When there is no option left, just blame the victim! This is the sad outcome of the recent “fake news scandal” which is far from over and far from having a resolution. Proving the fact that solving this issue is not a simple task, Google plans to remove its “In the news” section from the top of desktop search results according to businessinsider.com. In the meantime, since it became obvious that Google and Facebook have a hard time dealing with the issue, the responsibility for filtering our fake news has been assigned to the end user, aka the news reader.
“There needs to be more media literacy education. Teach kids at an early age what sources are credible and what sources aren’t so they won’t believe everything they see on the internet”, said Edo Steinberg, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Media School who studies political satire on American and Israeli television, according to IDS News.
Media literacy has nothing to do with detecting fake news or learning what are the credible sources. In the age of the Internet, where huge amounts of information are created every second, in every language, by anyone and distributed across multiple channels (most of them with no curation mechanism whatsoever), having a human user filtering, assessing and determining each day what is trustworthy and what is not, is really an impossible task.
Honestly, if find the fact the the news reader is now responsible for the fake news proliferation a bit frustrating. Especially when bloggers, media students or journalists frankly claim that they can determine what is fake and what is not. In my experience in working with Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) platforms for defense agencies, assessing what is true or not is a complex technology and human resource- intensive process. For example, when dealing with information from conflict zones, information needs to be taken through a very thorough analysis process and always confronted against other information sources: HUMINT (human intelligence, aka spies or local contacts), GEOINT (geographical intelligence, aka satellite images) or SIGINT (signal intelligence, aka intercepted private communications). A information that is not present in most of these sources cannot be trusted. And even if the information is corroborated across all channels, it still has to be analyzed by independent intelligence teams, compared against scenarios using analytical, lateral and critical thinking and only then the information is assigned a trust score. So how can anyone – be it a journalist or a reader – be 100% sure that an information about the conflict in Syria, for example, is true or false?
Surely journalism needs to go beyond its traditional approach on dealing with information and understand the pitfalls of ubiquitous distribution channels, such as social networks or search engines, and adhere to a more OSINT-related terminology, where true, false or fake are replaced by trustworthiness scales. After all, the ultimate effect of the fake news scandal will be the reader’s loss of trust in all media, not just in the culprits!