Social networks crave attention, and they aren't particular about how they get it. Getting people outraged is one of the best ways they have to get -- and keep -- your focus. And fake news is the surest route to outrage -- and profits.
Facts are the lifeblood of modern civilization. Managing humankind's population sprawl -- soon to be 8 billion strong -- means dealing with myriad problems that are complicated enough without having to overcome false impressions fostered by fake news embraced by the weak minded.
In fact, during the 2016 campaign the audience for the top 20 fake news stories was larger than that of the top 20 real news stories. The problem is real and getting worse.
The sheer amount of content generated today makes human filtering impossible. The only hope is automating the detection and neutralizing of fake content.
But how? Two recent papers point to a couple of options.
In Hierarchical Propagation Networks for Fake News Detection, researchers looked at how fake news moves through our networks to see if it is distinguishable from how real news is distributed. Another paper looks at how blockchain could be used for fake news prevention.
The researchers, from Arizona State and Penn State, used the FakeNewsNet data repository and modeled the links between real and fake news, including tweets. They analyzed the resulting network graphs, and discovered that there are, indeed, significant differences between how real news and fake news spread through our social networks.
Metrics cover such macro structural issues as tree depth and number of nodes, as well as temporal issues such as the time difference between the first tweet and the last retweets. The micro level of user conversations includes metrics such as how long a conversation tree lasts, as well as the sentiment expressed in retweets.
. . . we can exploit the hierarchical structure of propagation networks to perform unsupervised fake news detection.
Researchers at Pakistan's Information Technology University took another tack in their paper, Using Blockchain to Rein in The New Post-Truth World and Check The Spread of Fake News. They propose a blockchain-based framework for fake news prevention.
Their proposed architecture has three blockchain based components: a publisher management protocol (PMC); a smart contract for the news; and, a news blockchain.
The PMC uses three smart contracts to enroll, update, and revoke the identities of news organizations. The smart news contract is used to publish news, and ensures that the content is as originally published, and includes publisher and verification data. Finally, the news blockchain guards against malicious alterations and includes a proof-of-truthfulness method that makes it easy to confirm validity.
The Storage Bits take
Lies are endemic in human interaction. Most are harmless, but when weaponized by digital media, they can have life-threatening consequences, such as the fake "Pizzagate" conspiracy story.
We know that hostile state actors are working to destabilize democratic nations with fake news, while limiting their own citizen's access to a free and open web. There are also malicious and/or opportunistic people who manufacture fake news for ideological or commercial reasons.
If our major social networks don't get a handle on the fake news crisis, they will lose their legitimacy and the forbearance of the governments and people that are targeted. Safe harbor provisions may protect them now, but those can be removed, opening them to massive legal liability that would threaten their existence.
Can AI defeat fake news? I hope so, since the alternative is the end of democratic societies.
Courteous comments welcome, of course.