These debaters know it will be a struggle to make facts great again

NEW YORK—There was no faking it. The Daily News Innovation Lab meetup last February 8 at Microsoft was packed. The debate, “Proposition: We can solve fake news” had people, including the Office Lease Center team, giddy with anticipation. The debaters would not disappoint.


The hopefuls were Sally Kohn, political commentator and columnist, CNN and The Daily Beast; Dean Pomerleau, co-director, Fake News Challenge; and Melissa Ryan, expert in politics and technology.

The skeptics were John Borthwick, CEO of Betaworks; David Carroll, associate professor of Media Design at Parsons The New School for Design; and Jane Elizabeth, senior manager at the American Press Institute.

Justin Hendrix, executive director at NYC Media Lab moderated the debate with an equal dose of Orwellian seriousness and aw-shucks disbelief following the rise of fake news on social media platforms in the 2016 presidential elections.

The arguments on the pro side:

  • ·       We have a moral imperative to solve it, because we won't survive as a democracy if we don't solve it
  • ·       (Looking at journalists in the room) Without facts we won't have jobs
  • ·       I refuse to accept that there is a disease we can't cure; let's also solve social media  -- and media
  • ·       Solving fake news is not going to solve fake news; people will solve it (We learn things). We learned smoking can kill people (so we quit). People can learn to “quit” fake news
  • ·       Fake news can be solved by technology. Fake news has parallels with spams. (We have) fewer spams now – and more filters
  • ·       We have Snopes and Politifact
  • ·       We (at Fake News Challenge) are developing smart algorithms and creating a tool to help fact checkers

The arguments on the con side:

  • ·       Fake news is militarized: We live in a click-bait society, Tim Wu’s attention merchants
  • ·       The Google and Facebook duopoly have no incentive to solve it, because they profit from it
  • ·       62 percent get their news on social media, Facebook
  • ·       News is filtered to what you like (to read)
  • ·       Technology is not democratic
  • ·       69 percent trusted media years ago; now it’s only 29 percent
  • ·       World War 3 has begun. It’s the Information War or Culture War
  • ·       We have algorithm bias
  • ·       AI is nowhere close to solving fake news

Questions abound. One particular thorny issue concerns media literacy: How do we tell people about fake news without insulting those who believe in them?

The effect of fake news will also de-brand institutions while also opening a glitch in American democracy. But even most of the audience knows America has overcome worse things—real or fake.