“Fake news” — a phrase that existed to describe the sharp rise and sustained dominance of online misinformation during the 2016 election season for about two weeks before it turned into a joke phrase that every TV show, friend, and politician you know has driven into the ground — is a problem.
Which raises the question: Can we get rid of false accounts and viral lies and restore faith in online news once more? Over a thousand experts have given their respective opinions in a new study out today, and the response is split.
It's an Even Split
The study, released today by Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, connected with over 1,100 internet and technology experts over the summer of 2017. The overall results showed a sharp divide: 51 percent of respondents said the environment “will not improve,” and the other 49 percent believes it will improve.
“Many of these experts said that while the digital age has created countless information sources and magnified their potential influence globally, it has simultaneously reduced the influence of traditional news organizations that deliver objective, verified information,” said Janna Anderson, the report's co-author and director of Imagining the Internet Center.
“They said the information environment can’t be improved without more well-staffed, financially stable, independent news organizations whose signals are able to rise above the noise of misinformation to create a base of ‘common knowledge’ for the public. They also urged far more literacy efforts to help people differentiate fact from falsehood.”
While the final report racked up almost 500 pages, four main takeaways can be pulled from the hundreds of expert responses. The first two come from the more negative camp while the last two come from the positive one.
The information environment will not improve and human nature is to blame. — According to this belief, you can't escape our nature, and the internet's natural inclination to avoid the truth can't be patched.
The information environment will not improve because technology will create new challenges that can’t or won’t be countered effectively and at scale. — In other words, the environment offers an inherent advantage towards the bad actors. The internet might improve somewhat, but the trolls will always be able to spread their sensational article faster than the more boring fact-checked article.
The information environment will improve because technology will help label, filter or ban misinformation and thus upgrade the public’s ability to judge the quality and veracity of content. — These tech experts believe that technology can solve the problem it has created: “algorithmic filters, browsers, apps and plug-ins” will eventually grow smart enough to filter out the bad while leaving the good.
The information environment will improve because people will adjust and make things better. — Things have always been rough, and people will find a way to adjust eventually. Human nature can figure it out.
Figure out which statement you prefer. And check up on who published that one article before you share it on Facebook, okay?