Fake News, True Lies.
When Alphabet took over as Google’s new holding company three years ago, they dropped the tech giant’s “Don’t Be Evil” mantra from its code of conduct. Was it a warning sign?
By Pascal Beucler, SVP & CSO, Global, MSL
About Clicks and Trust
The fact is that we may well be at a rocking point in the short but intense history of giant platforms like Google and Facebook.
Following the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook stock is at stake, the #deletefacebook campaign has launched, and class actions are on their way while regulators, attorneys and prosecutors consider complaints and appeals.
There’s obviously a serious issue here, if not a “systemic problem”, like the famous Silicon Valley investor and Facebook shareholder Roger McNamee says, concerning respect for data privacy, the nature of the algorithms and the business model of these platforms.
As a matter of fact, most, if not all, of the issues at hand – including the #fakenews phenomenon – may be seen as a direct consequence of the “Click Economy” which is nowadays dominating everything, from ownership, copyright and data privacy to established trade rules, in all sectors: music, publishing, transportation, hospitality and now information.
From a purely economic standpoint, why would a platform hunt down #fakenews (“INFOX”, as the French Academy calls them: the unworthy offspring of “INFO” and “INTOX”) as long as they attract huge audiences, thus generating hard advertising income? See France, for instance: 70% of the online advertising goes to the platforms today, further destabilizing the already extremely fragile media industry.
Who can be surprised that the current “laissez faire” is no longer acceptable.
“I'm not sure we shouldn't be regulated," said Zuckerberg to CNN. "There are things like ad transparency regulation that I would love to see."
"For the times, they are a changin'."
And indeed, it took the founder of Facebook a few days to react. On March 21 – better late than never -- he eventually came up with a triple engagement to better secure his platform:
- Investigate all apps with access to large amounts of information and conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity;
- Restrict developers' data access even further to prevent other kinds of abuse
- Make sure users understand which apps they've allowed to access their data.
It was about time to recognize the permanent abuse of people’s data privacy, for years and years, in full opacity. Will it be enough though, from a longer-term perspective, to rebuild trust? Maybe not.
Is a Platform a Media?
Neither disinformation, nor propaganda the good old way are anything new. And, neither should be confused with #fakenews.
But if disinformation, propaganda and #fakenews are different by nature, they all are the tools of information warfare in our “post-truth” and “alternative facts” age. In an age where truth is no longer a shared value, where experts are unwelcome around the news table, and where the tyranny of “opinionism” reigns, all opinions are equally good to hear, including bias, offenses and obnoxious behavior.
And herein comes the rub.
Beyond well-needed regulation, the key question is whether platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, which are the primary sources for information and news for a growing part of the population -- particularly the younger generation -- should be seen as and operate as actual media, with all the professional constraints and rules attached to this status: highly-skilled and trained employees, thorough verification of sources, systematic fact-checking, and recognition that racism is an actual offense, not an opinion etc.
Will Blockchain Be The Ultimate Weapon?
Something else is coming, which may well reshuffle many of these cards: Blockchain technology, definitely the next big thing ahead.
The most easily recognizable and famous aspect of the Blockchain technology is of course bitcoins, the well-known crypto-currency.
Just because the data are not closed like they are on a platform’s central server, but shared, controlled and protected by thousands of people, the Blockchain disruption will increase transparency and trust with people encrypting of their information. The more people encrypt, the more difficult it will be for organizations to access their data, like they do now. The major source of people’s data today is social media and companies like Facebook control it. With an encrypted identity, each of us will be able to control what is available, under what conditions, and what is not.
When the new reality comes where individuals, and not organizations, control access, identity and personal information, consumers will be empowered, and citizens will be efficiently protected against all #fakenews generators.
The Tocqueville Conversations, taking place June 8-9 in Tocqueville, Normandy, in the château where Alexis de Tocqueville wrote much of his works, will address this topic, along with others relating to democracies challenged by populism. This is a free event, by invitation only. Should you be interested, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pascal Beucler is the Chief Strategy Officer of MSL and is based in Paris.