It Is All Spam

My friends Jeff Jarvis and John Borthwick wrote a thoughtful post about the fake news issue and put forward fifteen suggestions for the platforms and news organizations that are struggling with it.

This suggestion got my attention:

Create a system for media to send metadata about their fact-checking, debunking, confirmation, and reporting on stories and memes to the platforms.

It reminds me of the efforts in the email sector to create metadata around email messages to help the mail platforms identify what is spam and what is not. Examples of such efforts are DKIM and SPF.

If you think about the guts of the Internet, you have these simple protocols like TCP/IP, HTTP, SMTP, etc that allow information to flow from one computer to another. These systems are inherently open, often radically open. Anyone can publish anything to anyone. That has largely been a good thing because it has allowed an open communication network to develop globally without a lot of interoperability worries and work.

But when you do that, you allow all sorts of bad things to happen. And the people who build and manage internet technologies have been trying to figure out elegant solutions to all of this bad behavior for the past twenty five years (or possibly longer).

For me, the first example of this was email spam. And then search spam. Email and web search were two of the first wide open systems that were plagued with all sorts of bogus information and messages. And twenty years later, these two systems have largely been cleaned up through massive investments across multiple dimensions.

So when I hear of some new bad thing like fake news, I immediately think of spam. And I think of the things that have been done to manage and mitigate spam. There is a roadmap for mitigating and managing this sort of thing. It seems like we need to replicate it around fake news. And we should.