What Is Fake News?

I spent some time studying the "fake news" problem over the holidays to prepare me for speaking intelligently on the topic. I fired up a bunch of Amazon servers, gathered a bunch of data about what has been going on, but as of this weekend I put a pause on the work, publishing what I had gathered to Github, and set the project on the back burner to simmer for a while.

One of the realizations I had while doing this work was of the limitless depths of what "fake news" can be. I looked at the home pages of 350 disinformation sites this weekend, as I studied the results of this "fake news" harvesting via the Twitter API. One of the central actors in my work this weekend was Fidel Castro, who just happened passed away. He was on over 90% of the websites I looked at over the weekend, with a diverse range of positions from the left, to the alt-right--Fidel became the poster child for my "what is fake news" thought process.

In the current online environment, separating out "fake", "propaganda", and "marketing" is nearly impossible. While I do not subscribe to many of the conspiracy theories about leading news and media outlets, I would put out there that we all suffer from a significant lack of trust in these critical institutions. From Russia to Cuba, to Iran, Egypt, Iraq, and on, and on...think about the "fake news" that has been put out there by these outlets. Fake news and disinformation is nothing new--we just have a more automated, real time, and algorithmically controlled edition that exists in everyone's pockets, automobiles, and homes today.

So far, all roads with my fake news and domain literacy work lead me back to my earlier digital literacy work. My time, energy, bandwidth, and compute power should be spent helping folks develop their awareness of the online world emerging around us. I will keep developing my domain literacy codebase for profiling the domains I feed it but will be emphasizing domain literacy over "fake news". Investing my time into quantifying, connecting, and defining who is behind domains, and educating average individuals about owning their own domain, and being more aware of the pros and cons of operating within, sharing, and engaging with other major and minor online domains that exist online today.

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