If we’re going to spend millions to fix fake news, we need to spend it outside the U.S., too

Fake news is global, so is the solution.

This week started with my first ever Twitter rant (I’m British, it is fairly tame). The reason? Yet more money going to US news organisations to fix so-called “fake news.”

I’ve been monitoring the efforts to tackle this for some time now — even writing up a well-shared list of as many of the initiatives that I could find. On that list you’ll find a note on where each initiative is based and where the funding comes from. It is blindingly obvious that there are huge amounts of dollars being spent to fix fake news and those millions of dollars are really only going to US news organisations. The only notable exception are Google who support initiatives outside of the US through the Digital News Initiative and the Google NewsLab and a few smaller funds here and there that aren’t really helping us non-Americans scratch the surface (although the European Journalism Center is trying). And we have so much surface to scratch!

Don’t take this as a criticism America, the Knight Foundation and the Rita Allen Foundation as well as many others are doing some amazing work and supporting some amazing projects. The reasons why the money can’t be spent outside the US are all very clear; there are rules and geographical restrictions for foundations. But the fact is that we are really only hearing solutions from a small percentage of the people affected by this problem and as far as I can see we are no closer to actually fixing “fake news” and misinformation despite MILLIONS of dollars having been spent on it already.

Perhaps it is now time to spend some money and a proportionate amount of effort elsewhere and genuinely ask the rest of the world — much of which has faced the topic of fake news since before the US election campaign — for their input and help.

Photo: Tom Trewinnard for Pop-Up Newsroom

Collaboration is key here, and is one of the key reasons I co-launched the Pop-Up Newsroom initiative with Meedan (who are also committed to the work of verification and fighting misinformation through technical innovation and training in all corners of the world). We truly believe that Collaboration Drives Innovation. It is only by bringing journalists and technologists from different disciplines, backgrounds and locations together to innovate, iterate and find real solutions to real problems that we face — and to do it quickly and openly.

I don’t want to build yet another coalition where we can discuss the issues. We know them. And many of us have been banging on about them for a long time. This is about building a meaningful and active working group across Europe, Asia Pacific and Africa — not just with the purpose of fund-raising for individual projects — but with coming up with the big solution that we actually need. We know that nobody will solve this alone, so lets move on and work together.

I very recently did some work in Eastern Europe, one of those regions that has been fighting and continues to fight misinformation on a daily basis and has done so for as long as they can remember. This is also the region where “fake news factories” are being run from. These folk have huge amounts of experience and have come up with scrappy solutions to fix it. Let’s learn from them and the other regions with similar experiences, build on collective ideas, agree on a way forward and start testing hard.

This is starting to sound like one of those grand, posturing, future-of-news Medium posts. Maybe it is — and I apologise for that — but I genuinely want this to be about a call to real action. I had quite a few positive but discreet reactions to my tweet about this issue and so I will be reaching out to those people and ask them to join me and perhaps rock the boat a little.

So… how do we solve this without spending millions more dollars?

Well let’s spend the biggest chunk of what we might have (if we can ever get hold of it) to get everyone into one room to discuss this for a decent amount of time. And I mean everyone; not just the big players, not just the people that can always afford to send people to events, not just those affiliated with one association, not just the people who have always had and always will have something to say, but all of the people that are affected by this and all of the people that we really, really need to hear from that we haven’t heard before.

We’ll start and end this fight in one simple way, by convening to share genuinely useful experiences and LISTEN. Then quickly innovate around solutions that address this on a scale as grand as we need to make it.

The solution to this isn’t small and we know it, so if we are really serious as an industry about fixing this then why not aim for the sky.