Could the Free Market Fix Fake News?


Misinformation plagues our lives and is challenging our democracy. But like any wise capitalist knows, with every challenge comes an opportunity. And that’s exactly what we could use right now: the free-market needs to help fix the spread of fake news.

I recently wrote a piece for The Hill titled, “Fake, manipulated videos are on the rise — are we ready for this media jungle?,” in which I describe how new programs are making it possible for just about anyone to digitally manipulate video.

Soon, with little technical skill and on the cheap, you will be able to digitally create video of any person doing just about anything. As I write in the article, “From the person’s mannerisms, to the inflection in their voice, to their speech pattern — everything that makes that person who they are will seem genuine as you watch. Real and fake video will be almost indistinguishable from each other.”

This is of course unsettling, but I did find some solace in my research while interviewing Eric Newton, innovation chief at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Newton thinks that one day there will be “fact-technology” that will examine misinformation in real-time for everyday use. “I think at the rate we’re going there is a reasonable assumption that this will be a product area,” he said.

He compared it to the same way we have programs for virus protection for our computers or spam filters for our email. Just as problems with hacking and junk messages created a need for solutions to these problems, the emergence of misinformation will create the demand for ways to counteract nefarious content.

Most of us would not dare exploring the web without having an anti-malware program; perhaps soon we won’t want to browse the web without a program that is a fake news indicator. Something that could instantly detect if video has been manipulated or cross-reference thousands of stories at once to see how accurate an article is that you’re reading.

Of course economics 101 says we need demand to receive this type of service. So I guess the real question is does our society (or at least the majority) care enough to drive this kind of innovation?

If we do, think about how much we could accomplish in a short period of time. For example, in less than 15 years we went from phones that could not text to devices that can catch Pokemon on our street.

When the masses want progress, the market accommodates.

Hopefully, the free-market will do what it does best: fix this problem. This challenge could really use that American ingenuity.