Department of Homeland Security to create massive database to classify and track journalists and bloggers

Bloomberg reports:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to monitor hundreds of thousands of news sources around the world and compile a database of journalists, editors, foreign correspondents, and bloggers to identify top “media influencers.”

It’s seeking a contractor that can help it monitor traditional news sources as well as social media and identify “any and all” coverage related to the agency or a particular event, according to a request for information released April 3.

The data to be collected includes a publication’s “sentiment” as well as geographical spread, top posters, languages, momentum, and circulation. No value for the contract was disclosed.

“Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers,” according to the statement. DHS agencies have “a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach federal, state, local, tribal, and private partners,” it said.

The DHS wants to track more than 290,000 global news sources, including online, print, broadcast, cable, and radio, as well as trade and industry publications, local, national and international outlets, and social media, according to the documents. It also wants the ability to track media coverage in more than 100 languages including Arabic, Chinese, and Russian, with instant translation of articles into English. [Continue reading…]

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As Malaysia moves to ban ‘fake news,’ worries about who decides the truth

The New York Times reports:

In highway billboards and radio announcements, the government of Malaysia is warning of a new enemy: “fake news.”

On Monday, the lower house of Parliament passed a bill outlawing fake news, the first measure of its kind in the world. The proposal, which allows for up to six years in prison for publishing or circulating misleading information, is expected to pass the Senate this week and to come into effect soon after.

The legislation would punish not only those who are behind fake news but also anyone who maliciously spreads such material. Online service providers would be responsible for third-party content, and anyone could lodge a complaint. As long as Malaysia or Malaysians are affected, fake news generated outside the country is also subject to prosecution.

What qualifies as fake news, however, is ill defined. Ultimately, the government would be given broad latitude to decide what constitutes fact in Malaysia.

“Fake news has become a global phenomenon, but Malaysia is at the tip of the spear in trying to fight it with an anti-fake news law,” said Fadhlullah Suhaimi Abdul Malek, a senior official with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission. “When the American president made ‘fake news’ into a buzzword, the world woke up.”

But members of Malaysia’s political opposition say the legislation is intended to stifle free speech ahead of elections that are widely seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been tainted by a scandal involving billions of dollars that were diverted from Malaysia’s state investment fund.

“Instead of a proper investigation into what happened, we have a ministry of truth being created,” said Nurul Izzah Anwar, a lawmaker from the People’s Justice Party and the daughter of the jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. [Continue reading…]

How to learn more about the news by spending less time following the news

Farhad Manjoo writes:

I first got news of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., via an alert on my watch. Even though I had turned off news notifications months ago, the biggest news still somehow finds a way to slip through.

But for much of the next 24 hours after that alert, I heard almost nothing about the shooting.

There was a lot I was glad to miss. For instance, I didn’t see the false claims — possibly amplified by propaganda bots — that the killer was a leftist, an anarchist, a member of ISIS and perhaps just one of multiple shooters. I missed the Fox News report tying him to Syrian resistance groups even before his name had been released. I also didn’t see the claim circulated by many news outlets (including The New York Times) as well as by Senator Bernie Sanders and other liberals on Twitter that the massacre had been the 18th school shooting of the year, which wasn’t true.

Instead, the day after the shooting, a friendly person I’ve never met dropped off three newspapers at my front door. That morning, I spent maybe 40 minutes poring over the horror of the shooting and a million other things the newspapers had to tell me.

Not only had I spent less time with the story than if I had followed along as it unfolded online, I was better informed, too. Because I had avoided the innocent mistakes — and the more malicious misdirection — that had pervaded the first hours after the shooting, my first experience of the news was an accurate account of the actual events of the day.

This has been my life for nearly two months. In January, after the breaking-newsiest year in recent memory, I decided to travel back in time. I turned off my digital news notifications, unplugged from Twitter and other social networks, and subscribed to home delivery of three print newspapers — The Times, The Wall Street Journal and my local paper, The San Francisco Chronicle — plus a weekly newsmagazine, The Economist. [Continue reading…]

The Verge reports:

Untruthful news is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than true news, according to new research — and bots may not be to blame.

In a paper published today in the journal Science, researchers analyzed the spread of all the stories verified (as either true or false) by six fact-checking organizations from 2006 to 2017. The analysis shows that false political news spreads more quickly than any other kind, like news about natural disasters or terrorism, and predictably, it spikes during events like the 2012 and 2016 US presidential elections. (The researchers deliberately use the term “false news” because “fake news” is too politicized, they write.) Though the Twitter accounts that spread untruthful stories were likely to have fewer followers and tweet less than those sharing real news, false news still spreads quickly because it is seen as novel, the study says. [Continue reading…]

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Jarrod Dicker on what the blockchain can do for news

Mathew Ingram writes:

For journalists who are also into new technology, Jarrod Dicker has a pretty compelling CV: He was the head of product management at Huffington Post, director of digital products at Time Inc., helped run operations at online-publishing startup RebelMouse, and ran a digital-research lab at The Washington Post. With a career like that, lots of people in media pay attention when Dicker calls something interesting, and so many heads turned when he said he was leaving the Post for a blockchain startup called Po.et.

For many people, “blockchain” is just the latest buzzword to infect internet-focused discussion and, more recently, media futurism. There’s no question the topic is surrounded by almost unprecedented levels of hype, in part because it provides the foundation for crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, which have ballooned in value over the past year due to what many see as speculative hysteria.

That isn’t why Dicker is interested in it, however. Much like Civil, a blockchain-based media platform that wants to use the technology for journalism, Dicker sees Po.et as a way of using blockchain to empower individual content creators—not just journalists or news organizations, but anyone who creates words or images or music or video for almost any purpose, including advertisers and brands. In effect, he says Po.et is trying to build an open-source, blockchain-based licensing system for content. [Continue reading…]

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Facebook poses an increasing threat to journalism

Mathew Ingram writes:

Author and journalism professor Dan Gillmor recently described a future in which “we will be living in the ecosystem of a company that has repeatedly demonstrated its untrustworthiness, an enterprise that would become the primary newsstand for journalism and would be free to pick the winners via special deals with media people and tweaks of its opaque algorithms. If this is the future, we are truly screwed.”

In addition to the economic threat it represents to media companies, Facebook also arguably poses a threat to journalism itself. Into this bucket we can throw things like fake news and misinformation, which works primarily because Facebook focuses on engagement—time spent, clicks, and sharing—rather than quality or value.

In many ways, sociologists say, Facebook is a machine designed to encourage confirmation bias, which is the human desire to believe things that confirm our existing beliefs, even if they are untrue. As a former Facebook product manager wrote in a Facebook post: “The news feed optimizes for engagement, [and] bullshit is highly engaging.” [Continue reading…]