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.

Blogging is My Generation’s Big Band Music.

CJ Chilvers runs a great blog. Especially when he writes about blogging. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. He linked to a post from the IA Blog about some people ditching social media and returning to blogs:

There seems to be a weak undercurrent of old and young bloggers like us that feel sentimental or curious and want to bring back blogging. Blogging won’t save the world. But, hell, after two weeks now, we can confirm: it feels great to be back on the blogging line. If you are one of those old or young bloggers, please join in. Drop Facebook, drop Twitter and drop Medium for original thought. Own your traffic. You can use them to engage in discussion. But don’t get lost in there. Write daily. Publish as often as you have something to say. Link to other blogs.

CJ adds:

The why is clear: social media is messing us up as people and as a society.

I agree.

It feels good to get away from algorithmic feeds, stop reading about the daily dismantling of liberal democracy, and look for what’s interesting in the open waters of the Web. Write about things. Share things. Read beyond the headlines. Read other people’s thoughts on the world. Thoughts that aren’t overcooked into two-dollar advice listicles on Medium. Speculative thoughts. Weird thinking. Writing that isn’t trying to sell something or kickstart someone’s career as some sort of guru. Be reminded about the greatness of Kottke.

I’ve been writing here again and I can feel it making me better at my work. I’m finding more interesting things out in the world again. I don’t have to worry about being attacked by Russian MAGA bots. And I generally feel better about the Internet.

You’ve been tagged in an event: Destroying the Fabric of Society for Profit

In what seems like a whole new genre of journalism, the Guardian [ran a piece]((https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/jan/23/never-get-high-on-your-own-supply-why-social-media-bosses-dont-use-social-media) about how executives of these services don’t really use them, don’t let their kids use them, and in some cases, leave the industry out of disgust.

Former vice-president for user growth at Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya:

The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth…

This is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem. It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other. I can control my decision, which is that I don’t use that shit. I can control my kids’ decisions, which is that they’re not allowed to use that shit.

“Now watch this drive.”

Most people will read that and feel a sense of horror, hopelessness, and maybe start to rethink their use of social media.

But I have to think there people running holding companies that would kill to be that relevant to to the end of civilization.

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.

Write-Only Social Media

Cal Newport has written extensively about how social media is ruining our attention spans. He recommends not using it at all. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the best idea. At least for what I do for a living.

So I’ve been thinking about how to create a write-only social media system. A way to still get some of the value out of social networks without getting all of the outrage and distraction.

News and ArticlesNuzzle is an app that aggregates articles that your friends and friends of friends are sharing on Facebook and Twitter. You don’t even have to have the social apps on your phone, because it taps into the services’ APIs.

Posting Dad Jokes or Links or WhateverDrafts.app on iOS is a great way to write whatever you want to write, then share it to another app or service. It’s great for a write-only email experience as well. Open drafts, write whatever it is, and then share it without having to see any timelines or feeds or inboxes. I’m not sure if this will work without having the social apps on your phone, but its a start if you have something to say but don’t need to take on other people’s anxiety.

Facebook without the Feed: For people that still need some of the functionality of Facebook on a desktop, it’s possible to use it without having to deal with the newsfeed.

From an older Venture Beat article:

…thousands of users have installed a new Chrome Extension, “News Feed Eradicator for Facebook,” to silence Facebook’s news feed. And tech-savvy Safari users have opted to eliminate Facebook’s News Feed via a simple CSS tweak.

It’s a start at least.