The ‘fake news’ fad has recently hit the South African shores and echoes across the media precinct. Fake news websites deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation to drive web traffic inflamed by social media. These fake news articles are usually fabricated to deliberately mislead readers, and profit through clickbait. This hot topic has been made more prevalent by the recent series of tweets from accounts parading as Radio 702, the Sunday Times and the Huffington Post SA, targeting finance minister Pravin Gordhan, accusing him of being a shill for “White Monopoly Capital”. Other examples include a R80, 000 restaurant bill that was attributed to President Jacob Zuma, as well as a false report that 80,000 ballot papers were found pre-marked for the ANC ahead of the 2016 elections.
In order to try and prevent or at least restrict the dissemination and distribution of fake news, organizations can employ a variety of techniques ranging from a do-nothing approach, through human intervention of suspect data to the deployment of crowd sourcing and computer analytics in an attempt to sift through the billions of messages, tweets and news feeds. However, effective countermeasures such as those just mentioned require organisations to have efficient and comprehensive control of their infrastructure and, in particular, control of their data wherever it may reside. Assuming we have secure and accurate control of data, Media companies can store, aggregate and analyse data from multiple locations in public and private clouds, whether it be structured or unstructured data, in data warehouses or data lakes and access insights into the data allowing for informed decision making at the earliest possible opportunity and helping to maintain the integrity and accuracy of broadcast communications.
By way of example, Facebook has implemented a new option to flag a news feed item as a false news story. When enough users tag a story as fake, it will appear less in people’s news feeds and carry a warning reading, “Many people on Facebook have reported that this story contains false information.” While this tactic certainly provides a start, there are ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) could help go further and faster, particularly through pattern recognition. AI could detect patterns or words by looking at different metrics such as the wording and layout, and programming these factors into a neural network which would determine whether it is fake or not. This pattern has been used on various comparison websites, which use AI algorithms to help you compare the best product such as eBay and Amazon. An AI can read many more articles than a human being ever can and thus use pattern recognition to inform the human that a news story might be fake. But it would be up to the human to make the final judgment call on whether it is fake or not.
The rise of fake news has created a uniquely jeopardizing time for journalism globally. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, have a dramatically different structure than any previous media technology. Content can be relayed among users with no significant third party filtering, fact checking, or editorial judgement, and an individual user with no track record or reputation can in some cases reach as many readers as top tier media such as Mail & Guardian, Business Day and The Star.
Websites could be set up, an audience bought on a Facebook page, then fake news distributed on the page. If the headline is strong enough, it could go viral, and potentially bring in thousands in revenue for the publisher. In light of this, data could be considered the new raw material for global media companies on par with capital, people and labour. With every click, swipe, pinch, tap, like, tweet, check-in, share, and API call, we are generating data. As a world leader in storage and data management, NetApp can help with the managing, storing and analysing of these massive amounts of data. NetApp can connect clouds together in a “Data Fabric” that allows fast, secure movement of data to the right location for the right workload at the right time. If mined correctly, this can help the media world find correlations and perform pattern matching, generate recommendations, calculate advanced statistics and better combat these fabricated news portals.
It is important to indicate therefore, that our battle with the fake news trend has to take on a holistic approach. It has to be a collaborative undertaking challenging even our notions or definitions of what we consider to be ‘truth’ versus ‘fake’. While technology can certainly help, it is no substitute for good judgement, skepticism, and critical thinking.
By: Chris Burnet, Cloud Services and Software Solutions Manager at NetApp