Real Versus Fake Fake News: Update

Real Versus Fake Fake News: Update

Stream: Real Versus Fake Fake News

On the last day of bad old year, Lake Superior State University released its 43rd annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.

The ripest for excision was “fake news”. “Let that sink in”.

I mean, “let that sink in” was another “impactful” phrase needing banning. As was (can we get an Amen?) “impactful”. (Most banned words are those the fill the air in corporate meetings.)

“Fake news” has to go not because there is no such thing, but because (a) people have the habit of calling real but unwanted or undesirable news “fake”, and (b) because defining it isn’t so easy.

“Fake news” is thus like bad yet award-winning art. You know it when you see it, but good luck developing an unambiguous definition.

Facebook head fake

Facebook discovered the second point the hard and expensive way. They had been testing “fake news” detection algorithms by putting “disputed” flags on certain stories. But a funny thing happened. The red flags had “the reverse effect of making people want to click [stories] even more”.


This doesn’t mean the complete disappearance of “fake news” from Facebook. On stories meeting their selection criteria for fakiness, they will link counter stories called “related articles”. Call this the he-said-she-said approach.

Facebook’s wanting to weaken “deeply held beliefs” is curious. It implies that Facebook has stored in their massive computer banks a list of correct beliefs to which its customers’ false but “deeply held beliefs” can be compared. []

Computer alert!

Not that people aren’t trying.

Some college kids think they have developed a browser plug-in that can alert users to “fake news”. And a group of folks at the Fake News Challenge believe they can harness “artificial intelligence” (statistical models that have undergone dull-knifed plastic surgeries and name changes) to identify made-up stories with “an intention to deceive”. Which is to say, propaganda.

It is charming the simple faith many have in the ability of computers to mimic human thinking. Yet all these algorithms can do is to note patterns in data, which when fed a new observation classifies it into one of the patterns. That means somebody has to create a list of news stories which have been without error or controversy placed into “truth” and “propaganda” bins.

Place a reactionary and progressive in a room and []

Computers can’t think

Most limiting is that the algorithms do not work the way human thinking does. [] They are only mindless adding machines. Novelty will thus always stump any fake-news algorithm.

As he was heading out the door, Google’s Eric Schmidt spoke on this.

Research shows (p < 0.050 only the most intelligent of you will click here and read the rest.

Update Macron proposes new law against fake news: Sites that distribute fake news would face punishment. Guess who gets to define what is “fake”.


  1. Gary

    Strictly speaking, The Onion is fake news. Everything else is on a spectrum from honestly held opinion to deviously designed propaganda. How does one adequately evaluate and rate an item from a continuous spectrum and then classify it into a binary category?

  2. acricketchirps

    I think in order to be “fake news” in the way we’ve all been yammering on about it for the last year the purveyor had to know or at at least be reasonably construe to know that it was fake and had to intend to deceive. That makes fake news a lot rarer but still a real thing, even if undetectable by software.

    The Onion is satire or lampoon but not “fake news” (term of art) though it is, of course, fake news.

  3. “Facebook’s wanting to weaken “deeply held beliefs” is curious. It implies that Facebook has stored in their massive computer banks a list of correct beliefs to which they can compare its customers’ false but “deeply held beliefs.” When a customer displays wrong-think, Facebook can counter with a “related article” of right-think. And thus “raise-awareness.”


    Why, the mission to “weaken deeply held beliefs” of Normal-Americans is the core of Politically Correct Progressives’ belief system!

    Once you understand what the PC-Prog belief system is, everything they do makes sense. No more head-scratching over their tactics, after you know the strategic goals.

    And just what are the “correct beliefs” that Facebook (and all other PC-Prog practitioners) store in their databanks?

    The 6 bullet points that define PC-Progs’ beliefs, plus the action corollary:

    1. Normal-America is irredeemably racist. Blacks and other minorities live a life of constant harassment and hopeless repression by Normal-Americans.

    2. Normal-America is virulently sexist. Women live lives of desperate hopelessness. They are forced by the patriarchy to accept social and professional roles that demean and diminish them. Normal-Americans aggressively try to restrict women’s rights to kill fetuses.

    3. Normal-America is homophobic. Christian haters thump Bibles in their quest to locate, persecute, prosecute and lynch fun-loving homosexuals, lesbians, transsexuals, and bi-sexuals.

    4. Normal-America is stunningly xenophobic. Normal-Americans loathe foreigners. Normal-American society rejects all foreigners and views them as vile, dirty, stinking beasts with unintelligible accents.

    5. Normal-America is graspingly imperialist. Normal-Americans seek to conquer, destroy and subjugate peace-loving native cultures in Africa, the Middle East, South America and Asia. America is built on a legacy of imperialist destruction of Native American and Hispanic cultures.

    6. Normal-America is greedily capitalist. The American economy destroys poor people with angry demands that they must work. The economy is systematically manipulated by the 1% in order to
    subjugate the 99%. Capitalism rewards only the lucky few, while the masses suffer.
    The American economy is boiling Gaia’s atmosphere–causing horrible things to happen.

    These tenets are the core of the PC-Prog politics. The beliefs are nearly religious. To be a member, one must never contradict these tenets (in public, or in privately recorded conversations.)

    The corollary to the tenets of PC-Progressivism is the “Action Requirement.”

    It is simple: Normal-America must be changed.


  4. Ken

    “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”
    – Attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan

    RE: “Facebook’s wanting to weaken “deeply held beliefs” is curious. It implies that Facebook has stored in their massive computer banks a list of correct beliefs to which its customers’ false but “deeply held beliefs” can be compared. […]”

    THAT completely misses the point and egregiously misrepresents the issue with the suggestion that Facebook might have a “list of correct beliefs” — qualifying that remark as, charitably & misleadingly put, as “fake news” itself, or more accurately, ignorance of a basic characteristic of the human species.

    One fundamental aspect of “fake news” (for the current buzz term) is CONFIRMATION BIAS. People instinctively seek out evidence, opinions, etc. that comport with views, values, biases, beliefs, etc. they already have. One problem with humans is we generally do not realize we are actively seeking such confirmation of already held beliefs (or, if we disagree with something/someone a subtle bias to accept anything that gives more reasons to reject the disagreeable thing/person).

    As Daniel Kahneman put it, “A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.”

    Kahneman also observed, “…we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.” In other words, in “researching” a subject we can be oblivious to how we selectively seek out, or weigh, information comporting to our viewpoint and dismissing more credible info conflicting or disproving a view/belief.

    That is what Facebook observed and applies to their remarks about “deeply held beliefs” — when they hi-lited inaccurate stories to alert readers the hi-lited info was not credible, Facebook observed that readers holding such inaccurate viewpoints, tended to hold those views/belief more strongly as a result of being alerted to their weakness or falsity: Facebook’s flag alerted readers to the story, prompting more reads — especially from those who held that view/belief already, and then…Facebook observed that rather than the readers de-weighting the value of the info, or discrediting it entirely, and revising their views/beliefs accordingly … readers treated the inaccurate/false info as if it were credible.

    Facebook’s intent was to help build objectivity and its action of trying to flag “fake news” so readers would under weigh or dismiss the value of that source, info, etc. — and it’s act of flagging “fake news” had exactly the opposite effect — instead of less, people believed it more.

    That’s confirmation bias at work — it’s the same basic dynamic that explains how & why smokers confronted with grisly images of lung damage & cancer are induced to smoke more as a result, and so many other counterintuitive behaviors. Freakonomics, Think Like Freak discusses this facet of human nature, with examples, for the reader interested in a quick superficial review…

    By the way, that Facebook can make such detailed behavioral observations about individual behavior and extract such details as individual beliefs hi-lights just how intrusive, or just how much individuals reveal about their personal character, on Facebook. As Al Franken got very right, relative to Facebook, ‘you the user are Facebook’s product.’ Facebook markets itself as a social network site, the reality is it is a behavioral data mining enterprise for profit. Facebook provides likes/dislikes, for example, for products & services … but behind the scenes it is compiling profiles on every user who inputs such dis/likes and builds individual character profiles of each user, and extracts behavioral patterns of enormous value to marketers.

  5. Ken – Facebook is trying to, as they explicitly state, weaken deeply held beliefs. What they desire to weaken is all belief systems which the owner of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, finds to be contrary or merely not identical to his own. It’s just that simple. We have terms for such behavior, and none of them are considered to be complimentary, and several of them are quite impolite. We also have a term for those who try to assist the zampolits in their obfuscations and evasions – “useful idiots”.

    Thank you for repeating the truth of the users being Facebook’s product. That fact simply can’t be repeated often enough, or spread sufficiently widely.

  6. Ken

    McChuck –
    There’s no doubt about Facebook (and Google, etc.) manipulating their service(s) to influence their “customers” (for want of a better word at the moment) in a particular way. Hopefully, freedom of expression, and the raw size of those enterprises, will prevent that. They’ve been ‘outed’ before, so their ability to accomplish this is, for now, limited.

    Also, those tools can be manipulated by others — see, for example, Forbes’ article, “Exclusive Interview: How Jared Kushner Won Trump the White House”

    Kurshner is presented as building a team (using his industry contacts) that used Facebook to selectively target key demographics with rapid fire marketing that is credited to some significant degree with enabling Trump to win the White House. Clearly, the owners/managers of Facebook wouldn’t approve…but there was nothing they could (then) do about it.

    Social, and other media, getting so large and with so much info out there appears to be a kind of Frankenstein’s monster beyond the full control of the owners/operators… If that can persist, that will be both good and bad, situationally dependent…

    For an idea of what & how the likes of Facebook are up to regarding exploiting their so-called ‘customers’ look up/search using: — that’s an enlightening article … and other related articles will be presented. Some years ago, maybe a decade ago now, Facebook started hiring PhD wiz’s expressly to exploit all the personal info its machine was archiving (apparently, archiving permanently).

    Knowing what Facebook does with one’s personal info, it’s amazing to me anybody dares create an account (or even browse around Facebook sites). If our govt did a fraction of what Facebook (or Microsoft, etc.) does with abandon, it might not be too off the mark to expect that to prompt some kind of insurrection….

  7. Ken: ” If our govt did a fraction of what Facebook (or Microsoft, etc.) does with abandon, it might not be too off the mark to expect that to prompt some kind of insurrection….”

    That was said with tongue in cheek?

    Might want to check out the extension of the “Foreign” surveillance law Congress is pushing through right now.

    As the smarmy CIA/NSA Director Michael Hayden said: “We kill people based on metadata.”

    The government does much more than a fraction of what FB and MS do…in fact, they enlist the tech companies to do much of their dirty work for them. And they do it with gleeful abandon. Note Hayden’s snarky grin in the video above after he crows about using metadata to kill people.

    You might also want to check out Edward Snowden’s releases of US government programs that were used against Americans.


  8. Milton Hathaway

    “Fake news” doesn’t have to be false. It can be unsupported opinions presented as news. It can be unverifiable anonymous sources. It can be facts presented using emotionally loaded words. Almost every poll is fake news, except perhaps an election poll the day before the election.

    I for one really like the term “fake news”. People need to start thinking for themselves, read arguments from both sides and then decide what to believe. If the term fake news helps get people into the frame of mind that there is no such thing as an unbiased news source, that’s a good thing.

  9. Ken

    @ Kent Clizbe – “The government does much more than a fraction of what FB and MS do…in fact, they enlist the tech companies to do much of their dirty work for them.”

    No, not really at all.

    As Kent notes (via a link) H.R. 3989 to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 is a bill in Congress, which citizens can influence (in theory) by contacting their elected leaders. What the US Govt. can do legally is determined by law. Setting aside overstepping legal authority, the intelligence services have limits on what they can do, and, the public record is replete with debate in & around govt about what those limits are and ought to be.

    PEW, for example reports on this, e.g., “Few See Adequate Limits on NSA Surveillance Program”:

    ” A majority of Americans – 56% – say that federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on the telephone and internet data the government is collecting as part of its anti-terrorism efforts. An even larger percentage (70) believes that the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism. And despite the insistence by the president and other senior officials that only “metadata,” such as phone numbers and email addresses, is being collected, 63% think the government is also gathering information about the content of communications – with 27% believing the government has listened to or read their phone calls and emails. Nonetheless, the public’s bottom line on government anti-terrorism surveillance is narrowly positive. The national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted July 17-21 among 1,480 adults, finds that 50% approve of the government’s collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts, while 44% disapprove.”

    In short, the US Govt is subject to oversight, and for the most part its intrusiveness has an ulterior motive that is broadly socially beneficial – the pre-emptive interdiction of terrorists before they act or do too much damage. Society has, to some extent, some choice in how intrusive its government is. Ini theory, even when govt collects considerable data via overreach (if that’s one’s opinion), what our govt can do and does with that data is [if govt adheres to law] somewhat limited to the counterterrorism objective.

    Contrast that with public entities like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc. — to access their services one has only one choice — accept their intrusive terms and conditions, or do without. In modern society that is not really a choice at all. And, those services can–and do–use so much personal info about us any way they want — and we do not have a say in that … unless … we act via our elected leadership to impose laws and means to enforce them (again, Al Franken was surprisingly sensitive to this issue).

    Notice where the “insurrections” have occurred:

    – Apple refusing to help law enforcement crack password encryption
    – Snowden disclosing NSA activities/programs
    – Wiki leaks supporting Snowden, etc.

    See the pattern? Activists and even some providers have rebuffed govt — in response to customer demand of a sort — when govt is observed & perceived to be overreaching. Of course, this is limited to addressing activities the public becomes aware of…

    See the other pattern? Who, besides the likes of Franken, are advocating reigning-in the intrusive profiling done by commercial ISPs & the like who can and do operate with near impunity with no legal restrictions comparable to those imposed on Intel Agencies? Next to nobody. Consider some of just a couple recent articles about what they do:

    How you can be tracked even with your GPS turned off (Android Authority, on-line) — Right down to the direction you are facing; this article includes advocacy for legal restrictions on this capability.

    HOW EMAIL OPEN TRACKING QUIETLY TOOK OVER THE WEB (Wired magazine) — Individuals can, and many now do, track who, when, where a specific email was opened by a specific account.

    Precedent: Snowden & others revealed a counter-terrorism-based focus by US intel; generally people support the objective but are leery of the means & capabilities — based primarily on metadata — permitted toward that objective (much of that data is merely archived for reference). Its an area of debate and active legislative activity.

    Precedent: Concurrently, commercial ISPs, vendors, etc. indiscriminately compile automated personalized profiles of individuals that they update continuously — those individuals being any & all citizens using their software via controls those citizens have no practical choice but to accept.

    Implications: Seems doubtful the US Govt is doing that breadth & depth of active profiling, legally (and what for?). Also, given the controversy & legislative oversight prompted by much less govt intrusions, its undoubtedly a sure bet that if Intel agencies are found to be doing something like automating continuous profile updates of each & every citizen on-line [like commercial firms do], some “heads would roll” and laws would change.

    In short, we accept without any real alternative licensing requirements that give intrusive insight and access to commercial entities our personal information in a manner comparable to the kind of intrusion associated with totalitarian regimes, for their selfish [profit-motivated] purposes … while at the same time exercising legislative oversight of our govt who is, presumably, acting on behalf of societies broader good.

    Big difference there.

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