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Why the “Fake News” Conversation Will Never End, Even at Misinfocon London

Big news in the world of “Fake News” recently is that both the French and British governments are united in fighting it.

Not the problem, unfortunately, just the name.

The French have come out against the name “Fake News” for no reason other than their long history of hating any words that are Anglo-Saxon.

What should we call it? 

Information fallacieuse.

Even for the French, that seemed like a mouthful, so they also coined a new made-up word that they think will be catchy: “Infox.”

I wouldn't count on that word lasting long.

And the Brits are not offended by the Queen’s English but they are, as always, offended by Americanisms, so they, too have banned “fake news” from official documents.

There is no such thing as American English. There is English. And there are mistakes.

— A tweet quoted in the excellent The Prodigal Tongue by Lynn Murphy

The problem is that they could not agree on what word to use in its place.

We recommend that the Government rejects the term ‘fake news’, and instead puts forward an agreed definition of the words ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’. With such a shared definition, and clear guidelines for companies, organisations, and the Government to follow, there will be a shared consistency of meaning across the platforms, which can be used as the basis of regulation and enforcement.

— From the report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee to the UK Government

So in very clear terms the government has said that there will be a “shared consistency” with one word, it just isn't sure which word that should be.

Ummm. Thanks.

Look, both governments are right, the term “Fake News” is horrible, and is being used to mean everything from News I don't like all the way to organized propaganda designed to destabilize democracy.

But the problem for those of us inside the battle is this: Every time we tell people who are not working on this all day every day what we are working on, no matter how we describe what we are doing, they will invariably say:

“Oh! You are fixing fake news! That’s so important!!!”

That’s when we smile wanly and say thanks.

Luckily, for those who are working on this so hard, the part about defining the problem is pretty much done. In reality, it’s been done for a long time. 

In fact, it has been done since February of 2017, when the inimitable Claire Wardle published this guide.

Misinfo-landscape

As helpful as that is, it still uses both the mis- and dis- forms of information.

So, which is it?

I’m going to say that misinformation has won the day, in no small part thanks to the Cyrillic alphabet, and whichever clever person it was that came up with the coolest logo for a conference, maybe ever.

Of the hundreds of conference badges I’ve gotten in my life, this is one of the few I’m hanging on to:

Misinfocon-badge

I wrote, at some length, about my experience in Kyiv, and then I posted some photos from the D.C. version of the event on Twitter, and will post them again below.

Unfortunately I won’t be at the event in London this week, but I expect that even at a conference named for misinformation there will still be some talk about what to call it.

And there will be more conversation about what is being done around the world. (If you are at the conference, and get that task, feel free to cheat off the homework that I already did.)

So it just may be that we will always be talking about what exactly fake news is. And the term, for better or worse, is now a permanent part of our language. 

But just as terms like Yellow Journalism or Broadsides have settled into our language with specific meanings, fake news will eventually settle in.

In the meantime, we’ll keep having the conversation, and we’ll keep trying to fix the real problems.

Just for the record, here are three examples of the gravity of the problems that we are dealing with from only the last few days:

  1. New proof that Russians are again trying to disrupt the U.S. elections.
  2. Twitter found out about a bot attack only after alerted by journalists.
  3. Fake News is flooding the zone in Brazil before its election.

This is serious stuff, and thoughtful people are hard at work trying to make a difference. I’m totally engaged in working on my particular slice of the solution, one that is working to strengthen many of the other efforts going on by making certain that news publishers do in fact have the imprimatur of the standards-based bodies they profess to follow. You can see more about that on the Certified Content Coalition page.

But lest you think the people themselves are all humorless, I present here my own captions to some pictures from the D.C. Misinfocon.

While I won’t be at the London event, I will be looking for photos that I can use for my next post.

Thanks for reading!