In episode 5 of the Small Data Forum podcast series hosted by LexisNexis – our Christmas and year-end edition – Neville Hobson, Sam Knowles and I reflect on fake news and their distribution networks, the alleged gaming of Google search rankings, the promise of augmented intelligence and broad questions of how civil societies deal with the emerging and evolving challenges. Do we need more regulation? And who will regulate the regulators?
In the last few weeks, there has been significant attention in mainstream and social media on
Even Pope Francis joined the debate by denouncing the slander and defamation through fake news as sin (link).
The debate following the surprising outcome of the US Presidential Elections has shifted from highlighting the shortcomings of political polling, to a thorough examination of the circumstances and conditions that led to the election of Donald Trump.
The media researcher and data journalism expert Jonathan Albright tested his hypothesis of a fake news ecosystem by crawling and indexing more than 300 websites known to be associated with fake news. He analysed more than 1.3m URLs and found what he described as a "micro propaganda machine".
Whilst it is possible to identify both 'left-wing', and 'right-wing' media ecosystems, the core of the matter is not about politics, but about trust in facts and accurate information. It is about the responsibility of stakeholders, including the large social networks such as Google, Facebook and YouTube.
But how will such a responsibility be defined? How will it express itself? Can the claim of algorithmic neutrality still be upheld, or should it be replaced with algorithmic accountability? Is this a question of morality and ethics, or rather one of regulation and the application of the Rule of Law? How do we weigh the risks of policing and censoring the internet against the dangers of a manipulated anarchic swamp of bigotry and hatred?
Listen to Neville, Sam and myself debating the various aspects of the current debate.
Recent expressions of democratic political will – the UK referendum on EU membership, the US presidential elections – have surprised most observers and commentators. Both outcomes, i.e. Brexit and Trump, were not what most of the polling data indicated. This episode of the Small Data Forum is asking whether we should and could have seen this coming.
Together with Sam Knowles of Insight Agents and Neville Hobson of IBM Social Consulting, I'm looking at some of the mechanisms at play: the psychology of predictions, the new phenomenon of fake news, echo chamber effects in the way people consume and share information, the way data was analysed and interpreted. Were the wrong questions asked? Are there better, more reliable ways of asking questions in order to get to more robust and reliable answers? And would those answers lead to more accurate predictions of outcomes?
As academics, professional communicators, political commentators and others are trying to put the recent developments in context, to understand the future of our information economy and ecology, the Small Data Forum will continue to highlight and explore some of the big and small issues that big and small data both raise, and address.