Fake News - Who Decides?

https://ctvnews.ca/politics/feds-unveil-plan-to-tackle-fake-news-interference-in-2019-election-1.4274273
OTTAWA -- The federal government has unveiled a series of new measures aimed at further shoring up Canada's electoral system from foreign interference, and enhancing Canada's readiness to defend the democratic process from cyber threats and disinformation.

One key measure is a new plan to inform Canadians about serious meddling attempts during the campaign in an impartial way. The objective is to have a plan to inform people if needed, without being seen to be interfering in the campaign.

This will be done through what’s being called a "Critical Election Incident Public Protocol" that will be overseen by five senior level non-political government officials. During campaigns the government runs in a “caretaker mode” where decision making is limited and why this plan is being set in advance.

The members of this new high-level group will be responsible for deciding when, and how they decide to inform Canadians about concerning online behaviour or content that comes to their attention. It is comprised of the Clerk of the Privy Council, Canada’s National Security Adviser, and the deputy ministers of the Justice, Public Safety, and Global Affairs departments.

I don't think there is any question that there is fake news out there. My question is, who do you trust to decide what news is fake?

In Canada, the ruling Liberal party is hoping to pass legislation to deal with fake news. The are going to set up a system overseen by a panel of non-elected government officials each of whom serves at the pleasure of the Prime Minister and his cabinet.

In your particular countries, would you trust your current government (Canada has an election coming up in October) to vet the news? If not, who would you trust?

Comments

  • LydaLyda Shipmate
    "Would you trust your current government to vet the news?"

    SNORT! :lol:
  • I absolutely trust the non-party political elements of the Australian Government to issue fake news warnings during an election campaign. Australian public servants have a laudable tradition of fearless and impartial advice and have set up bureaucratic systems to ensure that the advice given to elected officials is of the highest quality. Mistakes are made, of course, and sometimes public officials do the wrong thing. Sometimes, they act in a political fashion, and sometimes they leak in political ways, but the system of fearless and impartial advice remains strong, and is continuously tested by our politicians of course, who seek advantage in their struggle for power.

    I think the Canadian proposal is a great idea. As I understand it, the Committee is not censoring the news, but issuing advice. It's a great initiative in countries where faith in the integrity and honor of public service has not been dangerously undermined by a foolish and partisan media.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    edited February 11
    What Simon said.

    I would trust the Australian public service to notify me. And while I'm over here I'd trust the New Zealand ones as well.

    I would not want politicians on committees deciding; that just does not feel right. I honestly would not trust the Liberals (conservatives) currently in Canberra to inform me correctly -- many have shown they are in it for themselves (not that Labor -- yes, they spell it that way -- are immune).

    I do believe people, not all I grant you, go into the public service with the ideal of serving the country -- unless they are Ron Swanson and trying to undermine it from within. They get my vote.

    A very good idea.


    edit: stray )
  • Climacus wrote: »
    ...

    I do believe people, not all I grant you, go into the public service with the ideal of serving the country...
    To a certain extent I agree, especially if you mostly consider those who joined 20 or so years ago. Perhaps not so much any more.

    However, those who have risen to the highest levels such as the positions mentioned, will only have risen, and remained, by proving their loyalty to those above them.

    Consider the effect of saying no to the Prime Minister's office:

    https://cbc.ca/news/politics/scheer-sends-trudeau-letter-demanding-he-waive-solicitor-client-privilege-in-snc-lavalin-case-1.5013418
    The leader of the federal Opposition has sent a letter to the prime minister to demand he cede the solicitor-client privilege that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould says prevents her from commenting on the SNC-Lavalin case.

    The request is outlined in a letter sent by Andrew Scheer on Sunday morning, pushing for Justin Trudeau to allow Wilson-Raybould to speak about allegations she was pressured by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to help the Quebec construction company avoid criminal prosecution.

    It comes on the heels of a Globe and Mail report last week, citing anonymous sources, that members of Trudeau's office tried to press then-Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould to have federal prosecutors negotiate a "remediation agreement" with SNC-Lavalin rather than move ahead with legal proceedings.

    The Quebec engineering and construction giant has been charged with fraud and corruption in connection with payments of nearly $48 million to public officials in Libya under Moammar Gadhafi's government, and allegations it defrauded Libyan organizations of an estimated $130 million.

    Note also that the then-Justice Minister was removed from her post, demoted to a junior cabinet office, because she seems to have refused.

    How much more will a civil servant toe the line to the first Prime Minister in Canadian history to have been found guilty of ethics violations?

    I cannot trust them.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    For a take on a private sector attempt to either address fake news or to get credit for addressing fake news without effectively doing so, here's an account by a Snopes managing editor about that organization's factchecking partnership with Facebook.
    Facebook has always struggled to comprehend the scale of its fake news and propaganda problem. Now, it’s struggling to retain the fact-checkers it paid to try and deal with the crisis. Last week both Snopes and the Associated Press ended their partnerships with the social network, after a tense couple of years trying, without success, to tackle the epidemic.

    But those partnerships should never have existed in the first place, and I say this as the former managing editor of Snopes, who Facebook first made contact with in 2016.

    <snip>

    In case you’re curious, here’s what it was like to be an official Facebook fact-checker. We were given access to a tool that hooked into our personal Facebook accounts and was accessed that way (strike one, as far as I was concerned) and it spat out a long list of stories that had been flagged for checks. We were free to ignore the list, or mark stories as “true,” “false,” or “mixture.” (Facebook later added a “satire” category after what I like to call "the Babylon Bee incident", where a satirical piece was incorrectly labeled false.)

    It was clear from the start that that this list was generated via algorithm. It contained headlines and URLs, and a graph showing their popularity and how much time they had been on the site. There were puzzling aspects to it, though. We would often get the same story over and over again from different sites, which is to be expected to a certain degree because many of the most lingering stories have been recycled again and again. This is what Facebook likes to call “engagement.”

    But no matter how many times we marked them “false,” stories would keep resurfacing with nothing more than a word or two changed. This happened often enough to make it clear that our efforts weren’t really helping, and that we were being directed toward a certain type of story — and, we presumed, away from others.

    What were the algorithmic criteria that generated the lists of articles for us to check? We never knew, and no one ever told us.

    There was a pattern to these repeat stories though: they were almost all “junk” news, not the highly corrosive stuff that should have taken priority. We’d be asked to check if a story about a woman who was arrested for leaving her children in the car for hours while she ate at a buffet was true; meanwhile a flood of anti-semitic false George Soros stories never showed up on the list. I could never figure it out why, but perhaps it was a feature, not a bug.

    Emphasis added by me. Whatever the problems associated with current fake news/propaganda, the private sector entities that propagate it do not seem equipped and/or willing to deal with it themselves
  • For me, the key here is that this work will be overseen by "five senior level non-political government officials".

    This initiative may not be the complete answer to fake news, but it seems to me to be a step in the right direction. At least there are plans to do SOMETHING about this. Establishing a clearly non-partisan, independent body that can address serious fake news issues can surely only help. Over time, one would hope that such a body would increasingly prove its credibility.

    Sadly, of course, the likelihood is that those who buy into the fake news will probably dismiss anything that "experts" have to say on the matter. For me, this is perhaps the most serious aspect of all this - that there is now a widespread belief (continually peddled by the likes of Trump, Farage, Johnson et al) that the opinions and conclusions of "experts" should be ignored.
  • Children in school need to be taught to think critically about the sources they receive their news from. They need to learn what sources are generally trustworthy, which to take with a grain of salt, which to be treat with a large degree of skepticism, and which to regard as deceptive. Most of all, they need to learn that even the most trustworthy source can be wrong or biased, but that does not mean that one should believe conspiracy theories that all news - or all news except for the sources that tell them what they want to hear - is fake.

    They need to learn that there is much context and nuance behind the headlines and short video clips shared on social media. Finally, they should learn to expose themselves to the news sources read by people with political views than their own - mostly the serious outlets of journalism with editorial stances different to their own political beliefs but also some of the heavily slanted outlets like, if the students are politically left of center, Fox News to see how similar methods of manipulation might be used by slanted news outlets that promote an agenda they are in agreement with.
  • And which lesson of the curriculum are you going to fit that into?

    There have been ideas in schools to teach skills like research, report writing and being able to look at the information for accuracy - but as a first year of secondary school. I don't believe any of these initiatives survived the last curriculum change, when the curriculum became so overloaded that it's impossible to cover. Those skills are cross-curricular

    It's the sort of thing that would fit into media studies, but that is usually an optional additional subject that is frowned upon as not being properly academic.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    edited February 11
    Children in school need to be taught to think critically about the sources they receive their news from.

    This assumes that your audience is mostly people with a formal education. Some of the most destructive examples of "fake news" occur in places like Rwanda or Myanmar. From the previously cited NPR article:
    Because of my own history reporting on refugee rights, I had contacts with groups all over the world working on migration and humanitarian crises. Since early 2015, I’d been hearing bits and pieces about Myanmar and the Rohingya Muslims, and how activists on the ground — exhausted, dispirited activists who were begging any reporter they could find to help spread the word — were saying the crisis had been fueled and spread by social media. The people of Myanmar had only experienced unfettered access to the internet since around 2012, and now Facebook, through its Internet.org program that provided free mobile internet access to its site, had quickly become the only source for news for a large portion of the population. Newsfeeds in Myanmar were pushing a narrative that helped justify ethnic cleansing and other human rights violations on a massive scale. I took it to my editorial team and we put out some stories, and then I took it to Facebook.

    Nothing happened, and I came to see Myanmar as something of a model for the damage algorithms and disinformation could do to our world.

    I'm not sure educating schoolkids is an effective, realtime solution.
    Finally, they should learn to expose themselves to the news sources read by people with political views than their own - mostly the serious outlets of journalism with editorial stances different to their own political beliefs but also some of the heavily slanted outlets like, if the students are politically left of center, Fox News to see how similar methods of manipulation might be used by slanted news outlets that promote an agenda they are in agreement with.

    I guess that just moves the question back to what are considered "serious outlets of journalism". Is there a case that Fox News is "serious" but Breitbart or Stormfront are not? Can such a case be made without political value judgments?
  • I think the main consumers of fake news will see any kind of government involvement, even non-partisan, as proof that They don't want you to know about it ...
  • ...I don't think there is any question that there is fake news out there. My question is, who do you trust to decide what news is fake? ...

    ...In your particular countries, would you trust your current government (Canada has an election coming up in October) to vet the news? If not, who would you trust?
    Not only no, but hell no.

    I would trust the people I've always trusted: trained professional journalists who know how to fact-check and who work to provide genuinely balanced coverage. That's true whether we're talking about a major national newspaper (New York Times, Wall Street Journal) or a small one (local and regional news is important; studies have shown that - for example - government building projects are cheaper where there's a paper providing oversight. National papers can't do that in the same way).

    This "enemy of the people" stuff is just evil - and dangerous.


  • I don't think this is about vetting the news for content. It sounds like the idea is really more about identifying covert foreign interference, e.g. the group of "concerned citizens" that is really a Russian bot farm.

  • Climacus wrote: »
    ...

    I do believe people, not all I grant you, go into the public service with the ideal of serving the country...
    To a certain extent I agree, especially if you mostly consider those who joined 20 or so years ago. Perhaps not so much any more.

    However, those who have risen to the highest levels such as the positions mentioned, will only have risen, and remained, by proving their loyalty to those above them.

    Consider the effect of saying no to the Prime Minister's office:

    https://cbc.ca/news/politics/scheer-sends-trudeau-letter-demanding-he-waive-solicitor-client-privilege-in-snc-lavalin-case-1.5013418
    The leader of the federal Opposition has sent a letter to the prime minister to demand he cede the solicitor-client privilege that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould says prevents her from commenting on the SNC-Lavalin case.

    The request is outlined in a letter sent by Andrew Scheer on Sunday morning, pushing for Justin Trudeau to allow Wilson-Raybould to speak about allegations she was pressured by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to help the Quebec construction company avoid criminal prosecution.

    It comes on the heels of a Globe and Mail report last week, citing anonymous sources, that members of Trudeau's office tried to press then-Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould to have federal prosecutors negotiate a "remediation agreement" with SNC-Lavalin rather than move ahead with legal proceedings.

    The Quebec engineering and construction giant has been charged with fraud and corruption in connection with payments of nearly $48 million to public officials in Libya under Moammar Gadhafi's government, and allegations it defrauded Libyan organizations of an estimated $130 million.

    Note also that the then-Justice Minister was removed from her post, demoted to a junior cabinet office, because she seems to have refused.

    How much more will a civil servant toe the line to the first Prime Minister in Canadian history to have been found guilty of ethics violations?

    I cannot trust them.

    Sharkshooter, I know nothing about the traditions or honour of Canadian public servants. I assume that, like in Australia, they sit within the British tradition of civil service so comprehensively mocked in Yes Minister. Obviously I can't challenge your judgement on Canadian public servants.

    In the article you link, who is the public servant? In Australia, the Attorney General is a member of cabinet, an MP, a politician. The Justice Minister is also a politician, an MP. A Public Servant in the Australian context responsible for providing advice to Government would be the Solicitor General, who is a lawyer appointed by the Attorney General and not a Member of Parliament, not a politician.

    In short, I am confused. You seem to be using the behavior of politicians to criticise a proposal to allow a committee of people who are not politicians to vet fake news and issue warnings to the general public.
  • In Canada we combine the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice in a single position in Cabinet. Normally (possibly invariably, but I'm not sure offhand) the AG is also an elected Member of Parliament. The highest-ranking non-elected legal official is the Deputy Attorney General and Deputy Minster (DM) of Justice (one person with a very long job title).

    DMs are senior civil servants, not political staff. But they come and go more readily than ordinary civil servants -- I don't know the technical details, but they don't have the same kind of security of tenure that normal civil servants do. (In that way the Canadian system is different from the UK system as portrayed in Yes Minister.) That said, firing a DM during the middle of an election, especially if part of that DM's job was to monitor the integrity of the electoral process, would raise eyebrows more than just a little.
  • In the UK, we are in a pretty poor position from this point of view. The tech giants have shown themselves repeatedly untrustworthy; our journalists are so weak in either their ability or their inclination to resist the bias of their overlords that the profession has become widely discredited, and our civil servants have been so commercialised and the public service ethic so discredited and debased that they are little more than puppets too.

    Where do we go?

    I appreciate there is a distinct lack of citations, but I'd be interested in the reactions particularly of UK shipmates to see if my summary chimes with them. Unfortunately, I don't have an hour or two to put the citations together.
  • Some of the problem was touched on a few months ago - people want their news free and aren't prepared to pay for reliable news. Nor is the Government, or hasn't been until recently, witness the cuts to the BBC and the impact on news reporting there (not helped by the Iraq Contra, Hutton and Kelly reporting by Andrew Gilligan (link). It is difficult for journalists to do a job if they are not paid.

    There has been a lot of chat about this issue this morning, with the publication of The Cairncross Review: a sustainable future for journalism (link) which comments on several issues including:
    the role and impact of digital search engines and social media platforms

    Social media has fed into this, with young people in particular getting their news from scuttlebutt, with all the scandals around Facebook and Google - lots of recent stories about those issues highlighting that's an international problem:
    Guardian story from Sunday 10 February entitled Regulation needed to save Australian journalism from Facebook and Google, watchdog says
    Guardian story from October 2018 Facebook and Google are run by today's robber barons. Break them up
  • When private interests act against the public interest they must be regulated. Which means probably that there is an ability to fine them a lot of money. Maybe an organization like those rating obscenity in movies, funded through a levy directly on the online services companies. But like a judiciary, with stipulated steps and prohibition of external court appeals: like what's done in many places when a gov't ministry decision needs appeal. This then prevents tying it up with legal actions, lawyer games, greedy games.
  • Jail for people in effective control of an offending corporation is what's needed, not fines. Fines are just the cost of doing business.
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