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How Apple (and Google, too) could help fix fake news

Google News relies on algorithm-based curation, while Apple adds human beings to the process.

How Apple (and Google, too) could help fix fake news
[Photo: ymgerman/iStock]

A few years back I visited Washington, D.C.’s Newseum, which honors the history of journalism. If you have never visited this amazing museum I would put it on your bucket list. The displays include examples of some of the most important news stories recorded since newspapers, radio, and television were invented. You can see the actual front pages of many newspapers reporting about World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other exhibits show coverage of the Kennedy assassination, the crash of the Hindenburg, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and just about every news story that’s been important to our nation and the world.

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As I roamed through this museum I was struck by two themes. The first was that these stories were extremely well written by trained journalists, and that in almost all cases, they tried to report the facts through serious reporting techniques they were taught in journalism schools. The second thing I was impressed with was the extent of research done to make sure the stories were factually accurate.

While quality journalism is more vibrant than ever, there’s also been a surge in news and commentary that is often not fact-checked and can even be called “fake news.” Although fake news and propaganda have been around for centuries, it is magnified and can spread like wildfire through social media platforms. It begs for serious policing by social media companies to keep these types of articles and posts from polluting our discourse. Facebook and Twitter are working on this, but I am not convinced they can ever keep all of these types of fake articles away from their platforms. As a result, many of us will regard news shared on Facebook and Twitter, among other places, with suspicion.

Thankfully, major magazines and newspapers are doubling down on writing accurate, well-researched and well-written stories. Besides using solid journalistic principles, they are emphasizing the practice of fact-checking. While Facebook and other aggregation platforms are trying to downplay or more clearly label fake news, Apple and Google are tackling the problem by choosing and publishing well-reported stories at their own curated news sites. And their respective sites could end up being seen as models for how AI- and human-curated news content are distributed in the future.

Apple News and Google News share the goal of posting fact-based, quality reporting on a spectrum of topics that can be tailored to a person’s specific preferences. Both companies believe that high quality, well-written, and rigorously researched content needs to be highlighted and, where possible, paid for.

Apple News got a lot of attention lately when it was given exclusive permission to print a section of Senator John McCain’s upcoming memoir, The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights and Other Appreciations. The app, which has been around for a couple of years, has hired top-notch journalists from such places as The New York Times and Washington Post who bring journalistic skills to the job of managing and curating news. This is an important fact and one that distinguishes Apple News from Google News.

In my meeting with Apple, the journalists who now run Apple News told me they use algorithms to pick, manage, and screen many of the stories they post. But they also have dozens of people reading, choosing, and fact-checking articles. The human curators look for well-written, factually accurate articles, then make sure they get highlighted for readers.

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Interestingly, some of this curation is done via a product Apple recently acquired called Texture. This site carries 200+ magazines covering all kinds of interests. It charges $14.99 per month for access to all the magazines. Texture is one of my favorite services as it allows me to read entire issues of 30 magazines of real interest to me from cover to cover without having to subscribe to them individually. (Fast Company is one of the publications in Texture.)

They have a section where human editors pick essential stories from dozens of these publications and post them in a special area. This allows me to see what their editors view as the most relevant stories to my interests. Apple’s acquisition of Texture gives the company a powerful new addition to its overall media offerings. I would not be surprised if Apple News and Texture are eventually merged and offered as a more powerful subscription service that covers a broad spectrum of interests.

More importantly, Apple News and probably Google News are well-positioned to take on the fake news crisis of our digital age.

Google News has been updated too, but the approach is a bit different from Apple’s in that AI-based algorithms drive all of the content and there is no human curation involved. Google News has dedicated sections of interest you can have delivered through the Google News aggregated site and app. If you sign in with your Google account, it uses your search data and history to provide the content you’ll most likely want to read.

One can hope that social networks like Facebook and Twitter will eventually be able to keep fake news off of their sites. But it is good that consumers now have at least two solid sources in Google News and Apple News/Texture to turn to. These days consumers need to be assured they are getting quality content that includes fact-based material with no fake news allowed.

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