In an age of mass deception, a simple green or red thumbs up or down sounds like a great idea. People are busy, most of us simply scan the headlines, and when we find a story that interests us, scan the article text. Rarely does the entire article get read and – more importantly – considered by our busy brains.

Why not, then, have an independent, objective rating service that guards us from factoring in fake news?

The modern era of fake news goes back before many of us were born. Operation Mockingbird, as the CIA called it, began in the 1950s. Its intent was to manipulate news media for propaganda purposes. “It funded student and cultural organizations and magazines as front organizations.”

News intended for propaganda may or may not be true. It is most often partially true. It’s not that the facts are being concealed, only selectively revealed. The intent is to influence public opinion, compared to informing the public. The Wikipedia article indicates the operation is ongoing.

With the current widespread availability and use of the internet, news sources have proliferated like never before. Companies, organizations, groups and individuals are all able to print and distribute their own news. If the company, organization, group or individual is honest, the news is likely accurate, although it may be framed to show the provider in a good light. The primary intent of this news is to inform: customers, members and interested individuals. It also informs competitors (unwittingly, perhaps).

News organizations, however, are often known for having a wide but shallow reach in their news gathering. Some have a narrow but deep reach, such as oil and gas newsletters. News is, by its nature, new to its consumers. Its production most often involves research, human sources, organizing, writing and publishing.

Let’s go to the organization NewsGuard and see how it might work. My first observation is that the website, newsguardtech.com, is somewhat vague in explaining how it does what it does: “Our trained analysts, who are experienced journalists, research online news brands to help readers and viewers know which ones are trying to do legitimate journalism – and which are not.”

As I read that, NewsGuard is rating websites, not specific articles. They then assign a thumbs up or down based on … we don’t know how many articles, or which specific articles. It seems to me that if you were evaluating a specific article, you would need to review the journalist’s research sources, inspect – at the very least – the journalist’s notes regarding human source interviews and look at the series of revisions from rough draft to final story. Otherwise, how could you tell if the article was made up, or carefully researched and written?

I am very skeptical that NewsGuard is doing this, because I don’t see many journalists handing out their research, much less human sources, and exposing their writing skills to a stranger. I’m skeptical, as in “it ain’t gonna happen.”

To learn anything about News Guard’s human component, you have to add “about” to their main page. I’ll link to this page, but they may change it. Beyond management, they list 14 staff, and 16 contributors. They list three technical people.

I have not looked into the backgrounds of News Guard’s staff and contributors, but will leave that for a future article. NewsGuard itself could be a legitimate effort to apply human understanding and judgment to the news dissemination business. It could be algorithm-driven, and the staff and contributors merely deal with complaints. It could even be a modern outgrowth of Operation Mockingbird.

The thing that concerns me most at this point is NewsGuard’s attempt to shut down advertising to websites they have branded unreliable. Google and Facebook already have roughly 70 percent of the internet’s advertising. We need to find out about these two firms’ involvement in the News Guard project, or its principals. Another concern is ideology. It is a hallmark of the political left to shut down dissent. On its face, that is what News Guard is doing.

Finally, I will plug my solution for Google, Facebook and all the rest of the algorithm-driven tech companies. All algorithms must be publicly available for inspection before, during and after their deployment on the internet. Otherwise, we have handed world governance and taxpayer budgets to the tech titans. History shows us that such people will use their power and platforms to control what the rest of us think and do. If that is the world you want, no action is required.


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