Reining in the flood of false news

Loved this piece so much. It’s what we try to do here at Doubtful News and The Atlantic succeeded for a specific moment.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Subvert ‘Em: Countering Misinformation on the Viral Web

This is more like a story so it doesn’t lend itself to snippets. I suggest you read the entire thing. If you are a regular reader here, you will value the content in that piece because it embodies our goal – to tell the truth. It’s harder to undo the false stuff, they are compelling stories, they spread far and wide BECAUSE they are compelling…

First came the fakes. Old storm photos dredged up and labeled Sandy. Photoshopped sharks in a flooded New Jersey town. A still from the Day After Tomorrow of the Statue of Liberty. An empty Times Square. A scuba diver in Times Square station. A lost seal borrowed from Duluth.

Madrigal mentions the incentives that used to exist to “encourage veracity”. But now, it’s different. Regarding photographs:

The same incentives do not exist for most of the people who post the things you see when you’re paging through Facebook, reading forwarded emails, scrolling through Tweets, or thumbing around Instagram. All of these platforms *want* you to post photographs.

The algorithms at Facebook privilege photographs because they are what people are most likely to interact with. And users love a picture that’s worth a thousand words, four thousand Facebook likes, 900  retweets, a bunch of hearts, and some reblogs: everyone likes being an important node. The whole system tilts towards the consumption of visual content, of pictures and infographics and image macros.

In the drive to flatten the production of media, to make everyone a publisher, we’ve ended up destabilizing the system we have for surfacing bits of truth. All pictures are the same on Facebook (or other social networks). Fake photo from 2004. Stock photo from 2009. AP photo from last night. Your mom’s friend’s cousin’s flight attendant sister’s friend’s photo. They’re all in the stream, just as likeable. And if one turns out to be fake, well, no one’s career is on the line. No one is responsible for amplifying bad information, and more often than not, it’s impossible to figure out who the original source of it was.

From The Atlantic (

We don’t know the source, we’ve lost the context.

Right now, social networks are platforms of decontextualization.

This was the most important quote of the whole piece. People take photographs, quotes, tweets and comments out of their place inside a set story. Once that is done, the meaning is lost or changed, usually for the worse.

Nowadays, there are many more small distribution channels, people who influence their friends. And they don’t have the same sense of responsibility, nor any incentives to encourage them to get one.

This is an uphill battle, friends. But you are part of that distribution channel too. PLEASE link on Facebook, share posts, tweet and retweet, let others know. Doubt what you hear when it sounds too good to be true or so WOW that you feel compelled to pass it on. We can’t stop the storm of fictionalized and false news but we try to bridle the flood best we can.