Content Aware media news: April 18, 2024

By: Rob Corbidge, 19 April 2024

How do you check facts when there is a good chance it is a joke

Satire and humour can be informative and true - but the fight against fake news is apparently no laughing matter.

The reins of Content Aware this week are in the cultured grasp of GPP Head of Content Intelligence Rob Corbidge. Each week Rob  writes about some of the challenges our industry faces, and plenty more of his insight can be found at the Comment section of this site, here. Over to you Rob...

We haven't done very well grasping the universal nature of the internet yet have we? Something that by nature is neutral and able to carry a multiplicity of truths and realities will tend towards developing in that way, and yet some seem to perceive that reality as if it is something to be defeated - a bug not a feature.

For those of us there during the first digital transition era, it can feel like the afterimage of that time is imprinted on our retina, like being in the Nevada desert with Oppenheimer without any eye protection. In that flash of technology most of us saw something of huge promise, even if it was a promise we struggled to fully articulate.

So how did we get to an example this week of what looks like clumsy internet policing, carried out by one of the many organisations which have found or created a role in what can be described as protecting the content-consuming public from exposure to awfulness?

In among the news organisations who have had their "credibility score" down-rated by Newsguard is a particular publication that sits in a unique position in the UK media landscape. Its downgrading says more about the inherent issues of the methodology used to rate it than it does about the publication itself.

Before continuing into the example that drew front page attention in the UK, let's state for the record that it is clear that Newsguard is trying to do what enormous numbers of people think is a good thing - fight to stamp out fake news. But, the following example also shows exactly how hard that is to do without sometimes missing the point. 

The UK's Daily Star sits at the junction of news and broad humour. And that's a tough place to occupy when the puritans are after you. Yet, for a lot of Britons, the sight of a riotous Daily Star front page brings a smile to the face. The paper - a rogueish tabloid if ever there was one - dishes it out to everyone, without fear or favour. 

Its approach to power is most notable in the recent past for comparing Liz Truss - the UK's blink-of-an-eye Prime Minister of early autumn 2022 - to a lettuce. It featured said lettuce on the front page of the newspaper, and boldly predicted the leafy vegetable would outlast Truss's tenure as leader of the nation.

And it did. Much to The Daily Star's editorial joy and the amusement of many, particularly political sketch-writers and comedians who have continued to link the pair ever since. It worked then and now because of the absurdity of the comparison, and it is as clear now as in 2022 that it was intended as a humorous way to make a point.

Such stuff makes The Daily Star a true inheritor of a particular kind of rough-house British political satire that has existed for centuries in one form or another and serves a vital purpose in deflating the aura of the powerful. You could call it keeping democracy honest.

The UK is far from alone in this. Most readers will have something in their national news eco-system that defies simple classification, that sits on the cusp of one thing and something else, that is the creation of complex local historical forces, or just simply exists and thrives on controversy. 

The downgrading of the Star by Newsguard is because it "frequently publishes unsubstantiated stories about Vladimir Putin being dead and about the existence of aliens" according to the UK Press Gazette's story this week.

I'm sure the senior strategic planners at the UK Ministry of Defence can't wait each day for the latest information on the health of the Russian leader from The Daily Star and make decisions concerning the deployment of nuclear missile submarines accordingly.

As for the existence of aliens, the paper has reacted the only way it thinks it should to Newsguard's credibility audit, by headlining their splash story "You're Talking Out Of Uranus" and labelling Newsguard as "fun sponges" who ordered the Star to "provide definitive evidence of flying saucers and aliens ... or else".

Will they be asking The Catholic Herald to prove the existence of the Big Man next?

As for the other news organisations Newsguard have downgraded, I'd argue their admonition is likely to be turned by some into a badge of honour. And I'm sure the NYT is quaking. 

Yes, this sort of thing matters these days because fake news is not without impact, and I have written often before about its use by more nefarious forces and the danger that it presents. But, in the real world, the blunt bureaucratic instrument of the "truth rating" seems inadequate for the breadth of the human experience.

Curiously, we already have a mechanism for dealing with such publications. If you don't like it, don't read it. If no one reads it, they'll go out of business. 

At the heart of such efforts to police content sits an idea that people are stupid and must be protected. They largely aren't, and they largely don't, if adults. 

There's also the fact that such tools, when used by "your side" on a particular issue, are an obvious unmitigated good, yet if the "other side" control them, they are an unmitigated bad. 

If that is the case, then I'd argue that they are probably not the right tools.

Google after your affiliate rev
Has anyone accidentally enabled Google Ad Intents on your site yet? The chances are you'd notice, as it peppers your site with overlays of contextual advertising based on insight Google automatically extrapolates from your content. Sounds a bit overbearing? If you have affiliate links, be prepared for some angry calls from your partners. And for readers to be non-plussed - you lose control over site experience.

And here's the why
Is Google Ad Intents an early insight into how the search and ads firm could respond to proposed clampdowns in the US on using data to target ads? The concept is gathering steam.

Meta vs the EU (again)
Meta's workaround to EU data protection and user notification requirements, which saw the social media giant present some EU users with a controversial 'Pay or Okay ' decision to either pay for using Meta products, or approve the use of their data by Meta, has run afoul of regulators. If Meta is forced to present a third option - use the service, but don't hand over personal data - it could have a major effect on the Meta business model observers say.

"This is a robbery... gimme your data!"
How an armed robbery was the first in a chain of events which put Google's location data practices in the spotlight. Much like the EU's reading of the Meta scenario outlined above, quite how a choice is presented to a user is what is at the centre of the argument over if the choice is a fair one or not.  

TikTok's ticking clock
Meta are not the only ones being chased by EU officials. Under new Digital Services Act (DSA) rules, TikTok has been hit with a demand for insight into risk assessments on the impact the social media app can have on children, prompted by the launch of TikTok Lite in France and Spain. The demand needs to be responded to within 24 hours, and under DSA rules fines are based on global turnover, so it's unlikely to be ignored.

What would the lawyers say?
The law on AI and copyright took an interesting turn this week, after the US Copyright Office appeared to reverse course on previous assertions that AI-created work can't be copyrighted. It has found a small and somewhat unusual space in its rulings whereby an author who compiled work using an AI can own the final output of the AI, but not the text of the output - so it could be reproduced in a modified format with freedom. Time will tell if this clears matters up or adds more confusion into the mix.