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In NYTimes’ Room for Debate

November 22, 2016

This morning I’m in the New York Times, having written a short opinion piece on the following Facebook-centered theme:

How to Stop the Spread of Fake News

My actual opinion is entitled Social Media Companies Like Facebook Need to Hire Human Editors.


Tell me what you think!

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. November 22, 2016 at 7:53 am

    Good ideas and a a point that can be expanded upon to point out the deficiencies of the algorithmic approach. But isn’t it even easier? Isn’t it easy to consider how it got into your Facebook feed in the first place, the name of the site, and the usual provocative nature of the headline? Isn’t it a lot like telling people not to click on email attachments from a questionable source?


  2. November 22, 2016 at 8:03 am

    There’s fake news and there’s biased news. To those on the left Fox News is Faux News. To those on the right MSNBC and the NY Times occupy that same position. So who’s to determine what can be posted on FB? Former journalists with which bias? Brian Williams? Any one who thinks FB click baits are real news should have their head examined.


    • ScentOfViolets
      November 22, 2016 at 11:46 am

      Umm, you do know that Fox News has claimed in a court of law that it is entertainment, not news, right? You may (and probably will) disagree, but to my mind that fact that MSNBC, et. al., hasn’t made similar claims is a significant difference.


      • Lars
        November 22, 2016 at 1:02 pm

        Uri Geller has never admitted his “telekinetic spoon bending” and the rest are simply entertainment, but that does not mean what he does is real.

        But I would agree that there is a difference between an entertainer who admits to being an entertainer and one who does not.


      • November 27, 2016 at 2:13 pm

        Can you please quote a source for “Fox News has claimed in a court of law that it is entertainment, not news,”? This sounds like something plausible to me, but also sounds like fake news. I searched for it and can only find dubious soruces, plus a Snopes claim that it is false.

        If we are truly interested in stopping fake news, we should start with ourselves.


  3. Gordon Henderson
    November 22, 2016 at 9:00 am

    I think you’re begging the question: you assert that viewers’ clicks on some topics are a weakness that they wish they didn’t have – but where’s the evidence for that? Maybe readers think those stories are funny and make them happy, and they DO love them. Maybe they click on worthier stories out of a sense of obligation, and afterwards wish they hadn’t.

    Granting your premise, which I think is deeply questionable, I struggle to see how you would operationalise it. Who is going to adjudicate opinion pieces? Are stories about Jerusalem going to be presented from Israeli and Palestinian points of view in every market? What if someone persistently clicks on only one of those perspectives?


  4. November 22, 2016 at 9:33 am

    I agree with your top line – that Facebook (and other social media services) needs to hire human editors. I was disappointed that this point wasn’t explored in detail in the body of your piece.

    As far as the forum goes, I really wish there had been some interaction between the four contributors. I think /i would have learned far more if you had challenged each others’ ideas! Perhaps a topic for the debut of the Mathbabe podcast?

    Finally, I have grave doubts that we can rely on users to help. Confirmation bias is a powerful shield from cognitive dissonance.


    • November 22, 2016 at 9:40 am

      But why do you think human editors are better than “users” when it comes to confirmation bias?




      • November 22, 2016 at 9:45 am

        They’re held accountable.


      • November 22, 2016 at 9:51 am

        Confirmation bias is a defense mechanism to keep people from the mental pain of cognitive dissonance. Almost all users have little incentive to recognize this, much less to counter it.

        But human editors? It’s their job to plough on through the cognitive dissonance to the truth hiding behind our mental/emotional defense mechanisms. Cathy is correct that accountability is part of this, but so is pride in a job well done, along with the pride in (hopefully) playing a part in countering the inanity of our current public discourse.


        • November 22, 2016 at 11:16 am

          One of the advantages to being multilingual is the ability to read the same story, not only in newspapers with different agendas – and they all have agendas – but also in different languages from assorted countries. If all editors would print “the truth,” then all versions of the same story should sound the same, but instead, what I’ve found empirically, is that they all report from their newspaper’s vantage point. In fact, given a version of a story, I can usually guess which newspaper it’s from. Yes, the editors are accountable – accountable to their management and to their management’s agenda.


      • Aaron Lercher
        November 22, 2016 at 11:57 am

        Librarians (I am one) are trained to negotiate with users concerning their needs and to provide reliable information for what they need.

        I’m critical of how librarians actually do this: librarians should not simply rely on authoritative sources, but instead provide pointers to the evidence gathered by reliable or authoritative sources. (Philosophers have a longstanding debate over the epistemology of testimony, on which I’m taking a so-called “reductionist” position, like Hume.)

        But in the end librarians would be helpful, except that human interactions at reference desks have declined rapidly in the past decade.

        The point is that Cathy’s proposal for news editors at Facebook is not unprecedented. Nor would they require superhuman abilities. The results won’t be perfect, and a link to, say, the Bureau of Labor Statistics isn’t as much fun as the latest internet hoax. But it can be done.


  5. Lars
    November 22, 2016 at 9:51 am

    An article on “Fake News” in the NY Times– “All the Fake News that unfit to print on Iraqi WMD”?

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

    The real problem is that the American public have been fed so much fake news from the mainstream “news” sources (NY Times, Fox News, MSNBC, NPR, LA Times, CBS, Time, Newsweek, US News, etc) for so long that they can’t tell what is real and what is not.


    • Christopher Alexander
      November 25, 2016 at 9:38 pm

      Cite an example? And that is the difference between bias and fake news. A real journalistic organization issues a retraction….


  6. November 22, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Well this goes back to what I said in 2015 and in 2013, people can’t tell the difference anymore between real world and virtual world values..they’re duped and duped again sadly and toss in some journobots like Narrative Science and Wordsmith and really spread that fake news next, right? If you create new algorithms to find and search out fake news, well we end up like markets with algos seeking other algos to destroy, interact with and then here come the false positives as some of the good news won’t get through either, a might task indeed. 60% of what’s out there today is written by bots, so yeah get after the humans and their bots at the same time:) We do need an escape from “The Grays” I agee.



  7. November 22, 2016 at 11:50 am

    I think it’s too late for the media to make a course correction and start to be accountable for what they report. The barn door was left open for too long and the barn is almost empty.

    The barn door was opened by President Reagan in 1987, when he killed the Fairness Doctrine with a Presidential Veto. In fact, Reagan had the barn doors removed.

    The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was — in the Commission’s view — honest, equitable, and balanced. The FCC eliminated the Doctrine in 1987, and in August 2011 the FCC formally removed the language that implemented the Doctrine.

    As soon as the Fairness Doctrine was gone, or even before it was gone, far right conservatives declared war on the media and labeled any media source that didn’t fall into line with their message of hate, liberally laced with misinformation and lies, as the “liberal media” not to be trusted, a dirty word equal to the “F” word or far worse. To the far right deplorables, if you had been labeled with the “liberal” word, you were a traitor to the Republic and deserved to be tarred, feathers and burned at the stake after being water boarded and tortured for a few months until you were on the brink of insanity.

    Thanks to Reagan more than anyone else, the politics of hate was born and more than one generation grew up learning to distrust any media source, but the one that had taken over their thinking; the one voice that seduced them to the darkside.

    For instance, an old friend of mine I’ve known for about 60 years only trusts his source for all thinking and news, conservative talk show host Dennis Prager. If Dennis Prager says something, nothing will change my old friend’s mind. It doesn’t matter that fact-check sites or even primary fact-gathering sites that focus on only gathering the actual known facts says. If Prager says it is so, then it is gospel.

    My old friend, just like millions of other deplorables, have decided who to trust and who not to trust and there is no second chance. The media lost those people long ago and there is no bringing them back.

    The deplorables loyalty goes beyond reason, and this explains why Rush Limbaugh, the king of hate radio, calls his loyal followers ditto heads; Rush will do the thinking for them. Don’t trust anyone or any source but Rush or the conservative talk show voice of your choice and there are many choices.

    Conservative talk radio is a Pandora’s Box, and there is no putting the lid back on.

    “Talkers Magazine has put out their “2008 Heavy Hundred” list rating radio talk show hosts across the country and one thing is obvious, conservatives still reign supreme in radio.

    “The top ten includes one “progressive” (Ed Schultz) and one shock jock (Don Imus), but is otherwise dominated by conservatives. The rest of the list has a smattering of sports guys and a very few more left-talkers, but just as in the top ten, much of the other 90 slots are dominated by conservatives.

    #1- Rush Limbaugh, #2- Sean Hannity, #3- Michael Savage, #4- Dr. Laura Schlessinger, #5- Glenn Beck, # 6- Laura Ingraham, #7- Don Imus, #8- Ed Schultz, #9- Mike Gallagher, #10- Neal Boortz



    • Aaron Lercher
      November 22, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      You are generous and accepting of your foolish friend, as a friend should be. Others, perhaps for good reasons, don’t see the point of caring whether their beliefs have evidence, or else skeptics who don’t think it’s possible for beliefs to be justified.

      Yet they all are starving in the midst of plenty of reliable information.


      • November 22, 2016 at 12:48 pm

        They are all info-starving because they have made the choice to starve; to blindly put their trust in false prophets that traffic in misinformation, lies, and hate.


  8. November 25, 2016 at 10:48 am

    I agree that for now, human editors are necessary to weed out false and exaggerated news, but I hope that our current NLP techniques are advancing to the point that we could develop an algorithm to at least flag suspicious items for further review. Earlier commenters are correct that we need an objective definition of “fake news”, but once carefully defined, I think it is possible to train an algorithm to follow any filtering process that could be outlined for a human editor.

    This is a thought provoking problem .. thanks for addressing it.


    • November 25, 2016 at 11:31 am

      Even human editors won’t be able to weed out all the false and exaggerated news due to staff reductions and the deadly deadlines that pressure editors to cut corners. If an editor can’t make the deadlines by learning how to cut corners, the Donald Trump psycho type CEOs will just ay, “You’re fired!”


  9. Christopher Alexander
    November 25, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    I missed the comment section on your book. But I love it! As a graduate student at a mid-tier University, studying Machine Learning. It is absolutely essential. The problem is, the world has become enamored with Math and Science, and the snake oil salesmen in those fields. These things are hard, and open to only a relatively few super-specialists who take the time to study them (and can understand them). Plus, proprietary firewalls don’t help!

    As far as fake news is concerned? I don’t know. I thought it would be fixed if we finally did our duty and called it out, but people are so incredibly brainwashed, it doesn’t seem to be effective. The million people clicking flood, may not be enough. I just remember when Facebook was for cat pictures and party locations, instead of poorly edited videos about the UN invading. Saddest thing is that vets and people who should know better, are just as brainwashed. I fear for my country.We have forgotten about the days of “Chronicles of Zion” and other hoax globalist/racist “revelations” lead us to dark days in our history.


    • November 26, 2016 at 8:32 pm

      While we can all agree that the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was a hoax, as far as brainwashing is concerned, each side thinks the other side is brainwashed.


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