Tech cynic: Blocking fake news with technology, for a safer world

Tech cynic: Blocking fake news with technology, for a safer world

Earlier this month, the most widely-read English news website in the world, the Daily Mail, was effectively flagged as a purveyor of fake news by Microsoft's Edge website. The actual flagging of the site was carried out by a firm called NewsGuard, which claims to have attempted to contact the Daily Mail several times by telephone before taking this action, although it's not clear why, since a phone conversation shouldn't affect any impartial analysis of a website's propensity to dish out fake news... should it?

Of course, to all right-thinking people the Daily Mail is an abomination of gammon-fodder, stirring up anger in pseudo-middle-class, Brexit-voting, boomer mouth-frothers who partake of their biased news alongside a side-dish of titillating celebrity side-boob. Right? A quick, cynical chuckle and we can all move on.

But hang on. Who decides who the right-thinking people are? Who decides what's fake news?

During my psychology degree many years ago, one part of the course involved discourse analysis of a single news story as reported by several different newspapers. The experience was fascinating, as we delved into loaded phrases, implied guilt, deliberate omissions, speculation worded - oh, so carefully - as fact, and much more. All the newspapers we looked at were guilty of these dubious tactics, whether left-wing, right-wing or supposedly centre in political terms. It was all fake news, all biased in a direction to suit each newspaper's editorial policy, and yet just real enough to pass legal challenge. Just.

It's a game. There may well be facts in any given news story, but the chances are they got there by accident and aren't part of the main thrust of the article. The odds of finding any meaningful truth in a newspaper are slim to non-existent. Accept that, and all you're really doing when reading your chosen rag is subscribing to a given set of prejudices that happens to support and reinforce your internal biases.

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Alex Cruickshank

Alex Cruickshank has been writing about technology and business since 1994. He has lived in various far-flung places around the world and is now based in Berlin.  

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