Wednesday, December 07, 2016

What I Worry About More Than Fake News

There's been a great deal of post 2016 election coverage about the topic of "fake news" and social media effort to identify and stop the spread of fake news whether by not allowing ads, not including in search results, or any other policy that addresses this concern.

It seems that the term "fake news" could mean a lot of different things, and perhaps I underestimate it's influence here.

But I think what concerns me more than "fake news" is the impact of "Targeted News."

It seems like somehow what seemed like a newspaper collapse in 2008 has survived (somehow?) and online news sources has become more prevalent. This includes a variety of sources, which include establishment news sources, those with a perceived and/or actual bias, and some that came from who know's where.

Whether you got news this past year from a newspaper, a news station (cable or network), it seems that everyone got some additional news from their social media streams -- and this news could vary and come from who knows what source (I saw some crazy stuff from both sides this year, would expect most people did).

A strong example of unique reporting specifically from this year's election cycle was the online publication Huffington Post including their editor's note with every Trump article reading "Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S."

What concerns me is that some people probably read a lot of news this past cycle on Huffington Post (or similar sites left or right leaning), might think that these news sources are the same deck of cards that everyone else is reading.

Even outside of social media (where either the site may target your interest based on similar interactions, assumptions about interest, or social networks interest), I know one of the things I see on my iPhone regularly is the News feature that shows me articles that it thinks I'd be interested in -- I'm not sure on the algorithms here but it's a mix of news sources.

"Targeted News" seems in someways a much greater risk than "Fake News" in the sense that it allows for parallel conversations about important topics. In a rose-colored view at the past, I imagine that there was local community value in neighbors and co-workers who read shared print newspapers in the morning. Sure, this might not allow for the same diversity of opinion or presentation, but it also meant that news sources would not have interest in targeting extreme ideologies and positions. Again, surely rose-colored and I acknowledge that there's value to the diversity of ideas available, but if news sources we see in social media and related feeds are targeted we don't have diversity of ideas being presented we have our own view of the world preseted with the other perspective hidden in the background algorithm.

At a national level, I don't have a grand solution, but at a personal level the result has led me to be more silent on news topics, realizing that what I am reading might be entirely different in presentation that what others are seeing. It has also led me reluctantly ingest, or in many cases avoid, news that isn't coming from more established sources even if the lean one way or the other, while avoiding Drudge Report or Mother Jones.

Who knows the future of "Fake News," but I am certain "Targeted News" will continue to be a force in our life and when it comes to big national events (like a controversial presidential season), I have a hard time seeing this advancement in news as providing significant social benefit.