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Make Media Great Again talks at the Commonwealth Centre for Connected Learning conference ‘Post-truth Society: from Fake News, Datafication and Mass Surveillance to  the Death of Trust’ held 10-11 October 2019 on Malta.                       

     


Geert Lovink, founder Institute of Network Cultures (INC), asked social entrepreneur Ruben Brave to report on his applied science project ​Make Media Great Again​ (MMGA) on the Post-Truth  Society conference on Malta; an initiative of new media teacher of the University of Malta and  founding Director of the Commonwealth Centre for Connected Learning, ​Alec Grech​. The  Post-Truth conference included speakers from The Economist, Worldbank and Google.     In his short conference talk ​Ruben​ not only summarized how ​participatory journalism​ can be a  cost-effective and inclusive solution for quality control in online publishing but also indicated how  MMGA’s curated process leads to reciprocity and reflection.     The atmosphere on the Malta conference seemed a starting point for higher awareness and  consciousness of the roles and responsibility all agents have on the internet when it concerns mis-  or disinformation, the two pillars of fake news.     The very real impact of fake news on people's lives was evident by at least two situations at the  Post-Truth event. First a kaleidoscopic situation occurred when speaker and Iranian blogging  pioneer who was imprisoned for 6 years, ​Hossein Derakhshan​, held his talk named  “Post-Enlightenment and the Personalization of Public Truths”; he was ​publically verbally attacked  from the audience by co-speaker ​Maral Karimi​ who claimed that Derakhshan himself was guilty of  spreading fake news that had supported people getting incarcerated or even worse.   Also, a moderator (and journalist) was under police surveillance during the event as he/she had key  information concerning the offender(s) of the ​murdered Maltese Panama-papers​ journalist, Daphne  Caruana Galizia; a ​societal disruptive case​ due to the various investigations with an abundance of  dubious reporting to the public​. The social indignation concerning the handling of the Galizia case  erupted at several unexpected moments on the event.    Fake news leads to real problems and is tied to social injustice. What can we do as citizens? Read  Ruben’s media-enriched talk below.       


Public rebuttal, reflection and responsibility   Or    An inconvenient answer to fake news                By Ruben Brave,   social entrepreneur & co-founder Make Media Great Again,  conference talk ‘Post-truth Society: from Fake News, Datafication and Mass Surveillance to the  Death of Trust’  held 10-11 October 2019 on Malta.            Dear all,    Thank you for having me at this very much needed ​conference​]. My name is ​Ruben Brave​ and I’m  co-founder of ​Make Media Great Again​, shortened called MMGA. A Dutch ​non-profit initiative  focussed on providing a possible part of the solution concerning fake news. A Dutch project with  an (according to some people) ​funny name​ but with a serious mission.     What do we do at MMGA? Collaborating with publishers and community to fight misinformation.  We improve the quality of media together with their pool of involved readers, ​viewers​ and ​listeners​.  We have built a transparent system for actionable suggestions and specific remarks from this  community pool . ​NU.nl (translated as NOW.nl) with 7 to 8 million visitors a month and by far the  most important news service in the Netherlands is our test partner​. We test with a group of critical  and knowledgable NU.nl readers (called ​‘annotators’​) who offer suggestions to increase the  journalistic quality through the balanced use of sources and clearer transfer of information.    And when I talk to my ​American friends​ about Make Media Great Again they all agree what a great  potential our endeavour has. But also they echo their main remark:  


Change the name,   change the name,   change the name.     And to be fully honest to a large extent I must agree with this. Because for some reason, we keep  getting enthusiastic emails with subjects such as: “​Yeah let’s build that wall​!”    But nonetheless, we are not changing the name, not yet...    “In this day and age, our biggest asset is information but it’s increasing amount makes it hard to  see through. News guides us through the daily disorder which impacts us directly…”    My personal realization for the need for MMGA started when I was confronted with “fake news” on  the publicly funded national NOS website, the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation. For some of us, it  might not be a surprise that a state-funded medium spreads wrong information but in the  Netherlands people still put a lot of trust in them.     The case was quite remarkable. During election period the website reported that the frontman of  the Labour party was asking questions in Parliament about ​ethnic profiling by the police​.          

figure 1: example of misinformation on the website of the national Dutch Broadcasting Foundation concerning a political  party asking Parliamentary questions concerning ethnic profiling by the Police in the Netherlands   


After investigating the Parliament website and ultimately asking the Registry what these questions actually were, I got an email that the Labour Party did not at all had asked questions about ethnic  profiling. It seemed that a female member of Parliament of the Democratic Party with a migration  background had asked the relevant questions.          

figure 2: update on Dutch Parliament website concerning the party and person that did ask questions concerning ethnic  profiling by the Police in the Netherlands 

 

This information could have impacted voting behaviour, at least it influenced mine. When I  confronted the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation and asked if they would at least consider editing  the headline of the concerning article the editor-in-chief responded agitated with the remark: ​“I’m  not going to contribute to history falsification!”    How curious...    And how can anyone tell these days what is factually accurate and what isn’t? What is formulated  to reveal and what is written to conceal or even to mislead? These are increasingly pressing  questions, especially as a new historical round of disinformation is upon us and ‘fake news’ is  flourishing in all its glory. Could critical readers help in improving the reliability of “our information”?   


Our society would benefit from better news. Yet we don’t have the tools to improve this ourselves. This has changed with our open-source movement MMGA as we offer transparent tools for  journalistic reporting. Where everyone can contribute and we invite everyone to join our cause. For  a clearer world.    Up to 50,000 readers were involved in our first pilot, with candidates individually selected from the  news organization’s readers’ commentary panel (their forum NUJij). From these readers, more than  300 are now registered as an annotator.       

  figure 3: screening, selection and training process overview 

 

And from this group, we selected, screened, and trained knowledgeable and/or critical thinking readers to actually work on annotation assignments.    How we do it? Improving the quality of media through annotations? Well, we believe people have  unique, diverse views and also relevant knowledge that helps the editorial process and quality.  With our digital tools, people are able to detect misinformation, biased language and false  contextualization. MMGA annotations are practicable suggestions, labelled notes, directly  attributed to words, sentences or paragraphs (​see live demo​). They are actionable for the editor,  avoid debate based on personal preferences and, if correct, directly trigger a correction within  articles.    Editors are free to implement or not (​see a live demo of response​). Because the annotations are  immediately executable and based on the principle of journalistic objectivity, they overcome the  known issue of lengthy debate due to subjectivity that arises with regular reader comments. The 


system differs from the well-known response form, whereby the reaction usually concerns disagreement with the online paper’s opinion or the tenor of the whole article. Annotations focus  on specific elements of an article and are structured according to annotation labels. Our tests not  only were to test the annotation system itself but also see how those involved respond to and work  with it.    Furthermore, provided these annotations are clear, factually accurate and presented with proper  transparency, they provide the necessary motivation for their immediate implementation, given that  doing so will only improve the quality of the work in question.    Why we do it? To improve the credibility of media and strengthen the bond with their audience.  The credibility of the media is being questioned more and more, whereas the media are seen as  the first party to protect us from wrong information. This fundamental role of media is essential to  enable proper functioning of democracy and constructive social debate, thus fortify social  cohesion.    The potential of this idea​ goes beyond journalism; in fact, any organization or body that provides  information as a ‘public service’ could benefit from it, be they governmental institutions or  museums. And it is arguably becoming increasingly important to use the openness of the internet  to facilitate the representation and participation of diverse and hitherto underrepresented groups in  media and society at large.    Editorships, newsrooms and the army of opinion leaders typically reveal a skewed distribution in  their composition with respect to gender and place of origin and residence, among other things.  Whereas MMGA, with its “diversity panels” geared towards the nuanced use of language in  journalism and its emphasis on multiple perspectives in reporting, holds the possibility of genuine  balance.     True quality is arguably impossible without diversity. We find it important that our group of  annotators is as diverse as possible. Men, women, people from various ethnic backgrounds and  minorities of all sorts. This minimises the chance of overlooking particular contexts. A more diverse  group can, according to ​scientific research​ (see ​pages, 21, 31 and 38)​, improve the quality of news  offerings and build trust in the sources of these offerings. Trust, in particular, is now one of the  major issues in mainstream journalism. The study that yielded the findings involved globally  recognized names such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the  BBC and, last but not least, The Guardian. We, therefore, invite anyone who shares our concerns  and wants to help to ​contact us​.    MMGA sees ​diversity​ as a means of​ improving the quality of published content​, rather than an end  in itself.    The fact that media organizations themselves are beginning to admit the need to fight fake news to  maintain their readership’s trust opens the door for collaborations. And this is how we hope to 


work, too. After all, the idea isn’t to destroy existing organizations but to improve the quality of what they produce.    So there you have it! MMGA is cost-effective (because we mainly work with volunteers) and a  value-added layer of contributors who create a safety net against misinformation, thus giving the  hardcore fake news no chance. ​We collaborate with universities, well-known investigative  journalists and impactful media for a maximum reach​. Solution found it’s even politically correct  because it’s all-inclusive... Yep, case closed... Couldn’t anybody else come up with this? Oh well.  No problem, we got it covered…    At least... we thought. Before the post-truth reality punched me in the face!    It happened to me when I was vigorously watching a new tv series: ​The Man in the High Castle​.        

Figure 4: poster tv-series Man in the High Castle 

  An ​American alternate history television series​ depicting a parallel universe where the Axis powers  (Rome–Berlin–Tokyo-axis) win World War II - so the Nazis and their partners have won instead of  the Allies. It is produced by Amazon Studios and based on ​Philip K. Dick​'s 1962 science fiction  novel of the same name. Dick is popularly known as the writer of the books behind movies such as  Blade Runner and Minority report.  


Side-note: As ​Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates​, national correspondent for The Atlantic, states that for a lot of African-Americans​ the world Philips K Dick sketches has a lot of resemblance with their actual  reality​. But also other ​more general ethical questions​ Western society currently has in “​our reality​”  are addressed.     So back to me and the series. During the period I'm binge-watching the series I’m using Facebook  and there - ​for some reason​ - I’m directed to a journalistic looking Facebook-post with the purport  that Bill and Melinda Gates are not trying to save the world from malaria or polio but instead  actually are ​testing experimental medicines (on behalf of large pharmaceutical companies) on poor  Indian kids​...just like the Nazi’s would do!    And I must be honest, for a second I felt the rage and indignation coming up inside of me. This was  big news! The world needed to know about this. ​And I was ready as ever to share this post with  my friends and relatives​. To shine the light on this wrongdoing and work to a clearer world.    But then I remembered ​MMGA’s code of conduct​, inspired by the journalistic ethical code the  Bordeaux Declaration, multiple Dutch guidelines concerning journalism and prevention of improper  influencing by conflicts of interest and last but not least the Five Pillars of Wikipedia. Our first  directive states:     “Your annotations are based on facts for which you can indicate a reliable source (which thus are  verifiable and can be held accountable), as completely as possible and regardless of the opinions  expressed about this source.”     I couldn’t even find ​one​ reliable source backing up the claims made in the Facebook-post. Thus  even so how much I felt I was obliged to spread this “news” I also did not want to have the  responsibility for an unverifiable article.    And this reminded me of the results of one of the first MMGA tests we conducted concerning our  Trustmark on 500 random internet users. The Trustmark signifies and guarantees that all articles  are under audit of an independent community, sources are easily viewable to the public and any  alterations to the article are also tracked and viewable by the public.       


figure 5: test results adoption indication MMGA Trustmark

 

To create more transparency and trust. From our survey with these 500 readers, nine out of ten  stated they experience an article with a Trustmark as more trustworthy. Also, more than 6 out of  ten were likely to share an article with a trust mark.       

  figure 6: overall function MMGA Trustmark 

 


So what will happen when people become more aware when such trustmarks are missing in the article they are reading? Would they be more conscious when they are sharing unmarked articles?    Without ​the network effects of the Internet​ wrong information would probably have the same  damaging effects as simple “false gossip” in the contained context of let’s say a school class. We  are keen to look at platforms such as Facebook and news media like the Dutch Broadcasting  Foundation as guilty parties for the fake news problem. And reach for all kinds of tech-related  solutions to save us.     But based on my own Man in the High Castle experience I suspect we still need to make a leap in  our societal consciousness if we are going to survive this post-truth era:     “We are not merely using the technical infrastructure of the internet, as if it is something  outside of us. Beyond our own power and responsibility. We are an integral and decisive  part, the living nodes, of this global information network.”                

figure 7: Quote of Daphne Caruana Galizia at the ​protest memorial​ in Valletta on the night before the conference 


And therefore the name of our organisation stays as it is. Because it’s not just a gimmicky reaction to Donald Trump's election motto or merely an accusation at mainstream media. The name  reminds us of the easily overlooked fact, another inconvenient truth, that we all individually have to  play our part - as reflective and responsible citizens - to make media great again.    Thank you for your attention.       

Figure 8: MMGA co-founder Ruben Brave being interviewed at the post-truth conference “From Fake News, Datafication  and Mass Surveillance to the Death of Trust” held 10-11 October 2019 in Valletta at Malta. Copyright photos by ​Harry  Anthony Patrinos​, Practice Manager World Bank for European and Central Asian education global practice.     

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"Public rebuttal, reflection and responsibility" or "An inconvenient answer to fake news"  

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