Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles MARTHA MINOW: I'm Martha Minow. And it is with gratitude to the Berkman Klein team and to Urs Gasser, particularly, that I say, welcome to a discussion that I promise will have answers-- at least suggestions-- as well as, oh my gosh! What do we do? So "fake news" is a phrase that, now, no one is quite sure what it means. But we're all worried about it. And we will spend a little bit of time talking about, what do we mean by it? What has it come to mean? But we're going to spend most of the time together talking about, what are tools that are available or could be made available to help people sort through the floods of information and the democratization of access to information that makes it very hard to know what's true and what's not true. And then, of course, there's not anything new at all about propaganda and lies. We've always had them. Now we just have more access to them. So one of my favorite cartoons shows in the antique world of Xerox machines, someone going to the Xerox machine and making a copy of something and saying, send it to the world! Now, at the time, that was a funny cartoon. But now, with the internet and digital possibilities, anybody can send anything, basically, to the world. And I think that's the context that we're going to be addressing. I will say something briefly about each person when I introduce them. And I'm immediately turning to J. Nathan Matias, who is very importantly involved in the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society here. And he's also involved in the MIT Center for Civic Media. And he's a PhD candidate at MIT. And he's going to kick us off. What do we mean when we say fake news? What do you mean? J. NATHAN MATIAS: So when people think about fake news, we often look back to that moment when Craig Silverman at BuzzFeed did this amazing report about Macedonian teenagers who were creating fake articles and earning thousands of dollars a month. In fact, one of my favorite fake news headlines is, quote, "After election, Obama passes executive order banning all fake news outlets." Which, of course, was itself fake news. But the reality is much more complex. It's much more common to see something like a recent Breitbart article entitled "California's recipe for voter fraud on a massive scale." There's recent work by Yochai Benkler and the folks at the Media Cloud team here at Harvard that shows that often what we get are powerful political entities creating information that has, maybe, a kernel of truth, but it's really disinformation. They mix truths with familiar falsehoods and logics of the paranoid to make something that is not just believable but something that, maybe, when you go to Google, because they're the only people writing about it, you might feel like you're fact checking it. Because you see 10 other links from similarly-connected organizations saying the same thing, even though it's something closer to disinformation. It goes beyond what can actually be claimed. Because in the case, for example, of California, their motor voter laws are things that are similar to what other states have already implemented. And there's not really been evidence that those kinds of things lead to voter fraud. So there's this problem where we have a wide variety of disinformation. And people are concerned about how that information spreads on social media. There are fears about filter bubbles. There are fears about the use of algorithms, whether it's Google Search or whether it's Facebook's news feed, that might influence how these things spread. And in my research, I've done work to help understand what we as citizens can do and what the public can do to better understand those algorithms and influence how they work for the better. MARTHA MINOW: Great. We're going to hear more about that soon. So An Xiao Mina is an expert on memes. And she's a writer who looks at global internet and network creativity. And here, as a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center, she's studying language barriers in the technology stack, because the interest in diverse communities is a big development of her work. She leads the product team at Meedan, which is building digital tools for journalists and translators. And she co-founded Civic Beat, a research collective focused on the creative side of civic technology. What do you mean by fake news? AN XIAO MINA: So I think, when we think about fake news, often-- this is my perspective as a product manager working with journalists. Often, in these communities, we always use air-quotes, "fake news, fake news." And in many ways, this is an implicit acknowledgement that this phrase has come to mean so many things to become almost meaningless. It's an umbrella term for so many other words, other phenomenon. So the problem of fake news starts to seem intractable, because it has such a diffuse meaning. And I really appreciate Claire Wardle's breakdown of fake news. She looks at different types of fake news, anything from satire and parody to misleading content to really manipulated content and, then, fully-fabricated content, and then also breaks down different motivations, everything from parody to the goal of punking to actually spreading propaganda. And when we look at these different techniques, when we really break down fake news, we can start to think about different strategies and different techniques for addressing the wide variety of problems under this umbrella. So I think there's a different range of strategies for when an Onion article becomes cited as fact-- which is a frequent phenomenon, especially in global contexts where a global newspaper, a newspaper outside of the US, might misunderstand the context of The Onion and then cite that as news-- versus our strategies for dealing with state-sponsored propaganda botnets. So as we break down these different motivations and techniques, it also helps us think about breaking down our strategies. The other thing about their frameworks around fake news is also the very word "fake news." It orients us towards an orientation towards truth and falsehood. When often, the reason that things spread is not about truth or falsehood but about affirmation. We talk about the internet as an information superhighway. It's one of the early metaphors for the internet. In many ways, it's like an affirmation superhighway. People are looking for validation of perspectives and deeper cultural logic. So I tend to agree with researcher Whitney Phillips. Her framework around this is suggesting that we think about it as folkloric news or folk news. Because it orients us less towards truth and falsehood, which is still important, but more towards motivations for sharing and participation and how that reinforces deeper cultural logics. And I guess that's-- my third point here is, as we think about solutions for this fake news problem, it's also thinking about short-term and long-term solutions. In product management, we often think about, what is the immediately addressable problem versus what is the long-term issue here? And this issue around cultural logics, I think, is an important one that I think about frequently. Because thinking about fake news as symptoms, as mirrors for deeper thinking in society, for ways that people orient themselves and their values, helps to think about other civic institutions that we may want to engage to address those deeper logics. And I'll be interested in talking more about that as well. MARTHA MINOW: That's fantastic. And when you say cultural logics, identity is, of course, such an important factor about that. AN XIAO MINA: Absolutely MARTHA MINOW: An affiliation. Larry Bartels has a recent book looking at American politics, electoral politics, over the last 70 years and finds that it is not policy, it is not party that explains how people vote. It's membership and identity. And so I think we need to include that, particularly when we think about civic media. So Sandra Cortesi is our expert in youth and media. And she coordinates the youth and media policy research at Berkman Klein with UNICEF, an important initiative. I was recently struck when it turns out the Common Sense Media has issued its recent study where it finds that a lot of young people do not know what's news, what's not news, what's fake news, what's not news. And yet, they really want to get news. So let's hear from you. SANDRA CORTESI: Thank you. So I would like to particularly highlight two points that, again, focus on young people. When I say young people, I mean, usually, middle and high school students here in the US. And in that context, together with Urs Gasser and other people on the youth and media team, we have engaged in a large, qualitative study talking to young people. And so, two points in that context. The first one is I think we should look at fake news more in the context of not just what is true and what is false, but more in the context of information quality. So we have done a large study on information quality, very big report. But acknowledging that information quality, first, is highly subjective-- so what you value as high-quality information-- highly subjective-- and that it's very contextual. And also important, in that context, is that we acknowledge that we should take into account that all the different steps in this information process are not just how one evaluates information once you're confronted with it, but also how you search for it and where you get it and also how you share, you create it, you remix it, and so forth. And the second point, in the context of young people, again-- we heard it a little bit before-- but what news actually means to young people is quite different, actually, than what it means to adults. Through those focus groups, we have learned that young people often have a more social view on what news means, also a little bit broader perception of news. And I think that's then also important when we think about, what are the different quality criteria they employ when looking at news? I think that's key to keep in mind in this conversation. MARTHA MINOW: So social view means that it's affiliation with the news producer? Or what does the social mean? SANDRA CORTESI: Well, social also in the sense of what is relevant to them in their context, for their needs, their communities, and so forth. But also looking more at what kind of information/news they get from friends and people in their networks online, for instance on social media and those things. MARTHA MINOW: That's great. That's great. Thank you. So Jonathan Zittrain would be here all day if I said all the things that he does and he knows. But as faculty director of Berkman Klein, as vice dean for library resources, as professor of computer science here and at the Kennedy School, one of the many things that you've done is you've actually been attentive to the issues and the risks of filtering. You've done that from the beginning.