Panel at School of Law discusses strategies to target fake news

Albert Zhao

Ross Ramsey, co-founder of The Texas Tribune, emphasized the importance of fact-checking in journalism in a lecture at the UT School of Law Thursday. 

“We have a saying in the journalism business: If your mother says she loves you, check it out,” Ramsey said. 

Adjunct law professor Ryan Garcia and Warren Hanes, former Facebook intellectual property employee, joined Ramsey and a classroom audience to discuss the phenomenon of fake news and its spread over social media platforms.

“I think in current usage, fake news is probably intentionally misleading news,” Ramsey said. “The idea of fake news is, ‘If I can change the information in, I can change the information out’ … You’re using misinformation for a particular purpose.” 

Hanes said fake news is different from online satire, such as The Onion, because they are not “deliberately destructive” and “weaponized” to trick an audience into believing it is genuine reporting. 

Garcia said one of the main motives for fake news writers is to earn revenue, which could be deterred by confiscating their ad space, as Google has done. 

He also said the subscription walls in major news organizations may be counterproductive because they decrease access to valid news. He said an effective strategy would be if news organizations convinced subscribers to help pay to extend content torward people who are susceptible to fake news.

“What we’ve done is we a created a system of vast content … that is not free, and the worst content is,” Garcia said. “Bad information drives out good information.” 

Facebook is currently integrating fact-checking software into its network. Hanes said this helps warn users of potential fake news posts and may prevent them from being shared.

“When you post … you’ll be notified like, ‘Hey, this is probably something that cannot be trusted,” Hanes said.

The panel concluded that the dilemma of fake news is not going away anytime soon and a collective effort is needed to fight it.

“This isn’t a problem one agency, one corporation or one individual can solve,” Hanes said. “It’s something that is going to be a fact of life for the foreseeable future. And we just owe it to ourselves and to everybody else to work together to find the best solutions.”