Fake news and Algorithm doesn’t make best friends
The best thing about the algorithm, when you’re feeling lonely and browsing Netflix, but can’t think of what movies to watch, it just pulls out your history and gives you a list of movies to watch. There’s a good probability that you’ll like it.
Shopping at Lazada has become easier as it remembers my past buys and figures out what I might like to buy next.
If you search fix washing machine in Google, the next thing you know, you’ll be presented with location advertisements for repair shops and appliance shops.
My Google News presents me with news that is relevant to me and even sorted by location.
I get typhoon warnings automatically on my cellphone and I don’t even know how that happens.
Our behavior online, the history of what we search, what we click is being plotted and patterned by machines. We won’t have to think much. Everything has been decided for us. History upon history of data bear weight on what we eat, what movies to watch or books to read, where we go, what best days and times to have a vacation, where to invest.
All these are decided for us by an all-knowing God of Algorithm. Or a sentient being in the machines.
As “Big Data” becomes more and more intrusive and is becoming a way of living, affecting not only our psychology, economy, and society at large, how easy is it to be misled by a bunch of data and the way it is being (mis)interpreted?
Nowadays, Big Data is all the buzzword that shows up in my wall and all the startups can talk about. The mathematics behind it is a huge maze that is being mapped out day in and day out by data scientists.
But, however much data we collect, if there is no proper insight into reading that data, it would be so easy to be lost in this map. How annoying it is to find a recipe for alcohol bomb shots in Google, and the next thing you know, you’re being presented with How To Make Bombs in Amazon Books? (or dangerous for that matter -I wouldnt put it past me not to try).
Decidedly, the ease, speed, and reliability of using Algorithms for our daily lives more than makes up for its daily transgressions. It is, after all, just a human tool and not nearing the Muskian prediction of AI demons. (Yet.)
And yet, one can only wonder, is the algorithmic programming reading it right? Is the data scientist feeding into an assumption and drawing us a different kind of databased reality? How are these assumptions being made to stand up and face its own fallacies?
Take the recent Sea Games fake news of the Philippine House Speaker Allan Cayetano and Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) chair winning the “best SEA Games organizer”, for example. The Honorable Speaker Allan Cayetano posted a self-congratulatory note and sent out a press release. Said press release was picked up by major news and media companies without proper verification. In hours it has been widely shared and accepted as fact. Only, there was no such award.
For someone interested in sports, the country’s glory, political pundits, and mass followers of Allan Cayetano’s party (erm DDS?), this news would somehow appear on their timelines and presto – Fake news + Algorithm = Stupid.
Or not. By itself, fake news is designed to deceive and even a few educated and well-meaning people who can spot fake news from afar can get their defenses down. I know I’ve been hit with a couple of “kuryente” myself and I swear I’m not as idiotic as most.
No, its probably not a catastrophe. Nor is there a conspiracy theory. The probability of believing in misinformation, disinformation, and digital lies would be lowered substantially if we realize that these codes do not write themselves. I do not claim to be an AI expert but for the most part, they can’t be smarter than us and they’re not. It should be a priority to recheck the parameters that dictates these AI algos because, no matter how many disclaimers they put on it, readers take it as the word of God, or in this case, the Algorithmic God.
For us digital consumers, (and digital producers, for God’s sake! I am looking at you Philippine Media outlets!) it is a good practice to check, once in a while, the values that dictate our assumptions. Codes can only work in context. It is not easy to be all-knowing, but it is easy to set an alarm and built in checks to catch the extremes. We need to remember that these fake news and AI idiocy is not necessarily a tech problem but an analytical and comprehension problem.
Always, always be on guard and think critically. I know how that can be hard. I have a friend who claims to only share real research instead of regurgitated science news. Good for him. I know I don’t have that much time on my hands to dig that deep to validate news reports.
But it’s not that hard to read what you share first and value accuracy over how fast you can share an article. It’s not that hard to read first before commenting. With all those kuryente news, I made a promise to myself that if it raises an eyebrow, check facts first. Let’s challenge our AI digital assistants that curates our truth. It is important to relearn to navigate the informational landscape on our own. Technology can only work on the peripheral but cannot work on our people’s tendency to believe what is posted on the internet.
And for this Sea Games organizer award idiocy, (apparently, its still an ongoing issue that has been discussed, rebuttal after rebuttal, by both zealots and the rest of the Philippine social media politik), it rests on our failure to verify and validate information before we share it.
Real-world stuff you can do to avoid falling in a fake news techno bubble
- Check the links before you share it. A lot of media websites gets spoofed -example https://news.abs-cbn.com/ becomes newsmedia.abscbn.com. These fake news sites know that we have a bias for “legit” news sites.
- Protect your digital footprints. Religiously clean your cache. Useful against AI malaise and useful for getting the best offers for plane tickets.
- Follow the money. Who benefits? Fake photos on social media. memes and viral videos are often paid by media promoters. The more attention-grabbing and scandalous a post is, the bigger the probability of a social media farm being behind an attack. Trust me on this -I’ve worked in one of these insane media farms. They’re not an urban legend.
- Some fake news is clearly preposterous, but some of them are slightly closer to (your) reality which needs more vigilance. You may become a victim of your own bias. When in doubt check the item on reputable sites like factcheck.org.
- Resist the urge to share fake news that you know is fake only to poke fun on it. Readers are susceptible to creating distorted memories based on bias and might not remember the context of how you shared the news.
- Satire? Know that satire is not how you remember them to. They are now being creatively and subtly used to promote fake news. Avoid them unless, you’re sure they’re JUST satire, lol.
- Follow people and outlets with opposing views (and not just your own). This increases the odds of you seeing opposite opinions.
Want to see how well you measure up against fake news? Have some fun with this quiz!