Posted March 03, 2023
By Chris Campbell
Fighting Fake News
I’m going to tell you the truth.
This is the one thing you’ll read online today that you will be able to take to the bank…
And so are you.
It’s impossible for someone that interacts with the world they live in to not be.
I do my homework before I believe something I’ve read. But I admit that I do a little more when I don’t like it.
“Facts” that align with what I already believe to be true click into place a little easier than ones that challenge my understanding of something.
This is because I’m human.
As is everyone who writes (and reads) the news.
And it’s why the Fake News problem is unsolvable.
At least it was until now.
I Call BS
“Fake News” is a term that erupted in popularity during the 2016 Presidential election.
It was used so frequently by the candidates, pundits, social media, and anyone else with a TV, that it almost immediately lost all meaning.
Initially used to refer to coordinated news manipulation by foreign actors, it was quickly co-opted to refer to politically motivated slander that may, or may not, have been backed up by facts.
Within weeks, everything under the sun was “fake news”.
Here’s the thing…
They weren’t wrong.
If it’s written by a person, it is tainted with bias.
Not only the bullshitters, but the people calling bullshit. Everyone had, has, and will always have an agenda.
It’s all fake news (to some degree).
And it always has been.
The Solution to the Problem
So if bias is unavoidable - both for the writer and reader - what’s the alternative?
Treat everything like entertainment?
Hit the streets and do your own investigative reporting?
Want the truth on Covid? Well, to avoid bias you’d need to throw out the entire history of medical research.
Go back to before germ theory.
Go back even before the answer for any ailment was to balance your four humors.
Don’t take anything for granted and start testing infectious diseases in your own homemade lab. (Disclaimer: Don’t do this)
Make sure you completely sequester yourself from the media, as well as your friends and family. You don’t want your results to be tainted by your own bias.
This will mostly remove human bias on your hunt for “Real News”, but not totally.
Unfortunately you’ll have to dedicate your entire life to figuring out this one thing.
But luckily that probably won’t be too long, considering that you’re ignoring all of the precautions people before you have figured out regarding handling potentially infectious organisms.
So if you’re not willing to sacrifice everything to avoid bias, what’s the next best thing?
If you fact-check, congratulations, you’re already doing more than most people.
How could someone be biased if what they’re saying matches up with the facts and figures?
Consider the following hypothetical…
I tell the police that I heard a loud gunshot, then that I saw a man running full speed down a city street. I give an exact description of the man and they make an arrest.
No part of what I said was a lie, but…
I left out the fact that the city street was closed for a charity marathon, the gunshot was from a starter pistol, and the man I described was one of five hundred people with bib numbers that were running as fast as they could.
Just because you’re telling the truth, it doesn’t mean you’re not lying…
The Problem With the Solution
At some point, you have to believe someone.
Most people go with their guts.
But as Nick Hornby said in his novel High Fidelity…
“I've been thinking with my guts since I was fourteen years old, and frankly speaking, between you and me, I have come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.”
If our brains can’t sort something out, we definitely can’t trust any other organ to do it.
Do you trust professional fact checkers?
After all, they’re putting their livelihood on the line by saying whether or not something lines up with the “facts”.
Well, whether they take it seriously or not, they’re humans who are doing the legwork and they can’t turn off their bias.
Does something sound “off” to the fact-checker?
Unless they were a robot, they’ll likely be motivated to check an extra source or two that they wouldn’t have checked if their Bias Alarms weren’t set off.
There It Is…
“Unless they were a robot”.
A phrase that wouldn’t have sounded anything like a realistic solution only three months ago.
In a post-ChatGPT World, it’s now more common to hear “Why can’t a robot do it?”.
There is a long list of jobs that an artificial intelligence could potentially do better than a human, but in the case of culling out fake news, it’s a job that humans can not do.
Companies like Blackbird.AI are using AI to combat the rising issue of fake news in a way that isn’t also just as prone to bias.
Blackbird.AI uses proprietary algorithms to identify five “risk signals” indicating fake news:
Using these markers, news that’s being coordinated by a group of bad actors can be flagged and tracked to its source.
Being able to detect narrative manipulation, Blackbird.AI can protect businesses, politicians, and the population as a whole from the spread of malicious lies.
The US-company AlphaVu and the UK-startup Logically are also using AI to counter dangerous misinformation.
(Logically in fact offers crypto-specific services to identify pump-and-dumps and rug-pulls for crypto investors)
While we can all agree that identifying Twitter bots, outright lies, and coordinated efforts to spread specifically crafted news stories is a good thing - does this really take the human bias out of fact checking?
Is someone behind the scenes plugging in key words to the AI that reflect their own bias?
Are the “facts” already established, and anyone questioning them gets flagged as a dangerous dissenter?
AI makes it possible to defend ourselves against the new superweapons of disinformation - such as DeepFakes and Twitter Bots - but we’re still not free from human influence.
Blackbird.AI’s algorithms are proprietary and it’s still susceptible to accusations of bias based on who they decide to enter into contracts with.
The same technology put on a blockchain would give us a truly impartial and transparent fact-checker.
No more moving the goalposts. No more Thoughtcrime.
A decentralized app (dApp) that utilizes the AI technology that’s already in use, would be the answer to a seemingly unsolvable problem.