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!

 


The Lighter Side of ‘Fake News’

There's nothing more serious to me than the fight against misinformation.

Innocent journalists are going to jail for doing their job. Elections and democracy itself are being compromised. The very notion of “Trust” is under attack, and it seems like the attackers are winning.

This needs to get fixed.

Serious people need to have solemn and clear-headed conversations and work very hard to fix what's been broken on our watch.

But do we have to take ourselves seriously every moment we are at work?

I sure hope not.

So, with this post, I begin what I hope will be a series of posts taking a look at the lighter side of fake news.

Today’s installment:

The World Cup of Information Warfare?

Inspired by an interview from Alex Stamos with CNN:

 

Nobody knows more about this than Alex, and he’s highly respected. (And I personally find it a bummer that he’s out of the trenches and is now an academic.)

But it got me thinking: Are the U.S. Elections really the World Cup of  Information Warfare?

I mean, he is talking very specifically about the U.S. Elections, and the US didn’t even get into the last actual World Cup. Americans are famously blasé about soccer, so making that analogy here may actually minimize what a big deal misinformation is. 

So, with all due respect to Alex, here’s a better breakdown:

Misinfo Category Sports Analogy Reason
U.S. Election Misinformation Super Bowl While it seems like there is actual competition, at least recently there really isn't. Everyone knows the team coached by Bill Belichick will win, and that he will cheat.

Similarly, everyone knows that the Russians cheated in trying to influence the U.S. elections. But in this case because of their influence, the one person who might stop the cheating is now in charge, so nothing will happen.
U.S. Election Hacking World Series of Poker This is different than misinformation, this is actually trying to manipulate votes. Anyone can get in, anyone can win.
Spammy “News” Olympics Much as with Olympic teams made up of people without much of an actual connection to the country they compete for, there are spammy operators all over the world pretending to be from somewhere else.

And there are so many different forms of competition that nobody can keep them all straight.

And just as we all know about, say Michael Phelps or the time that Google News showed a story about how Las Vegas Shooter Was a Rachel Maddow Fan, most of these competitors toil in obscurity. (Bonus: Just as with the actual Olympics, we know the Russians will cheat.)
People Claiming
“Fake News”
WWE  People who believe a politician who claims that stories he doesn't like are “fake” are the same people who believe Pro Wrestling is not fake. (By the way, it is not fake to report that Donald Trump is in the WWE Hall of Fame.)

  Trump-wrestlemania