Beyond Verification: Authentication, Authenticity and the Spread of Fake News

This project addresses the proliferation of fake news by producing research to support alternative advertising models. As many recent empirical investigations of the spread of fake news by organizations such as Trade Desk and Snopes have shown, the stereotype of the fake news spreader as uneducated is incorrect. On the left, consumers of fake news are 34 times more likely to be a college graduate than the general population; on the right, they’re 18 times more likely to be in the top 20 per cent of income earners. On either side, consumers of fake news are more likely to vote. As Jonathan Albright, Director, Digital Forensics Initiative, Columbia Journalism School has shown, the spread of fake news is linked to the click-based advertising business model that grounds social network platforms: outrage generates clicks and the same company often produces both left and right leaning fake news. This business model fosters intense encounters: moments in which users are most likely to respond to triggers. This creation of affectively charged encounters was also allegedly exploited by Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 U.S. election: Analytica claimed to create political advertisements that used psychological profiling to take advantage of user vulnerabilities. To explore this phenomenon, the Digital Democracies Group will evaluate the affective charge of various stories, but also work with industry and non-profit organizations focused on combatting fake news to create alternative metrics for advertising and engagement. Rather than focusing on clicks, the focus will be on longer, more fair and effective encounters.