How to Stop Fake News

And Why I Believe Content Validation Will Save Us

Recently I watched a video of Barack Obama calling Donald Trump a “dipshit” and it shook me to the core. Not that it either confirmed or disputed a personal political opinion — this post is definitely not about that — but this deep fake video made me realize that society entered the age of trolls, misquoted state actors, and false economic forecasts. At best fake news harms constructive dialogue or reputations but at worst (as some claim) could result in stock market crashes, international conflict, and war.

Fake News and their effects are not science fiction, the threat is so palpable that DARPA, the U.S. defense agency responsible for emerging military technology, has already assembled an official media forensics lab to reliably identify fakes. A number of corporate and academic initiatives in industry strategy and technology are trying to crack the threat that this erosion of journalistic integrity does pose to our society.

As I’ve thought about fake news and “deep fake” videos from the perspective of an analyst, it is clear this is a business process improvement problem. Solving the fake news problem does not need to rely on journalistic best practices or principles, policy enforcement, libel suits, or counter campaigns.

What then does it rely on; what in fact makes news (and as an extension fake news) possible? It’s simple really. The commercial models that finance (or “monetize”) the distribution of any news. The brands that sponsor directly or indirectly the producers and publishers of news and entertainment through advertisement and branded content campaigns. The more a piece of content is viewed the more advertisement it stands to display. The more sensationalist the content, the more it plays into the echo chambers that allow it to be consumed at a faster rate the more advertisement is stands to display. “Pope Francis endorsing Trump” or “Hillary Clinton selling Weapons to Isis” (two of some of the most popular fake stories during the 2016 Presidential Election) will reach a target audience six (SIX) times quicker than a boring less divisive but true article, as an MIT/Twitter collaboration study found. It will be retweeted 70% more likely — same study. Truth cannot compete with hoax.

So who pays for the site or the video stream that now has a 70% higher likelihood of being retweeted? Would the brands and advertisers still pay the publisher for the display of an ad if they knew the content they are sponsoring is produced by a fake news content mill, intended to antagonize and maximize viewer volumes.

Let’s take the solution to where the money is. We can make news guaranteed true and safe by making fake news economically inviable. If we authenticate the source and inform the advertisers at the point of the financial transaction that what they are about to sponsor is not worth sponsoring, we can remove the financial incentive to fake news and ensure brands are operating with brand safety.

Content syndication begins where the editorial process ends and being in this industry now for a decade I have made it a goal of mine to actively try to find an answer to a problem that not only threatens us all socially and economically, but threatens our own personal freedoms as well.

This is the first of a number of future posts aiming to disassemble the construct of what make fake news possible, content authentication, editorial intent, and best practices. I hope to share my findings on how the different participants of news production, editorial integrity, distribution, advertising, publishers, and rights owners can collaborate with technological advancements to ensure the true news they produce comes with a seal of approval (and more idealistically fake news goes the way of the dodo).

Content Validation and Authentication is a growth industry … and it is the right (and profitable) thing to do.