back to article Facebook ad biz comes under scrutiny in MPs ‘Fake News’ probe

Zeitgeist-hungry MPs at the UK Parliament will conduct an inquiry into “Fake News”. The Culture Media and Sport select committee will look at trying to define modern propaganda, its impact, and also asks whether “changes in the selling and placing of advertising encouraged the growth of fake news, for example by making it …

  1. Alister Silver badge

    Over-egging...

    The BBC TV news coverage has the following ticker running:

    "MPs call for enquiry into whether "fake news" is a threat to democracy."

    I can't help thinking that other events happening at the moment are more deserving of being classified "a threat to democracy"

  2. gypsythief

    It's all fake anyway

    "I don’t believe what I read in the papers

    They’re just out to capture my dime..."

    Sang Paul Simon in 1975. The picture in the article looks even older.

    Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

    1. Bob Rocket

      Re: It's all fake anyway - The picture

      The picture in the article is from the Sunday Sport a 'Newspaper' started about six months after The Sun (another 'Newspaper') published 'Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster' as its front page article.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunday_Sport

      It's Fake News all the way down.

      1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: Re: It's all fake anyway - The picture

        Fun fact: one of my bosses from my UK newspaper days was a news editor on the Sport, and he says he was involved in that WW2 bomber story. Or was the London double decker bus found at the North Pole?

        Anyway, at least the Sport was obviously spoofed. If you read Stick It Up Your Punter! and similar books, you'll hear about real hacks putting together made-up "special investigations" for years. Sad, really.

        C.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's all fake anyway - The picture

          you'll hear about real hacks putting together made-up "special investigations" for years. Sad, really.

          Why so sad? A few people enjoyed writing them, millions enjoyed reading them, and (back in those days, at any rate) they were chip wrappers within a couple of days. Nobody really gave too much of a toss about pot boiler stories. The only reason this is news is because the elite are trying to fnd a reason why nobody believe their side of the story anymore.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Over-egging...

      I can't help thinking that other events happening at the moment are more deserving of being classified "a threat to democracy"

      Arguably the biggest threat to democracy has already delivered, when that c*nt Blair neutered the BBC for outing his dodgy dossier.

  3. Graham Marsden
    Holmes

    "the broad plurality of views available via the free British press...

    "... where news flows down from Rupert Murdoch, Richard Desmond, the DMG and the Barclay brothers..."

    FTFY.

  4. Flakk Silver badge

    The problem with the concept of "Fake News"...

    ...is that advocacy journalism is hardly a new thing. Both sides of the political debate have their own media outlets, with few objective sources in between. Both sides slinging the epitaph "fake news" at each other is disingenuous, and only serves to further inflame and tribalize their consumers.

    The one thing guaranteed to make this "fake news" mess worse is the establishment of "gatekeepers" of legitimate news. They will purport to be purveyors of only objective news, but won't be. Facebook, Google, et al have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to massage rankings for fun and profit.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: The problem with the concept of "Fake News"...

      I have a better idea - just let the chaos reign, and let people get used to using their BRAINS when reading.

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: The problem with the concept of "Fake News"...

        let people get used to using their BRAINS when reading.

        It's a pity then that a fair lot of people do not have brains trained in critical thinking, or can't be bothered to expend time and energy on that.

    2. Palpy

      Re: The problem with the concept of "Fake News"...

      I disagree. I think that fake news as discussed here is different from position-biased reporting.

      Fake news is based on outright falsehoods, and in its current incarnation it is primarily used as click-bait to generate ad revenue for the owners of the fake news sites.

      The differences:

      1. Position-biased reporting is based on interpreting or spinning real events and facts. Fake news is based on manufactured falsehoods.

      2. Professional journalists adhere to at least a minimum standard of ethics. Witness the reluctance of anyone but Buzzfeed to publish the text of the alleged report of Trump's sexual misadventures in Moscow: a standard of evidence was required by other news outlets. Purveyors of fake news adhere to no journalistic standard -- they make stuff up from thin air.

      Sure, fake news has been around for a long time -- in the USA, look in the tabloid rack in most supermarkets and you learn that Brad Pitt is dating an alien being with tentacles, the Queen Mum has gone mad and has eaten Charles alive, Kim Kardashian has given birth to her own buttocks, and so forth.

      Everyone can identify the freakshow tabloids at the supermarket. It turns out, however, that the internet version of fake news can be harder to spot -- much like the spear-phishing email from your "bank", it attempts to appear legitimate.

      Anyone who wishes for rational (or even semi-rational) decision-making on matters of public good might have concerns about the growth of lying-for-profit online. IMHO, this is different from deploring ideological spin or position-biased reporting.

      1. theblackhand

        Re: The problem with the concept of "Fake News"...

        As this is a tech site, I'm wondering how big an effect tech companies have had on news gathering.

        - the loss of regional journalists due to advertising moving to other sources i.e. http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/how-the-rise-of-online-ads-has-prompted-a-70-per-cent-cut-in-journalist-numbers-at-big-uk-regional-dailies/

        - the old media chasing clicks versus sticking with traditional journalism hasn't helped either their revenues or the quality of stories presented to their audiences. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/apr/17/fake-news-stories-clicks-fact-checking

        - some of the comedy/parody news sites look factually accurate in hindsight...

        The proliferation of news via new media and advertising revenue moving from old media to tech sites has resulted in less journalists, more reliance on syndicated stories so everything looks largely the same and page views/advertising money now goes to free sites relying on non-news content or sites with questionable content.

        The fix? We see the result of our actions and if they are wrong, countries correct them over time via political change or less pleasant alternatives. I don't see getting Facebook to self-regulate as an answer that won't result in them accidentally forgetting to self-regulate at the next election...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The problem is stories taken out of context via Facebook-sharing etc

    For a story by itself, I imagine there's a sliding scale something like this:

    1. Factually truthful, substantially impartial

    2. True, though incomplete facts, partisan narrative

    3. Facts substantially "selected" or quoted out of context in order to push a narrative

    4. Partisan conjecture quoted, implicitly as "fact" to stir emotive response and 'shares'

    5. Blatent lies / BS written either to advocate a cause/political viewpoint/stir up hatred and/or written for the primary purpose of generating 'shares', clickbait and ad-revenue.

    6. Satire.

    If you read many stories from a particular news source regularly, it becomes pretty obvious where a publication is coming from. Even if the site is primarily in the (1) (2) categories, it may have "Opinion/Comment" or "Satire" sections where the journalistic constraints are more relaxed - but you soon recognise them.

    Plenty of people will take a regular look at newsthump, thedailymash, thepoke sites etc - and that's fairly harmless - you know the site and know it's just for a laugh - and those sites are fairly up-front about what they are.

    Problems arise when individual stories are "deep-linked" through "shares" on social media, and where many will "share" having only seen the headline and image, without even having read it, and when those stories are published by overseas media (that may be mainstream, biased, or just someone in their bedroom) - that the readers are not familiar with.

    You can argue that any publication or media funded substantially by advertisements is, taken to its logical conclusion, a business of generating the cheapest content that draws a large number of eyeballs in order to 'hang' advertisements off of. It has probably been ever thus, since the dawn of commercial TV, and before that. A difference is that now anyone can publish and set up online ads (via Google AdSense etc) the lowest-common-denominator model is accessible to anyone who wants to make a fast buck.

    The 'problem' of "fake news" is likely more a symptom of the social-media ecosystem, short-attention-spans, sites funded by easy ad-revenue, than a 'problem' worth trying to tackle or legislate for in its own right.

    We suspect that Facebook and their ilk internally relate "importance" of a story or link (and thus the likelihood to show it to others) to number-of-shares - which inherently causes clickbaity or emotive rubbish to accelerate to the top of the pile. I reckon the 'problem' is substantially tied to Facebook's model.

    I'm unconvinced about employing a select band of "fact checkers" (besides the case that they're likely having to rely on other second- or third-hand sources and "reputation")... fully-spurious fake news can generated far faster than anyone can check it. It's the same problem scientists have with trying to refute pseudo-science - it tires you out, totally wastes your time, and you can never beat it.

    1. MrT

      Re: The problem is stories taken out of context via Facebook-sharing etc

      Nicely put. Private Eye is my favourite source of stories, both serious and not-so. Good satire done well holds a candle up to the truth.

      ",,,it tires you out, totally wastes your time, and you can never beat it."

      George Carlin (attr.) — 'Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.'

      Mark Twain (after Immanuel Kant)— 'Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.'

      George Bernard Shaw — 'I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig, you get dirty; and besides, the pig likes it.'

  6. Colin Millar

    Why tell the truth when a lie will do

    All the way back to Jefferson and Adams US presidential elections have been stuffed full of everything from out of context quotes to outright lies. They learnt if from the Brits who have it in the list of "Things the romans did for us".

    I think that the focus on fake news influencing individual political outcomes is a bit shortsighted. The erosion of confidence in sources of information is much more corrosive for the western democracies. The Russians (amongst others) policy isn't to simply undermine individual politicians but to destroy impartiality and due process leaving us with wildly unstable political environments where strong men politicians will clash furiously with a population grown used to liberal values. They intend to drag us down to their level and beat us with experience.

    1. Alister Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Why tell the truth when a lie will do

      All the way back to Jefferson and Adams US presidential elections have been stuffed full of everything from out of context quotes to outright lies. They learnt if from the Brits who have it in the list of "Things the Romans did for us".

      I didn't think "Life of Brian" had been released in Jefferson's time?

      :)

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019