View full video of talk at www.machiasnews.com/facebook-fakenews
by Sarah Craighead Dedmon
Machias Valley News Observer publisher Pierre Little spoke at the monthly meeting of the Machias Bay Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Jan. 10. Little also publishes the Calais Advertiser.
Little titled his presentation, “Fake News, Facebook and Newspapers,” and said that he admires the work of investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson, who has brought attention to fake news and “astroturf,” which refers to the deliberate concealment of news sources to hide the self-interested party paying for the content and it’s broadcasting or distribution which normally is referred to as propaganda.
Facebook is the biggest proponent of this type of shareable links on the internet today, said Little.
“We are in the middle of a technological change brought on by the ubiquitous use of smartphones and social media, phones that allow the sharing of news with a few clicks of a button,” said Little. “Whether or not the news is true is usually not the first concern we have before we share it, and this is a problem in my view.”
Little said one of the most obnoxious cases of fake online news took place in North Waterboro, Maine and was reported by the Washington Post in a Nov. 2018 article titled, “‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America.” The story tells how Christopher Blair developed a satirical news site, “America’s Last Line of Defense”, and generated clicks on fake news stories, thereby earning as much as $15,000 a month in advertising revenue at the height of the 2016 Presidential Election.
“Bad behaviour and outright lies are being incentivized with cash, and that is the reason for fake news online.” said Little.
How can you know your online news is from a trusted source? Little said it’s important to make sure the news link you click takes you where you expected to go. Once you click on the article it should take you the actual newspaper’s domain name for example, Washington Post domain name is www.washingtonpost.com and if it doesn’t, it is untrustworthy in Little’s view, without exception.
But that’s not the only front in the battle against fake news — there’s also the question of stolen and altered content scrapped from legitimate news organizations and copied onto other non affiliated websites.
“The problem that we’re facing in the news business today is a computer science problem,” said Little. “Because what do computers do well? Copying and pasting.”
To that end, Little has been working with Mark Manasse who lives San Francisco, California. They are working on a technological solution to the problem of fake news. They call it Silverwyn and it uses cryptography technology which could eliminate fake news. Manasse has a PhD in Computer Science.
"The holy grail within the news business model is authority and control over its published digital bits of content flowing through the pipes of the internet network,” said Little. “Provide this computer science control over these bits and you have solved the fundamental business model plaguing newspapers throughout the world on the digital platform we call the Net. Silverwyn is that tool."
Trust and buying local
According to an October 2018 article Little cited in the Wall Street Journal, Facebook has been caught numerous times by advertisers faking their metrics and not disclosing key metrics for more than a year, for which they are being sued. Privacy violations during the 2016 Presidential Election have also led federal regulators to contemplate a record-setting fine, according to a Jan. 18 article in the Washington Post.
Little stressed that when businesses advertise on Facebook, their dollars leave the community by way of the telephone poles, going directly to San José, California, (Silicon Valley). But by advertising in Washington County newspapers, those dollars stay within the community where the news is reported in the Machias Valley News Observer and the Calais Advertiser, which helps support more than $100,000 in local newsroom jobs and salaries here at home. Remember, said Little, Facebook and other social media platforms have no reporters or editors here.
“By advertising in the newspaper or on our website, you are supporting our newsroom right here, locally,” he said.