Filtering fake news

YouTube identifies music and video based on an internal system called ‘ContentID‘. Google, Apple and many others have systems for recognising related images (you can use one of them directly within Google image search, by uploading an image to search against, or you can ask your iPhone to show you pictures of trees). I don’t wish to suggest that ‘finding things like an arbitrary image or video’ is a solved problem, but it’s clearly at least partially addressed.

Meanwhile, Snopes does an excellent job of checking and verifying (or debunking) stories which are doing the rounds of social media. PolitiFact won a Pulitzer. A round-up of fact-checking sites by The Daily Dot adds, Media Matters, and others.

So… suppose you’re Facebook, looking at the wasteland over which you preside. Wouldn’t you want to do something like:

  1. Parse the message a user is about to post, looking for links or embedded media and extracting some sort of ID metric for that object.
  2. Check that content key against a modest number of sources, querying for a coarse trust score.
  3. Reflect that score back to the user prior to publication, with a link to the source article. For example: “You’re about to republish this image. Snopes thinks it’s likely a fake. Read more here [link]”.
  4. Allow the user to publish anyway, should they so choose.
  5. Perhaps also (and optionally) badge likely-fake items which appear in the user’s feed.

Would this open up a writhing pit of snakes about authority, editorial judgement and censorship? Sure. But Facebook and Twitter are already writing snake pits. It’s surely not beyond the wit of company execs to present this sort of approach as providing tools for users, and anyway, they already do most of what I’m suggesting: post a commercial audio recording, and YouTube or Facebook will flag it as such and (in the former’s case, at least) divert advertising revenue to the copyright holder.

That is: similar systems are already in place to protect copyright holders. What I’m asking here is for some of the same sorts of tools to be surfaced in the interests of asserting and maintaining moral rights. Such as my moral right not to be subjected to an endless stream of recycled crap, or our collective moral right not to accidentally render ourselves extinct as a population by doing something profoundly stupid just because somebody worked out how to make (transitory, as it turned out) money out of the process.

Put it this way: I think most of the people I follow would check their posts for validity, if only it was easy for them. So let’s do the easy bit.

The hard part, as best I can tell, is funding Snopes et al. to maintain the necessary APIs. It’s in music publishers’ interests to maintain databases of the songs over which they claim rights, because there’s a revenue stream to be had from the playing of those tracks. But… oh wait! Facebook is raking in advertising revenue. Ding!

In the end, the question boils down to: how much money is Facebook willing to spend on cleaning up their system? Their current dead tree media  buy is meaningless unless they’re actually building tools which help drain the swamp they’ve created. The objective here shouldn’t be rebuilding our trust in Facebook, it should be providing the tools which help us trust the media we’re seeing on a continuous basis.

I don’t think one can do that by asserting what’s ‘trustworthy’, there are too many value judgements involved. But one could provide access to datasets of what’s clearly bobbins – even for conflicting values of bobbins – and tools to apply those to our media streams.

I’ll trust Facebook when they give me tools to recognise and deal with the problem of fake news, not when they stick a poster on my bus stop asserting how much they care about the issue.

Penn Jillette, In Conversation

Penn Jillette, In Conversation:

“there’s a secret that I would like to take credit for uncovering: The audience is smart. That’s all. Our goal when we started was ‘Let’s do a magic show for people smarter than us.’ No other magicians have ever said that sentence.”

Great interview. One of my biggest regrets about Demo: The Movie (and there are many) is that we ran out of time trying to arrange an interview with Jillette.

Push Off

It’s not that we need finer-grained control over our push notifications. It’s that we need the algorithms to be a whole lot less artificially stupid. This, for example, is not something that needed to interrupt my weekend.

The whole point of newspapers like the Washington Post is editorial taste, their ability to filter the world and find the bits of it which are important. It’s not clear to me that outlets like the Post should be risking algorithmic control.

Which will be the first newspaper to publicly pledge they’ll always keep a human in the loop?

Why Battlefield 1 Could Be The Best WWI Game | Rock, Paper, Shotgun

Bombastic video game announcement trailer, with more than 1.6 million Likes in a fortnight:

…and thoughtful, considered commentary on the value and interpretation of such games and equivalent media:

“[…]a focus on the literature from the Western Front obscures the role played by the rest of the world and non-white people in the struggle. The trailer for Battlefield 1 includes nods to the war in the Middle East as well as the Harlem Hellfighters.”

(Why Battlefield 1 Could Be The Best WWI Game | Rock, Paper, Shotgun)

I’ve said it before: there’s some terrific writing out there in the video game journalism world.

Hello (again) world

Yeah… that didn’t work out so well. Not because I dislike the mildly hilarious Flowstate, more that I haven’t worked out how to incorporate a Mac into my new everything-gets-gummed-by-a-ravening-monster lifestyle. The MacBook Pro is a bit too precious business-critical to be casually tossed onto the sofa when something more pressing crops up. Upshot: I’ve not written very much for months.

Over the weekend, though, I managed to resurrect an ancient netbook we had kicking around. It’s not been used for years, ever since it decided that (a.) charging batteries was somehow beneath it, and (b.) updating its own BIOS was definitely beneath it. On Saturday I stumbled across an alternate method for coaxing it into an update, and – boom – we have battery life. Quite a lot of it, as it happens, since the dinky little thing has the humungobattery option.

I’ve a lot to tinker with, not least working out which of the bazillion Linux distributions I dislike least. Currently, I’m playing with Peppermint OS, which… hmm, unlikely to stay, I think. But the key thing is this: I’m sitting on the sofa, tapping away, bashing out a blog post.

An inane, pointless, no-discernible-audience post, granted. But it’s a start, right?


I’m going to try something a little different. I’ve been struggling to make time to blog over the last few months — years, even — but I miss both the discipline and the practice of writing daily. So I’m going to start flowblogging. That is: using the utterly ridiculous writing application Flowstate to write a post, ideally (though, doubtless, not actually) daily.

Flowstate works like this: if I stop typing for a few seconds, my words start to fade out, and are eventually deleted. I have to keep going at a reasonably steady pace for at least as long as the timer I’ve set (in this case, five minutes) before anything gets saved. The idea, I think, is that staying focussed and simply pressing ahead can, at times, be helpful. I can sort-of buy into that.

Back in broadcast (oh, how many of my stories start with ‘back in broadcast…’) we used to talk about the tyranny of the blank script. That ghastly moment when you stare at an empty page accompanied only by your notes and thoughts from the past few weeks. At that point, at that precise moment, right now you have to commit to something. You have to pick an opening line and follow your nose. Until that moment you could have gone one of eleventeen different ways, but once you start writing, you have to commit.

It’s good discipline. Not because it leads to the best writing, but because it leads to some writing. Perhaps that’s what I need right now.

Ten seconds to go. I’ll add a link to the application, then publish.

Quick post to show Edith how this works

Just to annoy her, I’m going to:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.