Thursday, April 27, 2017

Minimize Contagion & Impact of "Non-Credible" News? An Open Source Idea for a Pragmatic yet Audacious Project To Support Democracy

Executive Summary: News and journalistic organizations believe that "non-credible" news will invariably seek to impact key democratic processes like elections across democratic societies going forward. Case in point: France. Some approaches have already been implemented by Facebook, Google and news organizations. Can a digital approach (project?) become part of democratic institutions that support a democratic society? 

Yes! Below is one approach to protect democratic processes digitally- implementable in many ways, open sourced, free to use as necessary in your part of the world. Details of this approach have been continually fleshed, augmented and shared since late 2016. From the desk of no-substitute-for-transparent-democratic-institutions-and-journalistic-standards-but-there-are-still-gaps.

Why Now?

Some would argue that fake news has always been part of elections. Even the U.S. founding fathers engaged in leveraged untruths.

What's different now?

The hypotheses that are our baseline assumptions:

  • Fake news by existing stakeholders in a society did not have the contagion powers it has today. 
  • Foreign powers, and parties influenced by foreign operators in any democratic society, can now frequently and easily access asymmetric information contagion tools and their associated effects at a level previously unavailable as societies were not as interconnected digitally. 
  • Separately, democratic institutions across the world have been undermined, which has a multiplier effect on asymmetrical power that a non-credible information contagion can wield.

So, We Have A Problem? Houston, We Have a Problem!

Yes, voila, some information to support the contention that we have a problem:

  • A story by the Independent on the possible deluge of fake new stories in France:
  • An ABC story on tech driven fake news possibly influencing the US election:
  • A Vice news story about a "fake new machine" targeting the French elections:
  • An Oxford study on fake news and the French election reported by the Verge:

What Has Been Done So Far?

Some solutions have been put in place. there has been an improved focus on fact checking. The press and also social media and digital behemoths like Google and Facebook have taken the actions toward being effective corporate citizens in ways that also strengthens their business.
  • Facebook and Google have already implemented tools and processes to delegitimize non-credible news:
  • Facebook and Google are partnering with news organizations:
  • Journalism organizations are taking action too:
The problem is not easily solvable though:

Is Digital Action Needed, and Enough?

No. Digital action is no substitute for democratic and journalistic institutions, even if they have been undermined by internal social, economic and political forces. Are these institutions active, responsive and keeping pace with the digital change flooding society?

The true ring fences for any democratic society:
1. The Executive- Federal and State
2. The Legislature- Federal and State
3. The  Judiciary- - Federal and State
4. Strong and Free Press
5. Engaged and Skeptical Citizens

If nothing else, the media, upon self-reflection, would agree that #4 has been severely compromised. They've been impacted by the same digital forces that have become risks to democratic processes- there was even a movie about this; more from a previous post here:

This is not solved just by funding journalistic and media institutions (reference here to great journalistic institutions like the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Economist, Financial Times and others) that, as individual organizations, would have challenges with *fully* and *comprehensive* representing any richly diverse (viewpoints or other) democracy, regardless of their adherence to journalistic standards and to a mission that supports society's "growth".

I can attest to listening to the personal (and harrowing) story of an editor of a Philly newspaper who moved on to managing content for a small pharma company. A story told over lunch. Neither of us were really having lunch and I suspect neither of us had appetite for lunch after. Here is more food for thought:

Even if we doubt that these ring fences are no different that they used to be two hundred years ago, they are uniquely threatened by the digital nature of a more complex society today. Even with strong local and state institutions a strong local press, and locally active and organized citizens, a digital forum that allows these institutions to weave together, be aware of and respond to digital threats from non-credible information may now be a critical need.

This leads us to a need for a separate digital forum that sheds light on "non-credible" information that impacts citizens and democratic processes and allows them to react.

The assertion, in conclusion: No, what has been done so far is not enough. Yes, more, on many fronts, especially digital, is needed.

Succinctly: We are at "necessary, not sufficient". We would be remiss to not pursue a digital framework.

What Can A Society Do Digitally?

Below is a digital approach that supports the creation of another ring fence to augment those that have already been acknowledged as core for democratic societies for a long time.

The focus is to foster transparency on non-credible information available to people in a society, and to foster channels, forums, tools and pathways for democratic institutions and people to swiftly counteract the effects of non-credible information on the democracy.

democracy, news and facts support democracy digitally
A Project to Support Democracy and Transparency Digitally

Why Open Source?

  • It's an idea.
  • A functioning democracy requires a panoply of processes, institutions and approaches. This is one. 
  • It can be implemented in many ways. 
  • The focus is on post facto management of response to "non-credible" news contagion- this is a non trivial problem.
  • It requires strong partnerships across companies and existing democratic institutions. 
  • It requires vision and long term support and action. 
  • As an engaged human being on this planet, I will be glad to support anyone who can run with this.
  • Even if it fails, this is an experiment we would be remiss to not try. 
  • Feel free to contact me for more information.

Note: This approach has been shared previously (early 2017) in various forums and individually with folks and startups seeking to solve this problem. This approach follows a clear path from questions about transparency with democratic institutions and processes that gripped a nation's consciousness in late 2016, and has been continually fleshed and augmented with more public information updates since late 2016. Separately, I am glad to see the press and social media and digital behemoths like Google and Facebook take the actions they have. They are being effective corporate citizens in ways that also strengthens their business.