party played on this in its Brexit campaign last year. UKIP's largest donor, Arron Banks, told the Guardian that facts, at least by themselves, don't work. "You have got to connect with people emotionally," he said. Inanattempttosteervoters,UKIPtappedintofearsamongtheBritish public about mass immigration. A video on its Leave.EU Facebook page, viewed 1.6 million times, began with the question, "Are you concerned about the amount of crime committed in the UK by foreign criminals?" and ended by asking, "Isn't it time to take back control?" But, says Frith, the idea that facts don't necessarily win an argu- ment isn't new. "The strongest political campaigns are the ones that can tie in an emotion with facts," he says. "What we've seen more recently is that the emotion comes first and then people assemble the facts to support that emotion." Google and Facebook announced plans late last year to combat fake news on their sites. They said they would go after the revenue of fake news creators and bar hoaxers from their ad networks. Andrea Faville, a spokesperson for Google, told the New York Times, "Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher's content or the primary purpose of the web property." And, just months after disbanding the human editorial team in charge of its trending-news module in favour of using machine intel- ligence, Facebook has announced plans to work with certain media organisations to make sure that "a healthy news ecosystem and journalism can thrive." The Facebook Journalism Project will allow the tech giant to work more closely with media outlets to prevent the spread of fake news. The company has also introduced tools enabling users to flag potentially false stories and refer them to a third-party fact-checking organisation. If a story is found to be unreliable, it will be marked in users' news feeds as "disputed." In Germany, where these tools are being rolled out ahead of the country's parliamentary election this year, government officials have expressed concern that misinformation on the internet could affect the outcome of the poll, according to the BBC. This fear has been compounded by a BuzzFeed investigation that found numerous false stories on Facebook pages about Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is seeking re-election. Mark Zuckerberg, during a Facebook Live discussion in December last year, said he didn't want any hoaxes on Facebook. "Our goal is to showpeoplethecontenttheywillfindmostmeaningful,andpeoplewant accurate news. We have already launched work enabling our community toflaghoaxesandfakenews,andthereismorewecandohere,"hesaid. But fact-checking won't stop the spread of fake news, according to Frith. "This is missing the point. These stories are created to reach people who don't want them to be fact-checked." When Trump con- tradicted himself during the election campaign, it didn't matter to a lot of people because they had already made an emotional connection to him or his ideology, which is immune to fact-checking, Frith says. There isn't always a clear distinction between "fake" and "real" news in any case. As former Facebook designer Bobby Goodlatte has pointed out, you can fact-check stories, but you can't filter out quasi- truths or highly editorialised takes on events. "This is why I have some sympathy with Facebook," says Frith. "If you're trying to determine what's true and what isn't, it then be- comes a political conversation. There are simple answers to stories like whether Hillary Clinton is running a paedophile ring out of a Washington, DC, pizza restaurant. But when you get into whether Turkey is going to join the EU…it's much more complicated. That cre- ates a lot of areas where fake news creators can easily seduce people by giving them the simple answer, even if it's a wrong answer." "The idea that facts don't necessarily win an argument is not new. The strongest political campaigns are the ones that can tie in an emotion with facts." AWE 2017 207

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