Is Apple’s ‘Fake News’ Plan Real, or Fake?

Is Apple’s ‘Fake News’ Plan Real, or Fake?

Fake news is “killing people’s minds.” At least, that’s what Tim Cook, CEO of Apple told the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, vowing to kill it with a “massive campaign.” It’s not what Mr. Cook said that matters most, though; it’s what he didn’t say.

But first, what the tech giant’s leader did say.

Cook opined that fake news – generally considered to be eye-catching, but untrue news stories – are caused, in part, by the Internet drive “to get the most clicks” rather than impart the best information. Facebook, among others, has been accused of allowing the spread of bad data like it’s the flu. Facebook’s comeback is to allow web users to report “false” stories, and it will forward them to a group of “pre-approved” fact-checking publications. If the story is labeled false, it will be slapped with a “disputed” tag, it’s advertising removed, and ranked at lower news feeds. I imagine this is similar to what Tim Cook has in mind when he said that Apple and other tech companies should “develop tools” to cure the problem.

Most importantly, Cook has recognized, as he prowls the digital landscape with wooden stake in hand and poised to drive it through the heart of any article considered to be inaccurate, that he and other tech masters do have some duty to avoid “stepping on freedom of speech and of the press” in the process. Now, that’s a good thing. I spent years on Capitol Hill hosting experts in roundtable discussions and holding press conferences as we tried to persuade Internet giants to admit they had any free speech obligation toward consumer/users.

Last, but not least, Apple’s CEO said his ultimate goal is to create a coalition of “news outlets” that are “truthful, reliable, [and] non-sensational,” who will “win” the information war. But, as the Bard would say – there’s the rub. Missing from his criteria is the requirement of objectivity for his pantheon of fact-checkers and fact-tellers. One can impart “truthful” facts, yet still skew them dishonestly. “Reliability” is ultimately in the eye of the Internet reader. And dumping “sensation” from news stories may end up achieving nothing more than boredom for the reader. But objectivity – that’s the real test. And of course, none of us – including the journalists – can really achieve it perfectly. The best we can do is (1) try hard, and (2) publicly admit our biases. But Apple – and the other tech behemoths – are wont to attempt (2), despite the fact that Apple has taken sides in the most controversial issues of our day, arguing, as an example, for the constitutionality of gay marriage before the Supreme Court, while at the same time, in a malicious act of free speech/religious liberty censorship, stripping Chuck Colson’s Manhattan Declaration from its app store because of its Christian orthodoxy. Apple’s anti-gun rights position caused it to block a rifle emoji on the iPhone keyboard, and even though it held a vigil for victims of the Orlando terror spree it fought against the FBI’s request for help in opening up the iPhone of the San Bernardino terror couple who had committed mass murder. Until these Internet purveyors of “true news” own-up to the fact that their underlying social agenda has also created a discrete set of biases, I am not impressed by their attempt to kill “fake news.”






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