UW panel on battling fake news: ‘Think more, spread less’

The Seattle Times’ event, “Fact vs. Fake: Fighting Back Against Fake News,” was held at Kane Hall on Wednesday night. Among the tips offered to consumers: “Think more, spread less.”

The story projected onto the screen claimed that Amazon’s office space was now larger than the actual Amazon rain forest.

University of Washington professor Jevin West pointed to the projection and asked the audience: Is that real or fake? The audience laughed. It was clearly fake. That’s a minor annoyance, he said.

Then he showed another story about the Israeli defense minister saying Israel would destroy Pakistan with a nuclear attack. It too was fake, but Pakistan’s defense minister actually responded to the story last December and threatened to retaliate.

“Fake news is more than a minor annoyance,” West told the audience in University of Washington’s Kane Hall on Wednesday night.

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Fake news — and how to combat it — was the focus of The Seattle Times’ LiveWire event, “Fact vs. Fake: Fighting Back Against Fake News,” featuring a panel of technology and journalist experts. Among the panelists was West, an assistant professor in the University of Washington’s Information School. He codirects the DataLab and co-teaches a popular course “Calling BS in the Age of Big Data.”

Delip Rao, founder of Joostware, an artificial-intelligence (AI) research consulting firm, said he differentiates between fake news that is benign, and spread because someone didn’t do research, and fake news that is purposefully fabricated content. Rao created the Fake News Challenge, which brings together researchers and technologists to create fact-checking tools using AI.

Fake news has been used as a weapon in conflicts around the world, noted Jeanne Bourgault, president and CEO of Internews, an international nonprofit that works with local media organizations and trains journalists in developing countries. In Ukraine, for example, Russia hired an actress to serve as a source for stories that benefited that country.

Seattle Times Managing Editor Michelle Matassa Flores says she often hears from readers who call with concerns about a story and call it “fake news” because the story included something he or she didn’t like.

“This has been going on for time eternal in newsrooms,” she said.

A bigger concern, she said, is that sources might be targeted by people…

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