Three ways to combat fake news during mid-election season

Fake news, the false or misleading information presented as legitimate information about current events for news, is nothing new. It can be traced back to at least the 1890s, although nowadays it’s more common due to the explosion of online news. This can be exacerbated by the fact that the traditional news source – the analogue newspaper – has declined. Some 2,500 local and regional newspapers have shut down since 2005 – although online “news” websites have also mushroomed by the 2022 midterm elections. Some of these outlets fit the pattern of “pink slime” journalism (a euphemism for the filler product added to processed meat), the practice of low-quality news reports, many computer-generated, peddled as local news.

Also, some journalists have become political activists and see it as their duty to tell their “truth,” not unbiased reporting. axios suggests that media and journalists make extensive use of this so-called truth-telling, particularly to promote Democrats and demonize Republicans in targeted swing districts ahead of the election. However, GOP-oriented news sites are reported to be thriving with similar tactics. Internet policy expert Bill Dutton suggests that people mistakenly blame the internet or social media for fake news, when in fact it is people who are spreading misinformation, whether intentional or not. Here are three suggestions to combat the fake news problem.

1. Be critical and get news from multiple sources online and offline.

Dutton states that the rise of the Fourth Estate, the press and the media, was an important development in world history to curb the power of the state and leaders. His forthcoming book describes how the Fifth Estate, the Internet, offers unprecedented opportunities for individuals to be independent of the media and self-sufficient in information. “My suggestion is to read or view the news critically, but not solely rely on news sources; always consider obtaining your own information as best you can; and be skeptical of any source, including yourself, as we are all occasionally fooled by our desire to confirm what we already believe to be true,” he writes.

Dutton isn’t surprised by the rise of pink slime journalism as the internet is a “garbage heap,” but various search tools have sprung up to help people find quality information. Dutton suggests developing a genuine interest in politics and looking for at least four sources of information, both online and offline, such as speeches, government actions, court cases, press releases, word of mouth, witness testimony, radio, email, books, newsletters, etc “The Internet gives access to more sources of information than is possible, so we have to be more critical of ourselves,” he says.

2. Cultivate a market for truth

A lecture for the 50thth Marshall W. Van Alstyne’s annual Telecom Policy Research Conference “Free Speech, Platforms, and the Fake News Problem” proposes a guarantee of authenticity. Citing economics Nobel laureate Ronald Coase, who researched externality markets and information, Van Alstyne proposes creating a market for truth by systematically discouraging liars from lying. It would work like this:

“Allow advertising guarantees in a truth market. Have anyone who wants to signal the integrity of their claims put a resource on the line to guarantee the truth of those claims…Choose the expected value of the resource at risk to reflect the expected value of social harm. Give people who make strong claims an opportunity (not a requirement) to guarantee that their claims are true. Examples include a politician making a claim about an opponent, a political official or anti-vaccine agent making a claim about a vaccine’s effectiveness, or a consumer products company making a claim about its product’s effectiveness or where it is manufactured (e.g., ” Made in the USA”). The search warrant, posted in advance, serves as a time-limited reward for anyone who can prove the allegation is false. To contest a claim, a challenger pays a modest fee to cover the cost of a judicial review of the facts. The assessment is made by a random sample of peers. Successful challengers claim the guarantee to spend how they want, and so can undo the harmful externality. If the allegations are undisputed or found to be true, the arrest warrant will be returned to the author. In all cases, the cost of guaranteeing the truth of an honest report is zero. However, the bogus claimant pays for reporting, pays the lien and pays in reputation. Simply put, a forfeited promise is the price of a lie. It’s only paid for by liars. A politician who wants to lie can still do so. But lying gets expensive.”

3. Allow the parties to invest in local news to create competition for online outlets

Legacy regulation inhibits competition in radio, television and print media. While there are essentially no rules stopping dubious online “news” sites, many obstacles are faced when it comes to launching a real-world television station with human staff, cameras, a physical location, and the transmission of information to start or expand over the radio spectrum. Entrepreneurs must obtain permission from the Federal Communications Commission, which assesses ownership using an analog 20th century standard and whether the operation serves the “public interest, convenience and necessity”. Dutton notes, “Ownership regulation is less critical when there is news competition in the media.”

The mere presence of a physical news agency employing human workers in a community already combats the fake news/pink goo problem. Human-generated messages in one’s own community can have greater authenticity due to their proximity to the topic. When journalists cover their local community, they have an incentive to create quality, fact-based journalism. It’s easy to publish an online news article under a false name; It’s difficult to go to the crime scene, engage with witnesses, and report the news on camera without some authenticity. Therefore, local TV news can be an important tool against the spread of fake news online.

Standard General’s upcoming acquisition of Tegna would create the country’s largest minority-owned, women-owned broadcaster poised to bolster U.S. local news as Tegna operates 64 television stations in 51 U.S. markets. Led by Soo Kim, a veteran Korean-American investor with a proven track record in the broadcast and local news industries, Kim has figured out the local TV news business model and has the capital to implement it at scale. Investing in trusted broadcast news channels is an important long-term hedge against the rise of misinformation online.

Unfortunately, fake news is here to stay. But if regulators allow it, the market can provide the many sources of information citizens need to make informed voting decisions.


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