In today’s world, the term “fake news” has taken on a life of its own thanks to Donald Trump and social media platforms that have become a breeding ground for misinformation. It continues to spread like wildfire, and society is struggling to find a solution to the problem.
Platforms like Facebook are both victims and culprits: they're gamed and manipulated by their users, yet they've done very little to stop them. Facebook has over 2.2 billion monthly active users and with that comes great global responsibility. Responsibility that Mark Zuckerberg now admits his company neglected for too long.
The Facebook founder was recently called to Congress to testify about the Cambridge Analytica scandal and his platform’s data vulnerabilities. The #DeleteFacebook movement is trending and more and more young people are abandoning the social media site.
This is where FactMata, a startup trying to fight fake news, comes in. Founder and CEO Dhruv Gulati recently sat down with Highsnobiety to discuss his company's goal, fake news in general, and what Facebook’s role is in all of this.
Can you give us some background on yourself, where you’re from and how you got to where you are?
I got very interested in truth and transparency while working in finance, a sector that doesn't really value either. I decided to make it my mission to improve this in the world, especially when it came to the misinformation in online media.
What is Factmata and how did it start?
Factmata is an artificial intelligence startup tackling online misinformation using both communities and algorithms. We are using this cutting-edge technology to help address the problem we believe is only going to get worse. There could be a time when you can’t really believe what you read or watch anymore.
What qualifies as fake news?
Fake news is deceptive content designed to misinform people, drive clicks to websites through clickbait headlines, or excessively politically biased content. Often fake news attempts to look like real news, for example by spoofing the appearance and content of reputable news outlets.
How has fake news already affected our world?
There are various explanations of why fake news has suddenly proliferated on the internet, but factors include the ease of information dissemination in recent years, the decline in trust of mainstream press, the pressure of fast reporting cycles, and propaganda run by populist governments. However, one of the key reasons for fake news is the incentives offered by the advertising industry.
What is Factmata’s goal and how will it achieve that goal?
Our mission is to beat online misinformation. Every single person that joined Factmata is personally invested in the fight against fake news. We want to create a quality media ecosystem for everyone.
How can Factmata be used?
We are developing tools for the general public, advertisers, publishers and companies. Our core user product is a social news platform that will be open for journalists to start with and then the general public. It’s due for launch later this year.
We'll check the credibility and the quality [of the news] using artificial intelligence, screening vast amounts of domains and URLs. Each sentence will be checked semantically for hate speech, extreme political bias, extreme clickbait and fake news.
All of this will be used to develop a content quality score, which will allow users to be able to see which sources and content they can believe and which are likely to be safe as fast as possible.
Tell me about Facebook and its role in spreading fake news. What is your opinion on it?
As a society, we’ve been slow to address fake news. This is changing slowly, with Facebook and other key players now actively working on solutions to change the ranking systems of newsfeed to promote quality content and also building fake news detection systems of their own.
However, Facebook’s newsfeed and content is not inherently concerned with validating content or claims. At the moment the reach and virality of content is based on interactions, rather than quality.
Can Facebook be "fixed" or is it too late for FB and publishers on FB?
We believe in total transparency and invite companies such as Facebook to collaborate — this is not a problem that can be fixed in isolation. At Factmata, we're turning the problem on its head using our business model, which inherently does not try to monetize your attention or engagement, but focuses on the quality of debate and engagement you have with the news.
Whose fault is it? Facebook or outside publishers? What is the root of the problem?
It’s a combination of things, rooted in how content is being monetized online. It is also the responsibility of platforms to build the user interfaces and interaction mechanisms to allow readers to engage in critical thinking and discussion much better than right now.
What could happen if fake news remains unchecked?
We have seen examples of where algorithms can be used to manipulate what is being said in video, such that a reader can form a totally untrue impression about someone online. Or you could place another person’s face onto another person’s body live in video to make it seem they were doing something they never did. Or propaganda and opinions can be produced in batches and imposed at scale, very fast, using bot networks.
How can someone, let alone a machine, identify something as fake news?
We are focusing on four categories of low-quality content: hate speech, hyper-partisanship, misinformation and extreme clickbait. The goal is not to classify things as wrong or right, but to create an intermediary layer which brings awareness and critical thinking to readers to help them identify fake news themselves.
For example, we can automatically surface fact checks or automatically show opposing views of the same story.
Do the results of this poll surprise you at all?
It’s a small sample and not representative of the population of a country like America was the first thing that came to my mind when I looked at this poll. I’m not surprised by the results because Facebook is more in the news and forefront of people’s mind than perhaps some of the other brands listed against on this poll.
Next, check out what you should know about deleting Facebook here.