How to Fix Fake News
Up is down, good is bad, it is raining outside and it is not, and the color of the sky is blue, but also plaid with polka dots.
This is an example of alternative facts presented by fake news, potentially accepted as truth in place of provable, confirmable reality. The recent decade has seen the explosive proliferation of misleading information, outright patent falsehoods, and outrage-as-entertainment being consumed by people at ever-increasing speeds. Individuals from all parts of the ideological and political spectrum are now subject to a barrage of erroneous click-baiting headlines and propagandist fabrications meant to sow distrust, foment unrest, or simply monetize the impulsive emotional response of the viewer and listener. Social media and the rapid development of internet news and delivery mechanisms have accelerated and essentially weaponized the ability of fly-by-night organizations hoping to construct their own version of reality out of whole cloth and disseminating it to hordes of news media consumers intent on finding news that confirms their cognitive bias.
Fake news defined is a form of yellow journalism that consists of deliberately misleading information with the goal of garnering political or financial gain by employing exaggerations and sensationalism. This presents a massive problem for our species’ abilities to parse fact from fiction, and make judgments based on reason and rational thought founded in reality and truth. When acceptance of basic facts are matters of subjective opinion, real dangers are ignored in favor of artificial ones, and sifting reality from the morass of chaff thrown off by talking heads is a daunting task, fake news presents an existential threat to all of humanity.
How we got here
The widespread adoption of the internet over the past two decades coupled with improved access to online news and social media platforms means that more of the population is connected and consuming online media. Media and journalism as a whole has struggled to keep relevant and profitable, instituting paywalls, transitioning to more infotainment-style of approach with the televised and print news, gradually shifting efforts towards attention-capturing headlines and content. Social platforms have insistently encouraged registered users to share anything they find of interest, and the ecosystem of sharing incentivizes the distribution of links to stories which prompt an emotional response in the viewer, rather than a rational one. This combination of events, in conjunction with a steadily increasing partisan and ideological divide in the United States taking place in the past half-century has precipitated the current calamity of fake news. The profitability of acquiring attention in the ecosystem where attention is the currency lies at the crux of the issue.
Players in the problem
Consumers of media, particularly low-information consumers that lack critical thinking skills are the primary players complicit in the problem of fake news by consuming media that consistently affirms their sets of bias and predisposition. Users of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are largely responsible for the reactionary, knee-jerk sharing of unconfirmed, fact-free articles that they themselves do not express any responsibility for proliferating. Media companies such as Gannett, News Corps, and CNN are responsible in focusing much of their energy on the emotional, dramatic aspects of a given story at the cost of the facts, and news outlets expend significant time invested in trying to make content more appealing than they do on accuracy or relevance. Monetization of pageviews incentivize media businesses to center their content around what is sharable and possesses the potential for virality over any intrinsic veracity of a story or the value that an article might have in informing the public.
Factors involved in the problem
Credibility is the foremost factor in the issue, establishing who is and who is not a credible source before accepting a piece of news as true or not. The source of fake news is overwhelmingly from sites that lack any established historical credibility. Social responsibility for sharing something that is proven to be incorrect or wrong is also a factor, as is the expression of restraint on both the part of the content producer and consumer. Consumers who digest fake news without a critical eye eschew the responsibility for determining the truth, and lead to widespread misinformation and ideological positions based on erroneous news.
From a technological perspective, virality of fake news is an additional factor that must be considered when assessing how to handle fake news, how to prevent it and how to stop it once it has occurred. A piece of fake news that does not spread is not as large of a threat to the general public as is an article that spreads wide across multiple vectors like television, email, Facebook, Twitter, and radio to name a few. There is also an economic factor in that the disseminators of fake news are doing so in order to reap pageviews from consumers, acquiring visits to websites which are monetized with advertisements. The spread of fake news is immensely lucrative.
Reason for solving the problem
At stake is the very real ability to determine objective reality. Was there a massacre in Bowling Green or not? At this moment in time, there are people in the United States who firmly believe something which is a fictional occurrence made manifest through the assertion of its advent and the subsequent spread of that information through viral channels. That a significant quantity of a population could believe something took place that did not, or that something is real that isn’t, poses a real and present danger to our abilities to act and respond to events that take place and are likely to impact us. We speedily approach the paradigm of George Orwell’s 1984 newspeak, with “goodfacts” and “realfacts”, and the danger here is to the very abstract concept of truth. Fake news must be addressed to safeguard the truth.
The biggest assumption of the problem is held in the old adage that that “a lie can make it halfway around the world in the time it takes the truth to get its shoes on.” The classic wisdom is that believable, entertaining falsehoods are more attractive to spread than the boring truth. It is a psychological component of gossip that makes it readily sharable and part of the human psyche to indulge in drama. It is also assumed that ready access to the internet has improved the speed and frequency of fake news, and that it can be assumed to be more efficient to prevent and limit the spread of fake news than it is to correct it in-situ. We can also assume that content creators of both real and fake news will act in the direct interest of their organizations, and that consumers will continue to consume news instinctively with a preference towards the variety that affirms their existing worldviews.
Application of universal standards
To avoid projection of bias or predisposed influence to affect finding a sound resolution to the problem of fake news, we must apply the universal standards of clarity, precision, accuracy, fairness, logic, and significance to the issue of resolving the fake news epidemic.
Approaching the issue with a full embrace of clarity allows a proper recognition of misleading headlines that serve as clickbait and impose prejudiced consumer expectations on media when and where those articles are reviewed. Misleading thumbnails, sensationalist headlines, false quotes, and assumptions of misdoings on the subjects of fake news are critical parts of applying this standard to rectifying the presence of fake news. Clarity of intent and desire to properly inform are the motivations that should accompany any effort to reduce the impact of monetized misinformation.
Precision in any proposed response is a core aspect to assuring a valid reaction, and insistence upon using the correct (although possibly less sensationalist) words to describe the news event taking place is central to this. Requiring precision in news on the supply-side of the problem with content producers regardless of consideration for pageviews means taking into context what was said during the event being reported and any historical precedent. Demanding accuracy in reporting to address the fake news epidemic means discussing matters without the lens of preconceived notions, allowing the facts to speak and immediately addressing falsehoods given up as real and true. Reproducibility and repeatability of findings and conclusions are how precision in news can best attend to the problem of misinformation.
Accuracy serves as the counterweight to false equivalency, a tangential problem with fake news in the presentation that two sides of a given story are equals and should be treated with the same merit and share of voice. Accuracy serves as a break on exaggeration of facts provided in stories, with the prevention of embellishment and sensationalism as primary attention-driving motivations for content producers. By keeping the reporting succinct and as close a representation to what occurred as possible, it removes doubt fomented by purveyors of fake news that the “mainstream media doesn’t want you to know the truth”.
Fairness in the context of hoping to solve the problem of fake news means applying the same standard to news sites of all ideological bias and backing. The same standards of separating fact from fiction should apply to the absurd claims of Occupy Democrats and AlterNet sources, as much as they would to the sensationalist baiting of Breitbart and InfoWars. While the intensity, frequency, and viral nature of fake news may not be shared equally, the standards preventing it must be applied justly and with fairness. To do otherwise would welcome deserved criticism over presenting a double standard. Any algorithms, word selection filters, or automatic curation techniques applied to resolving the issue of fake news in social media must also treat with an equal, fair hand on the news on all sides of the ideological spectrum.
Logic dictates the order of operations for determining whether or not a news story is fake news or not. In potential solutions to the problem, the reader or viewer can be lead to make a judgment call strongly based on the prevalence of logic-circumventing emotional appeals, and the presence of logical fallacies in news stories as a determining factor. Logic also provides for a set of criteria that can be assembled to assist in identifying news organizations that profit from dissemination of fake news, and maintaining a publicly available blacklist of those news sources in a similar capacity as spam is.
Significance is a lesser consideration for the problem of fake news, but can also weigh the measure of a story as false or not. As an example, whether or not a politician has a flag pin affixed correctly might be a more likely candidate for being cited as fake news than a deep-dive on the nuances of foreign policy and trade negotiations. News items that tend towards the drama of soap opera-style daytime television do not serve the purpose of informing and enlightening the public, and are very likely candidates for out-of-context exposition and false assertions by media hoping to acquire reader attention with salacious details. It can be presumed that news organizations reporting on matters of minor significance are unable or unwilling to provide reports and discussion on substantive matters of concern to the general public, and the content of such vapid efforts should be subject to enhanced scrutiny.
In researching possible solutions to the plague of fake news, there are several very reliable resources available on the internet. The first and most readily accessible and understandable is FactCheck.org’s outstanding guide, How to Spot Fake News, and provides for a very straightforward checklist. To spot fake news, you read beyond the headline, check the author, sources, date, satirical content indications, assess your own bias in desire to believe it, and finally consult with experts. The latter is often a simple matter of speedily searching Google or another search engine with the same headline as the news story and seeing if the article has been debunked. If you “can’t believe” what they just did, chances are high that you shouldn’t, and they likely didn’t. This resource serves as a great introductory guide on how to identify fake news and not allow yourself to be deceived.
The Fake News Challenge is a grassroots effort involving tech industry leaders and academia with the objective of arriving at an integrated method for social media and other platforms to filter and de-rank fake news automatically through the use of code. While the challenge is still pending, the early start has shown promise in providing a framework to analyze the components of fake news. The results of this crowdsourced effort will be useful to any development team hoping to circumvent the spread of fake news on the internet. The expectation is that this project will eventually provide an “If this, then that” decision tree that can be automated by a sequence of algorithms built into websites to monitor, prevent, and even possibly correct fake news as it emerges.
Lastly, the most comprehensive resource available to the public is the False, Misleading, Clickbaity, and/or Satirical News Sources List assembled by assistant professor of communications and media at Merrimack College, Melissa Zimdars. This collaborative resource includes a list of over one-thousand websites responsible for the spread of fake news. It can be useful in forming a blacklist for search engines, social media networks, and email filtering to prevent any articles with false or misleading information from gaining traction across the web. This list is the most exhaustive tool available, but is also subject to the potential for bias and abuse as it is not maintained by an objective third-party. It is, however, useful for reviewing some of the more egregious perpetrators of fake news in existence.
Emotionality is the largest driving factor in the proliferation of fake news by consumers of news media. The majority of misleading articles spread are those that trigger negative emotions in the reader that prompt a desire to act, in many cases precipitating a share and providing a further vehicle for the story. Stoking fear, paranoia, hate, xenophobia, racism, sexism, partisanship, nationalism, jingoism, and other negatively-associated emotions are common threads in fake news articles that achieve the largest reach. The most prominent emotional response elicited by fake news is outrage and anger through sensationalist headlines that strain credulity. This provocation of emotion is designed to bypass the logic processing parts of the brain and go straight for the limbic response, which in many cases is to perform an action by sharing. Often, consumer conduits in fake news share articles based on the headline alone due to the emotional reaction it has elicited in them, without even reading the contents.
Consumers of news who are wary of false or misleading headlines can be better served by instilling the value that one should refuse to judge in matters where expertise or knowledge is lacking. Avoiding the compulsion to provide an automatic defense as a psychological response if the consumer does not know something, or have a firm grasp on the nuances of a given subject being reported on. Offering up enough humility to say “I don’t know enough about this to know if this story is true or not” is a great first step to seeking confirmation or refutation of the facts.
Intellectual courage is a practice sorely lacking in many mainstream media venues, where it is vogue to adopt not only the false equivalency mentioned earlier, but a hesitation to adopt positions predicated in fact that remain unpopular. The virality of fake news is based on the emotional response, but also the potential popularity of adopting a belief in the false items being reported. While it may affirm personal bias to read, discuss, and disseminate what is trending, the public is not directly served by news that follows the curve of public opinion, but rather helps to guide it. To this end, editorial opinion founded in evidence and presented even in light of countering popularly held beliefs must be defended.
Depth of reporting and journalism that expands the consumer’s awareness of an event is critical. Even if it means lowering the share rate or a reduced profit due to a lack of sensationalist claims and headlines, the truth in a matter of public interest must be followed to the end of its course. Threats from believers of fake news attacking the subjects of false accusations are increasing, with the recent developments of the “Pizzagate” faux scandal presenting as the most visible case so far. News media cannot surrender the function of correcting the record, or it will embolden those responsible for promulgating fake news. Perseverance means speaking the truth, loudly and continuously, even if not many people are listening.
Apart from the primacy of emotion, confidence in reason is the biggest affective factor serving as a challenge in facing the fake news epidemic. Headlines shared without confidence in the veracity of the claim the article makes is the primary weak point of fake news propagation by readers as conduits. To stop the spread, consumers and potential sharers must insist that the article has been read, the source is credible, and the claim asserted is truthful – all matters of reason and a dispassionate review of the facts and evidence. The data must be accurate and relevant, and pass muster in tests of rationality and reason. If lacking in these areas, the consumer needs to be made aware that they are being taken advantage of, used, and made willing patsies in the distribution of information that is wrong.
Errors to consider
The very nature of fake news is propaganda. Historically, propaganda has been disseminated by state actors on the part of ruling parties in order to sow distrust in potential opposition or to shore up support for its own issues. The nature of the current iteration of propaganda is that it is made for the above reasons, as well as to achieve a profit through monetization of pageviews. Extreme media bias, politically-funded communications, electioneering messaging, and the savagery of unlimited funds now able to be spent on the destruction of opposition positions incentivizes the use of propaganda. Critical thinking and an objective, publicly-supported free press would typically function as a check on the widespread acceptance of and believe in propaganda, but both are lacking. Consequently, any possible solutions must address the willingness of consumers of fake news to trust the assertions of propaganda.
As previously established, the overwhelming majority of fake news is written predicated on the premise of emotional appeal to the consumer. Motivating action through outrage or fear are the first tactics fake news employs to prompt reading and consumption, followed by sharing. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way of getting around the way the human mind responds to the combination of affirming cognitive bias, teasing the emotionally reactionary centers of the brain, and affirming cognitive dissonance all contained neatly in the headline of a fake news story. This error presents the more challenging problem of requiring that solutions either curtail any consumption at all of fake news, or inoculate the consumer entirely through trained behavior.
Logical fallacies contained in the content of fake news are too numerous to exhaustively list, and unfortunately cannot be considered the central part of any proposed solution due to matters of volume and granularity of corrective action necessary to address all of them. Of note, however, is that the prevailing subject of fake news accompanies an ad hominem logical fallacy in that it serves as a direct attack against the person or organization it is seeking to target. The black-or-white logical fallacy is also prevalent, rendering the consumption of news as a binary state between two sides based on ideology. The insistence that “all liberal news is true, all conservative news is false”, and vice-versa is an ingrained belief that any solution for fake news would be difficult to correct.
Other logical fallacies are also at play, albeit to a lesser degree. The bandwagon fallacy is part of the reason fake news receives such wide reach and spreads virally, as it is an appeal to popularity. A consumer of fake news may say “I saw so and so share this, and others did as well, so it must be true.” This presents a similar challenge in dealing with exposure to fake news on a preventative level, rather than curative. Composition fallacy is partially at play, as an individual may simply read only the headline of a fake news story, assume it to be true, and therefore surmises the article contents to be entirely true as well. Lastly, and possibly the most frustratingly to those hoping to solve the issue through fact-checking and correction, the burden of proof fallacy emerges when an individual sharing a fake news story insists that the person hoping to correct it instead disprove the claim. Often, the burden of proof fallacy emerges in an allegation that the defenders of truth attempt to disprove a negative. For example, “Prove to me that Congressman Smith didn’t have inappropriate relations with that mailbox.”
Five Potential Solutions
1. Demand Accountability
Codify and circulate a Rules Against Fake News set of guidelines to media outlets, lobbying each news organization’s editors-in-chief to sign a pledge to adhere to them. The guidelines provided can be a simple version of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, or a new construction of basic principles that media organizations are expected to adhere to by the general public. Publish the list of those who have signed on to the commitment, and engage in advertiser-centric boycotts of those who do not. By establishing and insisting that the most basic standards are adhered to, society can apply a universal set of expectations on what we can mutually agree is real and not real. Setting a baseline that utilizes similar rules as the scientific method for the application of journalism can help address the problem at the source, where fake news originates. Adding a level of discomfort and a disincentive to violate standards of ethical journalism would have a cooling effect on the frequency of fake news being spread.
By presenting a public-backed ultimatum to news organizations to support a basic code of expected ethics in journalism via a very real threat of boycott of potential advertisers, the market will force corrective action against fake news. Few advertisers of products will want to be associated with fake news except as a source of entertainment.
The application of social pressure to lead news organizations to sign a pledge to adhere to the guidelines is a critical part of the accountability solution. Consumers of the news organizations’ content would have to band together and support the solution, as well as following up with the name and shame part of the fix. This would bring demand-side pressures to bear on media.
Implementing a set of guidelines must bear in mind the historic implications of creating a “black list” of news organizations that are not adhering to acceptable ethical guidelines and appropriate norms. The guidelines would need to be devoid of any bias, or descriptions of nationalist or patriotic connotations, and be subject to objective, third-party review to be effective. The outcome of setting up rules to follow for the media to stem the tide of fake news can be a positive one, but misuse or abuse of the guidelines might lead to another “Hollywood blacklist” or “House Un-American Activities Committee” review in the vein of McCarthyism and that would be a distinctly negative result.
2. Limit the Vector
Demand curated moderation and algorithm-driven recognition and obfuscation of news originating from URLs of non-credible sources in social media. Google already weights websites based on veracity, reliability, and authenticity as a baseline in search ranking assessment, so a ratings system for news organizations on social media platforms isn’t unprecedented or difficult to implement. By employing a combination of human-driven grading of news sources and automatic identification of fake news based on keyword, phrases, and share response language, Facebook and Twitter could dramatically curtail the spread of fake news. By cutting of the economic incentive for disseminators of fake news to use it to gain monetized pageviews, it is possible to reduce the market for it. Making the vector of the exchange less hospitable increases the energy required to produce and spread fake news, rendering it less cost-effect to attempt to trigger a viral story with misleading or outright false information.
Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and other social media sharing platforms and sites will become significantly less cluttered with fake news. With less fake news being transmitted, shares will likely be reduced across the board and in general, but engagement between users is apt to be more meaningful and less tribal.
Likely less arguing and a more civil engagement of topics on subjects which have a basis in reality. A sizable portion of the problem in debate that leads to civil resolution between users in social media is an inability to agree on what is a real thing that has occurred and not, due to the proliferation of fake news. This measure will undoubtedly ease social tensions between those with ideological differences over time.
The geography of online communities will be impacted by the limitation of fake news in social media. Development of enclaves of similar thinking individuals which have pooled together due to shared outrage and indignation at the content of fake news headlines will slow, and as a consensus about reality returns, it is very likely that the previously walled-off sub-communities of ideological adherents will re-integrate. If you know someone who has de-friended you over a disagreement as to what is truth and what is clearly a lie, a gradual elimination of lies from their daily media consumption may serve to open a possible point of re-establishing communication with them.
3. Inoculate the Consumer
Gradually eliminate the market for consumption of fake news by teaching critical thinking skills starting at an early age. Require the introduction of critical thinking curriculum beginning in elementary school, and include flash cards that include the logical fallacies. Children and teens should be taught on a recurring basis through the course of primary education to engage in critical thinking and reject, by default, anything that immediately affirms their bias without evidence. Rather than part of science or technical training, this skill set should be learned in conjunction with English and language skills. Recognition of false or misleading statements is a matter of language and communications, and including this could help set our society up with a generational firewall against fake news in the future. This will inoculate developing minds against accepting things at face value, aid in continuing education, and ultimately trammel the ability of fake news to spread virally.
By teaching critical thinking starting in primary education, it is very possible that entire ideologies predicated on false information could be eliminated. A host of social groups developed around the premise that, as an example, climate change is a “hoax” or “chemtrails” are real would dissolve. A better-informed population able to parse fact from fiction is a major boon to society as a whole.
A marked increase in critical thinking will generate significant economic benefits over time. Critical thinking is a core ability that allows people to developed informed opinions on matters, and an embrace of rationality at a young age will have massive economic impact and lead to a better educated population. The better educated the population, the higher the productivity, and as a result, the more value of the economy.
The shift of curriculum to critical thinking at what is appropriately considered a critical age has precedent. Multiple times before throughout history, new curriculum has been introduced that has had sizable impact on how society acts and responds to information. While in principle, the benefit of the introduction of critical thinking skills may come as taken for granted by those possessed of some level of the skill, introducing it could be opposed on an ideological basis. Opposition to teaching the history of civil rights, desegregation, the events of the Civil War, the Holocaust, and evolution have all been experienced even in spite of factual accuracy and relevance. Teachers, education professionals, and school boards across the world should prepare for resistance to what they may attempt to label “forced indoctrination”, as they have in the past.
4. Self-Policing with Curation
Wikipedia previously had an immense problem with vandalism of the online encyclopedic website. Allowing crowdsourced submissions and edits meant that anyone could provide any information and assert it as fact. In response, Wikipedia instituted a series of site guidelines and reforms that allow for cross-checking, automatic scanning for conflicts of interest, and mediation of disputed assertions. Credibility of individual editors is established over time, sources are open to civil debate, and article changes, word choice, and presentation are subject to critique and peer-review. News organizations and social media can harness more of the self-identifying curation strengths of Wikipedia to combat fake news by implementing these types of tools in articles. Facebook has already rolled out an option to identify articles that show up in the feed as “It’s a false news story” under the reporting function, although most users remain unaware of this option. Empowering readers as participants in finding clarity can help to crowdsource veracity and safeguard against implicit bias through curation.
Identifying false news in social media can also be “gamified”, where a beneficial action on the part of the user is rewarded with a digital trophy of sorts in the way of points, levels, or special recognition. By establishing users as stewards over the health of the broader community, social platforms could harness the strength of an audience to self-police.
A widespread improvement of self-policing, reporting, and clarifying tools in articles and internet news content will help spur innovation in user-friendly interfaces that encourage engagement in the health of a news organization a consumer relies upon. Developers, social media managers, editors, and other professions directly related to guiding the tidal forces of community efforts will all play necessary parts in the implementation of self-policing features.
Prevention against the social inclination to participate in mob mentality edits will be a sizable challenge to overcome. Users in communities like Reddit and Wikipedia are sometimes caught up in a communal wave of unconstructive energy, directing their attentions en masse towards making changes or posting content that is not helpful. This is typically triggered due to a sudden, pervading shift in opinion and priority based on popular sentiment, and editors and guardians of crowdsourced curation must remain vigilant to spot the tell-tale signs of spikes in frequency of edits, reports of abuse, and content flagging that falls out of ordinary expected behavior.
Rewarding participants in self-policing and curation with digital representations of prestige and standing within their respective sub-communities will help train positive behavior in readers. Retail and food service companies discovered that gamification of purchases leads to noticeable increases in purchase intent, and incentivizing positive actions like marking spam, flagging fake news, or correcting a misstatement is easily reinforced with a small gold star sticker in animated GIF format displayed to the user. User group identities, reputation, and prestige incentives in a gamified system are most effective when tailored to personal associations and ethnic backgrounds. As an example, the residents of Morgantown, West Virginia may interpret the award of a new title in their respective news community differently as those users originating from the urban centers of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Customization in recognition is key to promote consistent, quality behavior by users in self-policing.
5. Remove the Source Compulsion
Make news and journalism tax deductible. At current, corporations fund news organizations as profit-making ventures with an eye towards the bottom line and quarterly reports on earnings. It was not always so, as CNN and other news organizations were originally founded as public service endeavors meant to inform and educate people. The problem with news being a for-profit endeavor is that the most important factor in earning advertising dollars is in driving attention, which is most easily acquired through diversion, amusement, news-as-entertainment, and constantly affirming cognitive bias. This leads to vapid bickering in “expert” panels in place of news, clickbait headlines, and stories with fluff and no substance of merit. Rather than uplifting and enlightening the viewer, the news cultivates some of the worst instincts in the viewer. By making news organizations tax deductible, and requiring they function similarly as not-for-profit organizations, it would allow large and medium-sized businesses to spin off media companies to conduct independent journalism, using the new media subsidiary as a tax deduction benefit, rather than a profit engine.
“Allow the market forces of competition to strangle fake news until the invisible hand beats it to a pulp…”
The emergence of a huge number of new, independent, not-for-profit cable, print, and online news organizations would help break up the ideological grip held by only a few dozen for-profit news outlets. As the volume of available quality news increases, the value of fake news decreases. Additionally, the incentive to acquire pageviews and readership by virtue of the fake news being shared is diluted across the market as consumers of news are directed to sites, papers, and channels uncluttered with ads or commercials. Allow the market forces of competition to strangle fake news until the invisible hand beats it to a pulp by returning to the previous “for the public good” approach of news, rather than the forced fiscal solvency of news-as-entertainment.
Businesses of all sizes will benefit from having an opportunity to develop their own take on news in non-profit spinoffs, allowing for a tax reduction to provide for greater retention while simultaneously employing a larger portion of the workforce in roles like journalists and investigative reporter. This is naturally very bad news, financially-speaking, to the purveyors of fake news, who would find the massive new volume of available news drowning out their own attempts at quick cash-grabs with unreliable outrage-inducing headlines.
Communities of all types will benefit from the boost to new media presence, and local newspapers and broadcasters who have previously struggled to remain solvent would make a return. By increasing access and availability to local reporting, people will feel more connected to and aware of things that are occurring in their areas.
An expansion of volume in available news accompanies new challenges in method of delivery and channel access. Owners of existing methods of distribution will be hard-pressed to accommodate the influx of new media available. Technology will be required to adapt as the rapid expansion of radio shows, television broadcasts, news websites and other mediums are pushed. Developers of new media will be placed in higher demand than they are currently.
Fake news is a massive problem that we face at this very moment. Of the various solutions presented, most rely upon human behavior that must be trained, or massive shifts in societal expectations. The only solution that presents an immediate, impactful response to the problem is to render news organizations tax deductible and not-for-profit.
To use an analogy, fake news is arsenic. Our current global consumption of arsenic in the form of fake news is lethal, leading to enormous mistakes politically, economically, and socially. The amount of fake news “poison” is suspended in what would otherwise be the healthy, safe, clean water of standard, reliable news. In large amounts, arsenic is deadly. In smaller, less concentrated amounts, arsenic is completely harmless. By dramatically and substantially increasing the amount of available real, credible news, we can dilute the amount of fake news to negate its impact and render it largely harmless.
To boost the amount of real news available, we cannot adjust the demand, as the natural compulsion to consume emotionally-driven news is higher by a wide margin which provides fake news an advantage on the consumption level. Rather, we can ratchet up the supply. To do that, we must make the availability of news easier, broadening the sources, increasing the options consumers have and making the cost of supplying news a lot less than it currently is now. Those are objectives that can be accomplished by making news completely tax deductible, and requiring it adhere to the principles of not-for-profit status similar to how 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporations are set up.
The total reduction in overall tax revenue for the United States government would be nominal in terms of budget, based on preliminary calculations. The total of all ad revenue produced by media companies for 2016 was roughly $82.2 billion dollars, according to Pew Research Center, for newspaper, cable, local, and digital news. Based on this, we can draw a conservative estimated loss in annual tax revenue of $28.7 billion by rendering news tax deductible, which would constitute a 0.42% reduction in overall gross tax revenue receipts by the federal government.
It is very possible that due to this endeavor, one side effect is that we will see corporate-oriented news like the McDonalds News Network in direct competition with Burger King Broadcasting and Wendy’s Wire Service. This is probably an unavoidable side-effect of a disruption of the media status quo and tectonic settling is apt to occur in the first few years after the passage. The benefits to the consumer of a geometric increase in the quantity of available news is substantial, and subsequent obviation of fake news in the process is well worth the trade-off.