The Internet has never been very careful about its conduct and it’s kind of proud of it. It’s the Wild West out there, a lot of the smartest people say. The lack of
rules has let the industry flower. It's also allowed a lot of bad actors to flourish. No one could have predicted the emergence of fake news, but now that it's here, it seems kind of inevitable.
Over the weekend, Apple CEO Tim Cook declared that fake news is “killing people’s minds,” and he called for an industry campaign to clean up its act.
He’s right about the problem and even the solution.
It is hard to believe it will happen, though, when media have trouble even defining fake news or when “lying” is the appropriate word to use.
Last week, NPR’s Steve Inskeep was interviewing John Lansing, the chief of Voice of America. Leading into it, Inskeep said some people are wondered what will happen to VOA. “The anxiety was that a new president who frequently repeats inaccurate information would turn the network to his own purposes,” Inskeep said.
Yes. We have a president “who frequently repeats inaccurate information.”
It’s not normal.
Cook talked to The Telegraph in London, urging a “modern version of a public-service announcement campaign. It can be done quickly if there is a will.”
I don’t think there is a will. Phony and fabricated stories and videos litter the Internet. People are making money on it, and not all of the purveyors are Macedonian teenagers on a lark.
About a month ago, IAB President Randall Rothenberg urged the same kind of campaign to root out fake news.
“If you do not seek to address fake news and the systems, processes, technologies, transactions and relationships that allow it to flourish, then you are consciously abdicating responsibility for its outcome – the depletion of the truth and trust that undergird democratic capitalism,” he said.
The problem is that because the commercial Internet grew up nearly totally devoted to capitalism, this whole civic responsibility comes awkwardly, if at all.
Long ago, broadcasters whined about having an FCC that prowled around and made them provide some proof they were serving the “public interest,” a phrase left deliberately nebulous. There is no such requirement online. There’s a low bar to entry which creates some terrific YouTube entrepreneurs. And some totally shady characters reporting “news. “ The lack of clear standards also helped along the proliferation Lyin' Bots that advertisers once believed were real people.
First we decry.
“All of us technology companies need to create some tools that help diminish the volume of fake news,” Cook told the Telegraph. "We must try to squeeze this without stepping on freedom of speech and of the press, but we must also help the reader. Too many of us are just in the complain category right now and haven’t figured out what to do.”
Well, industry, get going.