Fighting Fake News

3rd November 2020

News, Alumni news

How do you know whether you can trust what you read online?

Play Zoom image of event participants

We live in an era where trust is a rare commodity

Gordon Crovitz (Law, 1980)

Back in 2018, media executive and journalist Gordon Crovitz (Law, 1980) was becoming increasingly concerned by the credibility of the ‘news’ he was reading via various social channels and websites.

In partnership with long-time journalist Steven Brill, he announced the launch of NewsGuard, a platform designed to fight fake news by providing reliability ratings for news and information websites.

At a live event for US-based Wadham alumni, Crovitz commented that one of the great and also terrible things about the internet is that everyone can be a publisher. “We live in an era where trust is a rare commodity” he said.

The idea behind NewsGuard is simple. A team of journalistically trained analysts look at all the news and information websites that account for 95% of online engagement to see if each meets nine credibility and transparency criteria. These include whether a site regularly corrects and clarifies errors, avoids deceptive headlines, and does not repeatedly publish content which has been found to be false.

NewsGuard ‘Nutrition Labels’ are provided for each site (by clicking on the rating), spelling out the site’s adherence to each of the nine criteria that yielded that source’s rating.

It is the human Intelligence element of NewsGuard that makes it successful said Crovitz. The Silicon Valley media platforms use algorithms, which focus not on the trustworthiness of the sources but instead on the emotional and often divisive engagement among the users, in order to encourage sharing and commenting. And the US grant of legal immunity to these wealthy companies does not help, he added, describing the measures taken by the likes of Facebook and Twitter as “baby steps in the right direction.”

The amount of fake news surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated how little Artificial Intelligence can help prevent the spread of fake news he commented.

Where the selling of advertising space is predicated on the ‘engagement’ (click-through rate), how can news distributors be incentivised to avoid sensationalism asked one alumnus. Discussion also focussed on the trend towards paid-for journalism and membership news models as well as the amount of mis-information surrounding the forthcoming Presidential election.

A need for effective legislation and countermeasures to reduce misinformation brought this lively discussion, attended by more than 100 Wadham alumni, to a close. Watch the discussion here.

  • Wadham alumni participants in Zoom event

    Speaker Gordon Crovitz (Law, 1980), joint CEO NewsGuard 

NewsGuard access for Oxford University

Oxford students and staff can get free access to NewsGuard courtesy of the Turnitin service