Regs not answer to fake news

Posted: November 7, 2017 at 3:01 a.m.

The old saying about a lie traveling halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes has never seemed more relevant than in this new era of propaganda-pushing Twitter trolls and fake Facebook users.

But here's a truth that we hope sinks in quickly in Silicon Valley: Without major changes to the way business is done at Facebook, Twitter and Google, the regulations that these companies have spent years trying to avoid could become a reality.

That's a scary thought, the government regulating an industry that drives public discourse as the world's biggest distributor of news and information. Requiring more transparency about the source of political advertising is one thing. But infringements on the First Amendment would be all but certain if Congress decides to weigh in on what is and is not appropriate to post online.

But for all of the incremental changes being made at Facebook, Twitter and Google, coming up with a solution to eradicate all fake news will be tough, if not impossible. At the very least, it will be bad for Silicon Valley's bottom line.

At issue is a business model that depends on people spending as much time as possible online, clicking on stories and videos. Billions of dollars in advertising revenue depend on giving people what they want to see, and the comforting echo chamber of fake news has proved to be very popular. Analysts found that some of the bogus news got more readers than real news during the presidential campaign.

That means social media companies aren't just fighting foreign troll farms. They're fighting human nature.

But there has to be a middle ground for the common good of American democracy. Silicon Valley must be more direct about promoting news from verified sources. The only way to drown out fake news is with real news, not regulation. Congress is understandably impatient. Time is running out.

Editorial on 11/07/2017