Sanjeev Kotnala: #DoYourBit for digital fault lines like Fake News

03 Jan,2018

By Sanjeev Kotnala


If one starts framing the digital fault lines of fake news and offensive content, one sees the impossibility of the task. Nevertheless, a solution must exist.

Human memory is short, and the default reaction is to forget and forgive. However, the marketing memory is based on ‘Law of Precedent’ and ‘Leveraging Power position.” Here the reaction is not swift and immediate. They are well thought-out strategic move. Hence any aberration, misfire or scandal leaves a scar that is not easily forgotten. The corridor discussion keeps flagging the subject until the new wave of scandal erupts for the coffee shops and bars to discuss.

Digital recently had few such scars. These were discussed and debated long. Some advertisers and audiences woke up to reality and demonstrated their angst in different ways. Fake News, non-human clicking, contextual advertising and placement of ads next to hate or pornographic content are few of the major issues.

Parties interesting in exploiting the digital arena are alive to the possibilities. They try remaining a step ahead and keep outsmarting and deceiving current algorithms. The media giants have two possible actions. Apologise and see how they can prevent it in the future.

A huge amount of data is uploaded and shared every moment in the digital world. It is humanly impossible to manage or control it. It is unimaginable to have someone constantly check every content for veracity and usage. And some ads do find themselves wrongly placed next to content they would never endorse or content that is anyway strong, explicit or offensive.

The only way out of his digital swamp is corrections through AI, machine learning and self-evolving algorithms. Due to the dynamic nature of technology and shifting human interest, algorithms will remain work-in-progress.

The benefit of doubt must favour media owners if they are making efforts to react to the villains in the media universe. They should be severely penalised if they do not act, promote misuse or are hand-in-hand with the villains. Even the large advertisers like AT&T, General Motors, Verizon, Walmart and Johnson & Johnson be better advised to act responsibly, supporting the cause and work along with digital media in an attempt to evolve the new regime.

We know the financial threat of revenue impact is the best stick to force prompt action but not a long-term solution.

Some innocents will also bleed in these WIP corrective actions. It is happening on Youtube, where ads have been blocked for content with excessively strong language, controversial or sensitive subjects violating content guidelines. Many have suddenly found their revenues to drop drastically.

This impacts revenue and acts as dictatorial guidelines. Slowly but surely it will define what but how the content needs to be curated.

There are different points of views. In one way the media owner has the right to define the content it wants and there is nothing wrong with it. Few consider it blasphemous. When the advertisers can control where the message is placed, the content guidelines seem to be a waste.

Few more sensible ones see blocking ad notification from YouTube as a responsible and transparent system. This de-monetisation of content is a positive reaction to weed out the culprits.

We know, if and when the media giants will err in their policies and go beyond the brief, the advertisers and the audience interest, engagement and involvement will kick-in with a correction.

On the other side, Fake News is not new, and it can’t be wished away.

We have just started acknowledging and understanding the possible damaging impact of it. Digitalization spurs fake news. Facebook defines ‘Fake News’ as “hoaxes shared by spammers” for personal and monetary reasons.

Fake news is normally engrossing, sensational and interesting. It gains fast popularity further consolidating its position in searches and views. The cycle of reach and popularity starts working exponentially.

Google has been fighting it with human intervention to better train its machine to act judiciously. Both Facebook and Google have made it easy for the audience to report when a news is offensive or derogatory.

The digital media is experimenting with Trust indicator to reflect the credibility of the source. They are also associating with other interested parties in checking the fake news.

We will all endorse Craig Newmark when he says, “As a news consumer, I want news I can trust. I want to be able to read a piece of fake news and know who’s behind it, where the information comes from, and the reporting values of the news organization.” Not realizing the important part we can play in this war.

Few news channels have joined the war. Many have a section probing the truth behind viral videos. It is helping. The audience is being educated not to believe everything. To use common sense and judgement. And most importantly not to forward, a forward if you doubt its content, especially when it deals with race, religion or anything that can flame emotions.

Not much is known about Twitter attempt to tackle fake news. It is where the news first breaks and spreads fast. We can only hope that it is taking some actions and is being wise not to experiment with half-solutions. As identifying a correct news as fake is equally damaging. Again, we as users of the medium can help by raising questions and acting as rightful citizens of the digital world in identifying and correcting spread of fake news about our environment.

The problems are not just of digital media or government. It is a problem for everyone. It impacts all of us. Each of us can help fight the menace of content – be it inappropriate for context- language – visual or be a fake news. Collectively, we can and we should fight them. #DoYourBit



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