Apple chief executive Tim Cook says “yes fake news is killing minds,” and governments and tech firms must act to stop it.
Cook told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that falsehoods are being spread by people who want “to get the most clicks, not tell the most truth. It’s killing people’s minds in a way.”
Tech companies have been criticized for doing too little to weed out fake news. Cook says firms have a duty to “create some tools that help diminish the volume of fake news” without curbing free speech.
In an interview published Saturday he calls for a “massive” campaign to raise awareness of untrustworthy news stories.
Cook says “we need the modern version of the public service announcement campaign. It can be done quickly if there is a will.”
Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke about the dangers of the promulgation of fake news on Thursday after conspiracy stories involving her campaign spurred violence recently.
“The epidemic of malicious fake news and fake propaganda that flooded social media over the past year, it’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences,” Clinton said.
She was referring to the “Pizzagate” incident in D.C. this weekend, which came to a terrifying head. A man believing a fake news story that Clinton and her aides were running a child sex ring out of a D.C. pizzeria entered the restaurant Sunday and fired a gun; no one was injured.
“This isn’t about politics or partisanship — lives are at risk. Lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days, to do their jobs, contribute to their communities,” Clinton said in a speech at the Capitol where she and other lawmakers were honoring retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
Other businesses around Comet Ping Pong have also received threats after conspiracy theories were peddled online, including by Infowars’ Alex Jones, whom President-elect Donald Trump has praised. Abdel Hammad, owner of neighboring Besta Pizza, said he has also received threats amid allegations his business is also involved in child trafficking, and he told NPR member station WAMU that even though he voted for Trump, he is now rethinking that decision.
“It’s a danger that must be addressed, and addressed quickly,” Clinton continued. “Bipartisan legislation is making its way through Congress to boost the government’s response to foreign propaganda, and Silicon Valley is starting to grapple with the challenge and threat of fake news. It’s imperative that leaders in both the private sector and the public sector step up to protect our democracy and innocent lives.”
The pointed comments from Clinton came amid a rare public appearance for the former nominee over the past months since she lost the election. At the outset of her speech, she made a joking nod to her reclusiveness.
“This is not exactly the speech at the Capitol I hoped to be giving after the election, but after a few weeks of taking selfies in the woods, I thought it would be a good idea to come out,” she said, laughing.
That’s what happened to a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., recently, when an armed man claiming to be “self-investigating” a fake news story entered the restaurant and fired off several rounds.
But once a fake news story is out there, and the harm has been done, what can a person do about it?
Derigan Silver, a professor of media, First Amendment and Internet law at the University of Denver, tells NPR’s Audie Cornish that victims of fake news stories have legal recourse under defamation law.
“Fake news sites are clearly a situation where they’re engaging in a defamatory statement, a false statement about another that damages that person’s reputation,” Silver says. “In that situation, that is certainly actionable.”