TED Talk – from Fake News to Awake News

My journey to explore Fake News starts on a sidewalk, in Russia.

The year is 1983. And I’ve been drinking – Vodka. Quite a bit by this point in the evening. I’m with a friend I met in Moscow, a Russian Journalist who works for Pravda. And, after hours of talking about freedom, and knowledge, and journalism – he says to me: “You Americans have it all wrong. You believe what you read in the papers. We Russians, we believe what we read between the lines.”

And so – with my friend’s words ringing in my ear, I fly home – to my campus radio station WSPN at Skidmore College – where I’m News Director.

I gather my team from the news department and I tell them… We’re not going to just read what we get fed to us, we’re going to do REAL reporting. And with that – and with ceremony – – – unplug the Associated Press wire service teletype. It whirs to a halt. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. The newsroom grows silent.

And a member of my team says to me: “But, You’ve Shut Off The Truth Machine!” Indeed I had.

Flash forward until today.

Information is coming at us like a torrent. Relentless. Unstoppable. Without Context. What’s changed? Printing presses went from this to THIS. $99 at Best Buy, or free with a coupon. Television went from big trucks and expensive satellites to the transmitter we all have in our pockets And print, books and magazines, shifted to this – an ever-changing cloud of information.

Today -The tools are democratized, more consumers are makers. Information is abundant. These are all good things. Well, sort of. We lack the tools to find context. Information is now relentless. Content we disagree with is labeled “fake” – even if it’s factually correct. We can place blame, on Reddit, Facebook, Google and Twitter. But that misses the point. Today – we use the handy and forbidding phrase: “Fake News” as a moniker to label unreliable information.

But what if Fake News has resulted in us waking up: What I’m here to propose is that we are in a new era. The era of Awake News. We’ve woken, to become a new generation of Conscious News Consumers.

Fake News requires us to become active participants – more engaged. More thoughtful. Fake News is a wakeup call for 3 communities.For publishers, for platforms, and for the public.

For Publishers – Awake News invites creators to state their publication’s point of view and editorial standards. If they require to sources to confirm a fact, let readers know that. If they make a mistake, how do they publish corrections? Under what circumstances do they allow ‘blind’ quotes. Sharing clear policies for how facts are checked, shared, and attributed will build trust with readers.

For Platforms – like Facebook And Google – Awake News rewards platforms that provide clarity, sources, and content metadata that labels news, opinion and satire. Replacing invisible algorithmic robots with discovery tools and user-controllable filters will give ‘awake’ news consumers control and understanding of what they let inside their personal filter bubble.

For the Public – Awake News asks readers to question the content they read and share – and to be responsible news creators and curators. Let’s face it, we all have shared a salacious headline with a gleeful click – without taking a moment to check with Snopes to see if it’s true. Spreading bad information is no different than not washing your hands. A virus is a virus. And awake consumers can stop Fake News by exercising restraint and thoughtful social sharing.

If we are all willing to take responsibility for what we write, publish, read, and share, we can counteract the mayhem currently spewing out of the Fake News firehose. AWAKE News isn’t wishful thinking, it’s an essential evolution of our information ecosystem.

Let me show you – in a way you’ll remember, what happens when you choose to consume and share news without a conscious effort to find and socialize the truth. It feels like this – (turns his back). Pretty uncomfortable having me talk – with my back turned – disregarding my audience.

Vint Cerf, who was one of the Pioneers of the internet – inventing TCP/IP – the code to connect devices on the Internet, today, is the Chief Internet Evangelist at Google. And he says Fake News is fraught with real danger. He says we need to engage our most powerful tools to fight fake news. He’s talking about our brains.

So – many years later – I find myself thinking about my Russian Friend. No vodka this time. But the words my Pravda friend told me echo in my brain. “Read Between The Lines,” he said at the time. In hindsight, it seems like a powerful warning.

And so, I leave you with a single piece of Fake News advice: All news is ‘fake’ unless you know where it comes from, and trust the author or the publisher.

In the New World of News, content creators need to respect your values and the importance of telling a truth – even if it’s truth that comes from a perspective you don’t agree with. Facts – verifiable, demonstrable, and and trusted can fuel conversation and debate. Lies, on the other than, can not.

So, welcome to the new world. From the era of “Fake News” to the era of “Awake News.”

The Truth is important. The Truth matters. Whatever you do, and wherever you find it – don’t turn your back on the Truth.