Social Networks Can Learn from Apple to Solve ‘Fake News’

Social media apps on an iPhone

The heated U.S. election campaign that saw Donald Trump elected 45th President of the United States raised many issues. A critically important one was the growing proliferation of fake news online. Both sides shared increasingly bizarre, heavily partisan, fake news stories during the fraught campaign. They fueled conspiracy theories on a variety of baseless issues . They were fed in part by social media, and social networking companies seem to have no idea how to respond.

Social media apps on iPhone

The issue is that the  brilliantly clever algorithms that power the likes of Facebook and others cannot differentiate fact from fiction the way humans can. As a result, false and even dangerous stories have often gone viral. People are demanding an explanation from the likes of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but few have been forthcoming so far.

Discussions about how to solve this problem will no doubt continue. Interestingly, Apple is actually in a better position than many of its Silicon Valley competitors to overcome the issue of fake news.

The Whole Widget

Apple has been criticized over the years for building a closed hardware and software ecosystem. This approach has some disadvantages, but Apple’s control-freak tendencies have brought some editorial rigor to Apple News. The company built partnerships with top publishers, pulling together content from high quality, established news sources. Apple News does not rely on shares and things going viral. By curating stories from top outlets it has greatly reduced the possibility of Apple News spreading nonsense.

Social networks do a brilliant job of bringing us content we like, as well as content we will probably like, but haven’t yet discovered. The problem is that algorithms cannot fact check or rebut inaccuracies like humans can. Algorithms do not have that editor’s instinct that a story just does’t feel right. The consequences of this can be devastating. A falsehood can spread in an instant, taking hold before it can be countered.

Learning from Apple to Counter Fake News

Can social media companies learn from Apple’s heavily curated approach? Apple’s model means that most Apple News content will have gone through a proper editorial process. To that end, The Washington Post’s esteemed media columnist Margaret Sullivan said that Facebook “should hire a top-flight executive editor and give that person the resources, power and staff to make sound editorial decisions.”

While wanting to deal with this issue, social networks will rightly be wary of losing their defining qualities of openness and sharing. Apple is essentially defined by the opposite qualities, but it means the company is better placed to stem the tide of fake news.

But, Apple’s approach only benefits Apple users—or more specifically, the subset of Apple customers interested in this issue. Until social media companies borrow a page from Apple or find their own way to solving this problem, the scourge of fake news will remain.

4 thoughts on “Social Networks Can Learn from Apple to Solve ‘Fake News’

  • One thing that bothers a bit about this whole “fake news” dust up is that Facebook is a “social” network and not a news outlet. They never claimed to be a “news” outlet beyond making the mistake of calling your main feed a “News” feed. It’s really, “crap your buddies are linking to”. What’s being “shared” by your “friends” is not news and never has been. Here’s some “news”, your “friends” have a political bias and will share almost anything they think fits their bias on social media without considering the consequences or probably even reading the article. Oh, and by the way, they also feel they can share more polarized opinions and “stories” than they would in real life (something I still don’t understand). Apple “News” is news. It’s the NAME of the app, so of course it needs to be curated and more closely edited. That said, even Apple’s “News” app is controlled by the sources you choose to add to it. It is also fairly open for almost any source to get in. If I wanted to fill my Apple News with just the “Cats” channel then my Apple News would be highly influenced by polarizing issues like how frequently we need to change the litter box. Bottom line is, it’s us who need to stop being lazy and complicit in spreading “fake” news on social media. Unfortunately it won’t happen. We are the public not journalists. So as consumers of content we need to be a lot smarter about recognizing that our “friends” are sharing things that fit their ideals and agendas. Your friends are not worrying too much about vetting the facts and it’s up to us to dig deeper if it’s an issue we care about. Again, most of us won’t so here we are. But for sure don’t sit around waiting for Zuck or Tim to fix it for you.

  • I think of some big stories from recent months and years:

    – Brian Williams being caught lying about his helicopter adventures.

    – Dan Rather being caught lying in his reports about Bush’s draft service.

    – Reddit CEO caught editing posts by Trump supporters

    – Rolling Stone magazine reporter lying about rape accusations

    – CNN’s Dona Brazile giving debate questions to Hillary Clinton

    Not to mention the bias and false claims in so many other stories. It seems we are in very tough times. As for Apple, I have turned off Siri’s new suggestions because of their bias.

    With the Rolling Stone magazine court case where they lied about a rape case, it seems fake news has travelled all the way to the top of the media business.


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