Mar 18, 2017

The tech press talks 'fake news'

Why it matters: Fake news has affected the whole country, but the social networks and platforms to help distribute them are based in Silicon Valley, leaving the tech industry and the journalists that cover it to wrestle with the consequences and possible solutions.

Here's what a group of journalists — BuzzFeed reporter Alex Kantrowitz, CNBC editorial director Matt Rosoff, NYT reporter Katie Benner, USA Today SF bureau chief Jon Swartz and The Information's Tom Dotan — had to say about fake news at an event in San Francisco on Thursday.

Defining "fake news": All agreed that the intent to mislead or provide false information is central to the term, but there's also a spectrum from Macedonian "fake news" farms to outlets creating misleading narratives on the basis of some facts or opinions.

Facebook's real role: Facebook didn't sway the election thanks to fake news, said Kantrowitz. Instead, that content reinforced people's existing beliefs. Rosoff challenged the notion that Facebook is an alternative to the old ways of getting the news, like watching news programs on TV or buying a newspaper. Instead, it's an alternative for bar talk and gossiping for friends, which is why sensational articles are so commonly shared there. "It was never meant for real journalism," he added.

How tech empowers the grassroots: Certain voices the mainstream media and establishment politicians would have otherwise dismissed are getting power through technology like smartphones and social media, said Benner.

Why Twitter won't ban Trump: "I think the reason they keep him on is to keep the communication open," said Swartz, adding that at least it provides the public some window into his mind.

Video and fake news: With Facebook's increasing focus on—and even shift to—video, that may have an impact on the proliferation of fake news on its network, predicted Dotan. Videos require more resources to produce than blog posts, making it more difficult for bad actors currently churning out content from their computers to do the same in that medium.

Ultimate accountability: "I think it's in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg," said Kantrowitz.

Go deeper

The mystery of coronavirus superspreaders

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A small percentage of people — called superspreaders — may be responsible for a large number of COVID-19 infections, research is starting to indicate.

Why it matters: While there's no method to detect who these people are before they infect others, there are ways to control behaviors that cause superspreading events — a key issue as states start to reopen and debate what types of events are OK.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 p.m. ET: 5,931,112 — Total deaths: 357,929 — Total recoveries — 2,388,172Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 p.m. ET: 1,711,313 — Total deaths: 101,129 — Total recoveries: 391,508 — Total tested: 15,192,481Map.
  3. States: New York to allow private businesses to deny entry to customers without masks.
  4. Public health: Louisiana Sen. Cassidy wants more frequent testing of nursing home workers.
  5. Congress: Pelosi slams McConnell on stimulus delay — Sen. Tim Kaine and wife test positive for coronavirus antibodies.
  6. Tech: Twitter fact-checks Chinese official's claims that coronavirus originated in U.S.
  7. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 32 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Twitter fact-checks Chinese official's claims that coronavirus originated in U.S.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

Twitter slapped a fact-check label on a pair of months-old tweets from a Chinese government spokesperson that falsely suggested that the coronavirus originated in the U.S. and was brought to Wuhan by the U.S. military, directing users to "get the facts about COVID-19."

Why it matters: The labels were added after criticism that Twitter had fact-checked tweets from President Trump about mail-in voting, but not other false claims from Chinese Communist Party officials and other U.S. adversaries.