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Another million-dollar idea: defaked news

25 January 2019

My little notebook of million-dollar ideas has been filling up recently.

Perhaps my brain is having a last-ditch effort to show that there's still some functioning gray matter, before it withers and slows to a halt due to the effects of old age.

The latest bright idea to pop into my head has (I believe) huge potential and the timing is perfect.

Let me explain a little...

Right now the term "fake news" has become widely used, and with good reason. The media has largely lost all respect for the principles on which the Fourth Estate was founded and now finds itself setting "survival" as the number-one priority. The internet has totally disrupted the previously cosy and highly profitable business-model on which newspapers, radio and television news reporting was founded.

Sadly, the news industry has found itself unable to cope with the changes that have been thrust upon them and quite a few formerly solid publishers have already gone to the wall, many others only still in business due to mergers or as a result of support from other profit centres within their own corporate structure.

As a result of all this, the focus has shifted from accuracy and in-depth reporting conducted by professional journalists operating to a high degree of professionalism and integrity -- to simply publishing anything that will get eyeballs on pages and advertiser dollars in the bank.

The problem with this new paradigm is that honest, accuracy and the truth have suffered dramatically.

Much of the "news" we read watch or hear is light on fact and strong on sensationalism.

Headlines are far more likely to carry emotive keywords such as "catastrophic", "disaster", "outrageous" and similar eye-catchers. Telling the story is secondary to just getting someone to load up that webpage or pause and watch that story.

Then there are the deliberate purveyors of misinformation. Whether for political or commercial purposes, it is now very easy to inject this misinformation into the newsfeeds. News publishers have slashed costs to the bone in order to try and preserve profitability -- and that means the "real" journalists are now few and far between. Whenever possible, interns or junior reporters are tasked with trawling through the endless stream of press releases and turning them into a "news" story.

Sadly, these inexperienced souls rarely perform any fact-checking before throwing their name atop the aforementioned press releases and launching them onto the unawares public as "news".

So how do we fight back?

Well here's my idea...

Some entrepreneurial type needs to create a website that allows people to post links to news stories and ask for a "reality check". Hordes of keen debunkers will then paw over the story and do the research that the journos should have done in the first place. They'll then submit their appraisal of the story and point out any clear and obvious deceptions or fakery.

Likewise, anyone who reads a news story that they know contains fakery can highlight that by posting a link to the site, along with their evidence to the contrary.

We've all seen how sites like Slashdot and Reddit have captured the public's heart and created massive followings (not so much now with Slashdot) simply because they connected a need to know with those who did know. I predict that a fake-news debunking site would do the same.

Indeed, anyone seeking "real" news that had been already vetted by others who might be in a position to know the truth could go to this site and find a list of "vetted" headlines that pointed only to stories that had been independently verified as being accurate.

Of course every member of the site would have a weighting applied to their inputs based on the accuracy of previous submissions (as judged by the community) so attempts to play the system would quickly be squashed by public consensus.

This would not be such a difficult system to implement and it is the solution to a very real problem. Also, being "user-generated content" the cost of operation would be incredibly low -- requiring just hosting fees and some regular administration and perhaps some moderation (which could also be sourced from the pool of users).

Let's face it, wouldn't you like to know how the stories you read rank on the scale of credibility and verification so that you can decide whether to trust what you're being told?

This might also provide a valuable alternative news-index to the service provided by GoogleNews.

And I'm picking that, as an exit strategy for the initial investors, purchase by Google or Facebook would definitely be on the horizon.

Okay... so why aren't I doing this myself?

Well the reality is that my days are so full I barely have time to eat a meal these days so there's just no way I could dedicate the time and effort required to make this idea a multi-million (or even billion) dollar reality. Hopefully someone will read this, think "that's brilliant" and run with it. Even more hopefully, they'll say "here Bruce, here's a tiny compensation for giving us the idea".

Oh that last bit, I think that's likely to fall into the category of wishful thinking :-)

What do readers think? Could a system like this help fight fake news and also create a vibrant community based on news stories and independent perspectives on same?

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