Industries in Depth

5 ways we’re working to rebuild trust in the media

A hooded man holds a laptop computer as blue screen with an exclamation mark is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. Capitalizing on spying tools believed to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency, hackers staged a cyber assault with a self-spreading malware that has infected tens of thousands of computers in nearly 100 countries. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration - RC171E8E71D0

A new era of news and information dissemination needs checks and balances Image: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration - RC171E8E71D0

Michael Hanley
Vivian Schiller
Executive Editor in Residence, Weber Shandwick
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After everything that has happened over the last few years, how will people ever regain trust in news and information?

The need is urgent. There once was a time when news came in printed form, under mastheads that had stood for something readers recognized, or on broadcast news programs that operated under regulations to enforce standards and balance. Today, one website looks much like another, our social feeds have uniform look and feel, we trust our friends more than our institutions, and the new digital media ecosystem has forever altered the imperfect yet time-tested signals of trust in news and information.

This has consequences for publishers and advertisers, for public policy and electoral processes, and most of all for informed citizenries. The technology, media and advertising industries now acknowledge the need to judge quality — good and bad — in their decisions about ranking, promotion, and advertising support. But how to go forward?

At a World Economic Forum meeting in San Francisco in March, our goal over a day and a half was to begin to identify the work that needed to be done, agree on a common set of principles and develop a framework for sharing quality signals with a goal of delivering consumers better information experiences – and to do it at scale. Participants came from across the spectrum, publishers, agencies, media companies, journalists, and brands.

We settled on five streams which will now forward in tandem.

1. Content credibility signals coalition

The last two years has seen a burst of initiatives across academia and the private sector to identify signals and define trust when it comes to news and information on the internet. With so much work being done in parallel, we asked ourselves: how do we harness the work being done across each organization to better inform the others for the greater good? Might we form a coalition of organizations working on models, standards, distribution and acceptance of content credibility signals?

2. A Generally Accepted Data Model for Content Credibility

One significant obstacle to sharing data and research is a lack of a consistent taxonomy and data structure. This field of research into disinformation is still so new that each group has designed their own definition and categories. The goal of the shared data model is to agree upon set of properties, indicators with commons naming conventions to facilitate collaboration. This work will be taken up by the content credibility signals coalition.

3. Platform Transparency and Research

With differing and sometimes opposing goals and objectives, how can platforms and stakeholders work together to promote transparency? Specifically, can the tech companies “show [Office1] their work[Office2] ” without risking privacy of their users, or leaving an opening for mischief? The objective of this work stream it to collaborate on useful and usable reporting to measure progress in credibility and to see how tech companies can collaborate with other stakeholders to facilitate research on quality and impact over time. The platforms have declared that they are keen to open up to researchers in a way, with the stipulation that it doesn’t compromise their competitiveness or user privacy. Facebook recently announced an initiative to partner with researchers to study electoral integrity, Twitter launched an initiative to measure the health of the public sphere.

4. Alerts and Responses

Disinformation campaigns come with varying motives. From disrupting societies, to chasing a buck, each form of manipulation demands a different set of alerts and responses. Is there potential for a council in the model of Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs) to serve first as a clearing house for expertise and eventually as a resource for information sharing and best practices in the threat from organized campaigns? The Forum may pursue this as part of its new Global Centre for Cybersecurity.

5. Blockchain and Content Credibility

What is the potential for blockchain as a format for recording and tracking content credibility signals? While not an all-purpose solution to the world’s ills as some of the hype would have you believe, blockchain is good at defining transactions and ownership, time and date and other metadata. That can be of value to journalism in verification of sources, ownership, date, time and location. Do we need a framework for working out for how blockchain solves problems? In the coming weeks and months, the Forum will continue collaborating with stakeholders from across society to build a more trustworthy information ecosystem through its Rebuilding Trust in Information Ecosystems project. It is a fast moving, yet critical challenge that can only be addressed through multi-stakeholder collaboration.

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