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.
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.