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  • 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.