Jevin West, panel discuss fake news: 'Think more, share less'

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Four words from Information School Assistant Professor Jevin West provided the key takeaway from a Seattle Times LiveWire event Sept. 13 at the UW: “Think more, share less.”

Training people to question the source and veracity of information is one of the keys to fighting the spread of fake news, West said. He was part of a panel discussion, “Fact vs. fake: Fighting back against fake news,” sponsored by The Times. Panelists spoke before a full house at Kane Hall, with thousands more watching a live feed on Facebook.

West discussed the course he teaches with Biology Professor Carl Bergstrom, “Calling Bullshit,” and strategies they’ve developed for combating fake news. Their class aims to educate people on how to identify disinformation and misinformation and constructively call attention to it.

Calling fake news a threat to democracy, West said the internet’s way of elevating emotional content over facts is having a detrimental effect by giving life to disinformation.

“We need to change the incentives,” he said. “The clickbait model is really facilitating this problem. There’s a lot of money to be made in creating fake news and the clicks and money that come from it.”

Seattle Times Managing Editor Michele Matassa Flores discussed the problem of eroding trust in legitimate news. As a result, it’s more imperative than ever that journalists stand for the truth, she said.

“Regardless of what comes of the term ‘fake news,’ we know our news must be right, must be true, must be verified, must be fair. It must be real,” she said.

Delip Rao, founder of Joostware, an AI research consulting firm, focused on ways technology can be part of the solution. He discussed the “Fake News Challenge” he helped organize that brings together researchers, computer scientists and artificial intelligence experts who volunteer their time to work on open-source solutions to address the problem.

“You have to recognize that it’s a really complex problem,” Rao said. “When we started looking at it from a technology point of view, we realized you just can’t build one single solution.”

Instead, Rao said, technology can be one tool, along with education and journalism, for fighting fake news.

Jeanne Bourgault, president and CEO of Internews, an international nonprofit, spoke about her organization’s efforts to ensure access to trusted information around the world. Fake news is just one of the problems Internews faces, along with misinformation, propaganda and hate speech.

Like Rao, Bourgault said a multifaceted approach is necessary to address the problem.

“We can’t just rely on trying to weed out or censor fake news,” she said. “We really have to be building real news, be building information people can use in their lives to make a difference.”

View a recording of the event on Facebook.