Google is considering ways to fight fake news

It’s interesting to watch as tech companies are racing against regulation and financial harm resulting from all of the issues surrounding fake news that have come to light over the past two years.

Quartz is reporting that Google (I will never be able to call the company “Alphabet”) is floating some ideas to help deal with the “misleading information” problem, but more tellingly, that Google mentioned it as a financial risk to the company in its annual report:

Alphabet did flag “misleading” information and “objectionable content” as risks to the company’s financial performance in its annual report this week, for the first time ever. And the fact that executives were focused on the topic at Davos indicates the tech company’s willingness to take a more active role in filtering out fake news and propaganda.

Interesting to see as Twitter just posted their first profit since going public in 2013, but has famously become overrun with racists, nazis and Russian bots for the past year or two. At some point there’s going to be a decline in usage. Whether or not it’s business is being entirely supported by the insane rantings of a crazy person in decline, time will only tell.

The big problem with all of this is the judgement call that will have to be made. As Quartz mentions:

The idea presents some obvious hurdles—among them the question of who determines what is misinformation, which can involve individual judgment and political sensitivity.

On the surface it seems like a no-brainer. Crack down on this stuff before the world comes apart at the seams! But things look far different if the cracking down begins taking on a political bent or in pursuit of some kind of agenda that would benefit the platform or company.

Slippery slope, as they say. Next thing you know, we’ll be marrying toasters.

And therein lies the problem. None of the major platforms want to play the role of censor. There’s a little bit of a utopian belief that all of this will self-correct, but there’s also the realities that making judgements on content puts them in an odd place of power that they don’t want. But when it comes to the threat of being regulated or risking business performance, utopian dreams have to be put aside and complicated adult decisions have to be made.

Paid, Earned, Inspired

From Ben Thompson’s latest on Stratechery:

This has profound implications for products and politics. First and foremost, it is fundamentally misguided to simply view “digital” as another channel that you layer on top of traditional marketing/campaign tactics like TV advertisements. In fact, products and politicians designed for the TV age — that is, meant to be palatable to the greatest number of people — are at a fundamental disadvantage on platforms like Facebook. The products and politicians that win inspire passion, stirring up a level of engagement that breaks through on a scale that far exceeds an ad buy. To put it another way, above I mentioned “paid” media and “earned” media; what matters on Facebook is “inspired” media.

Politicians don’t need the media to reach people anymore, and people don’t make decisions based on rational thinking. It’s the new baking soda volcano.

This means national elections aren’t about policy anymore. They are about the gnashing of teeth and who can inspire more teeth to gnash.

Oddly, while we’re naturally attracted to big inspirational ideas, we tend to gravitate towards the rational when doing our own thinking or work.

And in doing so, we risk being ignored.

Every election since the turn of the century has swung based on inspiration and connection. Whoever has the bigger idea will win.

DDOS Attack on the Media

Will Oremus from Slate perfectly captures Trump’s news cycle on On The Media:

The Trump campaign is a denial of service attack on the entire media.
If you have enough outrageous stuff going on at once, there’s no way the media can cover all of it, and all of it gets covered much less than it would otherwise.

The same thing is happening in my brain. I’d love to write about going to see the live Paw Patrol with my family tonight, or post a picture of an awkwardly-worded sign I saw downtown, or even something something brands, but I’m not sure what I could possibly write about that wouldn’t seem frivolous in the face of the badly written, unrealistically-over-the-top movie that’s currently governing the US.

Indie Microblogging: owning your short-form writing

Manton Reece is launching an independent platform for microblogging:

Do you remember how the web used to work? How the web was supposed to work?

In the earlier days of the web, we always published to our own web site. If you weren’t happy with your web host, or they went out of business, you could move your files and your domain name, and nothing would break.

Today, most writing instead goes into a small number of centralized social networking sites, where you can’t move your content, advertisements and fake news are everywhere, and if one of these sites fails, your content disappears from the internet. Too many sites have gone away and taken our posts and photos with them.

Check out the Kickstarter page. It might not work. But neither will Twitter.