Beyond the First 100 Days: Combating Fake News, and the Future is Open
For many open government advocates, the last 100 days have been a challenge.
Here at the OpenGov Hub, many of us have been approached by people asking how the new political environment might affect our work, and in many cases this new climate has reaffirmed our commitment to promoting open governance at home and abroad, and has lent a new sense of urgency to our work.
After all, much of US and global politics today can be understood in terms of opposing forces not between left or right but rather toward more open or closed societies.
As the Trump Administration's first 100 days ends, we've been actively contemplating and developing our roles in promoting open government reforms in this new context.
Here's a snapshot of two exciting initiatives we've begun over the last 100 days:
"Fake News" Innovation Sprint
Earlier this month, we hosted our inaugural OpenGov Hub Innovation Sprint - a structured, action-based rapid prototyping session, which we'll convene every quarter to bring together a curated, diverse group of people to tackle a narrowly-defined challenge (think a mini-hackathon without the coding but with policy wonk-types - and just as many sticky notes).
This inaugural sprint focused on the timely topic of "fake news" and was co-organized by Hub member organization, the Leiden University's HumanityX team. We hosted 25 experts from media, technology, policy and other fields to map out myriad aspects of the unwieldy challenge of fake news. (Check out HumanityX's write-up of the event here).
We know that a lot of people can refer to a lot of different things when they talk about fake news. Rumors and conspiracy theories have always existed, but the rapid spread and prevalence of misinformation is a worrying new trend, as fake news can have real consequences.
With the definition of fake news itself often contested, here's one attempt to help clarify:
Making Sense of Fake News
We think its helpful to understand fact news according to 3 key elements:
1) what are the underlying facts/data in question (if any)?
2) What are the stories/interpretations surrounding this information?
3) Who are the sources that produce the fake news, and (importantly) who also spreads/shares (and thus legitimizes) it?
We also note two primary types of tools being developed to combat fake news:
tools to flag/report dubious sources and information vs. tools to validate/fact check
During our sprint, participants focused on providing numerous iterative, rapid-fire rounds of targeted feedback on the new "CredibleU" prototype being developed by HumanityX and FirstLine Software - a tool being designed to help limit the spread of false information by targeting the Twitter activity of all members of Congress.
The logic behind this is that Congress members clearly play an important role in spreading information to their constituents as public figures, so its important to be able to flag when they might be sharing links from dubious sources (even inadvertently).
In one evening, we mapped our a wide variety of users for a tool like this designed to combat one aspect of fake news, and a variety of functions these users might need.
Check out this network visualization summarizing our rich discussions here.
If you're interested in providing feedback on the CredibleU prototype, just get in touch with Ulrich Mans (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Collaborative Pilot to Combat Fake News Based on Fake/Manipulated Data
The second new initiative we launched in the administration's first 100 days is a collaborative pilot project with 4 Hub member organizations. The goal of this pilot is to map and leverage the Open Gov Hub's powerful 'neural network' of expertise, in order to combat fake news specifically based on false/manipulated/misunderstood data.
As mentioned, we know people can mean lots of different things when they talk about fake news. We're interested in focusing specifically on examples rooted in some form of facts/data - rather than flat-out baseless rumors or conspiracies.
We realize that our network has enormously valuable expertise on open data across a wide variety of issues and sectors, and we're working to create a structure to tap this expertise to help correct and clarify arguments that based on skewed data.
In the longer term, as open government advocates we think one powerful solution to fake news is to make the information about public activities open by default, so individuals can draw their own conclusions about it (rather than have so much information filtered through different lens of interpretation). But even as we strive for more openness by default, we will also work on debunking examples of false information based on false, manipulated, out-of-context, or misunderstood data.
Finally, we're cognizant of the threats of disappearing public datasets and some of us are considering how we might activate or deepen our role as vigilant watchdogs to help protect access to accurate information about issues of public concern - from the environment to information about what governments here and abroad are doing and how they are spending their money.
Stay tuned for more information about the prototype from this pilot, and if you are interested in collaborating on this project please get in touch.
Despite growing and perhaps unprecedented challenges these days to open governance worldwide, we still believe that the future is open. We are working together in new and innovative ways and trying to do our part - leveraging our knowledge, skills, and networks - to better tackle some of the most pressing public challenges of our time.
This post was written by Nada Zohdy, Manager of the OpenGov Hub.