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Online? Beware the 'New Google' (And Much More)
CCC’s (Copyright Clearance Center’s) Chris Kenneally (at left), host and producer of CCC’s weekly podcast series, Velocity of Content (which features breaking news and thoughtful analysis from across the global content industry), recently recorded an episode with Gordon Crovitz and Steven Brill, co-founders of NewsGuard, a journalism and technology resource that rates the credibility of news and information sites and tracks online misinformation for search engines, social media apps, and advertisers. They discussed the recent NewsGuard investigation from September, which shows that TikTok searches consistently give false and misleading claims to users, most of whom are teens and young adults. In this article, Kenneally delves into the state of fake news in late 2022 and how to fight it based on this interview, and he also discusses some of the more salient findings from the investigation.
Grapefruit peel and lemon peel simmered slowly in water to extract the maximum quinine and vitamin C: It’s not a recipe for a trendy homemade energy drink, but a DIY prescription for hydroxychloroquine and touted online as a cure for COVID-19. You can find the phony pharmaceutical on the world’s most popular website. No, not Google—the new Google, TikTok.
In growing numbers, people take questions about healthcare, politics, or finding the best restaurants to TikTok, the short-form video platform. [In September], a NewsGuard investigation revealed that such TikTok searches consistently feed false and misleading claims to users, most of whom are teens and young adults.
“For example, when our analyst did a search for COVID vaccine, which is a kind of search that a young person might very well do to learn more about it, TikTok suggested that the search be for COVID vaccine injury or COVID vaccine truths or COVID vaccine exposed, COVID vaccine HIV, and COVID vaccine warning—in other words, highlighting the alarmist and often false claims about the COVID vaccine,” says Gordon Crovitz (at right), NewsGuard’s co-founder, in an interview for the latest Velocity of Content podcast from CCC.
NewsGuard is a journalism and technology tool that rates the credibility of news and information websites and tracks online misinformation for search engines, social media apps, and advertisers.
Of the 8,000 news and information sites NewsGuard has rated, close to 40% receive a “red” rating, categorizing them as untrustworthy. The NewsGuard assessments, says Steven Brill (at left), also a NewsGuard co-founder, are grounded in well-established principles of best journalistic practices.
“It’s a scrupulous, careful, multi-person look at how every one of these websites scores against nine specific criteria. Does it have a transparent policy to make a correction when they realize they’ve made a mistake? Do they mix news and opinion in a way that people can’t tell if it’s news and opinion? The basics that any journalist learns and adheres to,” explains Brill, who founded The American Lawyer in 1979 and started Court-TV in 1989.
“I don’t want to give the impression that we’re a bunch of Puritans, and that if we see a site we don’t like, because we don’t agree with its politics, or it has a different policy position on climate change than one of us may have, that it gets a red rating,” Brill insists. “These sites have to be really bad to get a red rating. They have to be saying that 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration or that hydroxychloroquine will cure or prevent COVID.”
While TikTok is increasingly a source of fake science, and other types of fake news, the problem is far more pervasive. In fact, NewsGuard research says that misinformation is a $2.6 billion problem, one that’s especially dangerous for brands.
“This is the biggest shock that we’ve had in our time at NewsGuard—to be able to quantify the amount of online advertising unintentionally going to support misinformation sites. Russian propaganda sites and healthcare hoax sites that’ll sell you a subscription to peach pits to cure cancer are chock-full of ads from every brand you could think of,” says Crovitz, who is a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal.
“The reason it happens is programmatic advertising, which is advertising selected by a computer and is the biggest category of [online] advertising,” he says.
“An ad will end up on all kinds of sites unless the brand itself or the ad agency or somebody in the ad tech world takes some step to advertising responsibly,” Crovitz warns.
Photos of Gordon Crovitz and Steven Brill courtesy of NewsGuard
As senior director of content marketing at CCC (Copyright Clearance Center), Christopher Kenneally develops content and programming covering issues facing the information industry, especially related to rights management. Kenneally is also host and producer of CCC’s weekly podcast series, Velocity of Content.
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