Our thanks to Stéphane Goldstein who kindly agreed to write this review and to the sponsors Manzama for making the event possible. Stéphane is the founder of community interest company InformAll, which promotes the relevance, tábhacht agus buntáistí a bhaineann le litearthacht faisnéise ar fud an domhain leabharlainne agus ina dhiaidh.
The University of Liverpool’s rather swanky London building was once again the venue for SLA Europe’s event on ‘News on News’, on 21st November. The meeting, attended by about 50 participants in person with further participants joining online, was an opportunity to hear from three guest speakers their contrasting takes on the shaping (and indeed the mis-shaping) of news.
First to speak was Andrew Duchon, Director of Data Science at Manzama, the current awareness and market intelligence provider. In a first for SLA Europe, Andrew presented via the web from the USA. He gave a disquieting overview about how the deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) mar thoradh ar níos mó cleachtais iriseoireachta uathoibrithe,en, and its capacity to generate news. AI depends on artificial deep neural networks, which seek to mimic the neural networks in the human brain to produce text, still images, Físeáin, srl. that can be adapted to different settings. Automated journalism, ina dhiaidh sin, deploys natural language generation to translate data into text in a form that people can understand. Put the two together, and you end up with a sophisticated capacity to create fake news almost infinitely, not least through the deployment of highly convincing fake video footage. This leads to worrying scenarios where AI is weaponised as part of information wars.
On the plus side, Duchon pointed out that deep machine learning can also be applied to the detection of fakes and deception; and that the effects of faking can be countered as long as there is a cadre of humans who, through training, can build their own capacity to detect deception. Encouraging healthy scepticism can also form part of the armoury against these dangers – there is a role here for information professionals. Nevertheless, the societal implications for trust and democracy are disturbing. Ina theannta sin, Duchon seemed sceptical about using the regulatory power of the law, since that tends to lag behind technological developments. Thairis sin, much of the available legal arsenal (e.g. libel law) can only be applied after much of the faking damage has been done.
The next speaker was Guardian journalist Martin Belam, who spoke about how social media has changed both everything and also nothing in the newsroom. Ba é a bhuíochas go n-athraigh roinnt rudaí chun cleachtais nua a léiriú,,en,ach tá nádúr bunúsach gníomhaíochtaí cosúil leis an méid a bhí siad ar feadh tamaill,,en,cé go bhfuil sé fíor go luathaigh na meáin shóisialta an timthriall nuachta,,en,thosaigh clúdach nuachta rollaithe go tapa blianta ó shin le CNN,,en,Cúpla sampla eile,,en,cuireann na meáin shóisialta níos éasca d'iriseoirí teacht amach do dhaoine - ach tá iriseoirí bainte amach i gcónaí,,en,ní dhéanann na meáin shóisialta ach an próiseas níos tapúla,,en,tugadh faoi deara,,en,is féidir leis a bheith greannmhar nuair a bhíonn cleasanna ar líne ag innealtóir na mbrandaí chun scéalta a spreagann a leasanna,,en,tráchtála nó ar shlí eile,,en,tá na cineálacha cleachtais seo beagnach nua do ranna PR,,en,mar a dúirt Belam,,en, but the underlying nature of activities is similar to what they have been for a while. Mar shampla, while it is true that social media has accelerated the news cycle, rapidly rolling news coverage actually started decades ago with CNN.
Another couple of examples: social media makes it easier for journalists to reach out to people – but journalists have always reached out; social media merely makes the process faster. Mar sin féin, it was noted, it can be irritating when brands engineer online stunts in order to provoke stories that suit their interests, commercial or otherwise, these sorts of practices are hardly new to PR departments.
A final example is the way that social media algorithms set the agenda by giving prominence to particular news items. But prioritising of stories is an age-old practice in journalism, albeit one traditionally performed by editors.
Mar sin féin, as Belam pointed out, some other things have changed more fundamentally. Lá atá inniu ann, for instance, news organisations need to be careful about disseminated news that is put out purely with the intention of sowing doubt. Léirigh Belam imní freisin faoi thionchar na meáin shóisialta ar shláinte mheabhrach na n-iriseoirí sóisearacha,,en,mar bhealach chun scéal a athdhéanamh gan é a dhiúltú,,en,ach tríd an argóint a aistriú,,en,Ach is é an dea-scéal ná go mbíonn go leor tionscnamh chun cabhrú le fírinneacht a aimsiú,,en,Polaitíocht,,en,FactCheck,,en,agus trí mheán na meán agus litearthacht faisnéise,,en,tá tiománaí ann chun cur chuige níos leithne le faisnéis a spreagadh,,en,Ar an iomlán,,en,tráthnóna smaointeoireachta,,en,fiú más rud é go raibh an chuid is mó de na rudaí a chuala muid a bhí ag tarlú agus a bheith ina chúis mhór imní,,en,Go raibh maith agat go leor le Coiste Imeachtaí an SLA chun imeacht spreagúil eile a eagrú,,en,chuig Seema Rampersad as na grianghraif a thógáil agus chuig,,en,chun an imeacht a urraíocht,,en,Is é an soláthraí is mó a thugann feasacht agus faisnéis mhargaidh faoi láthair d'eagraíochtaí seirbhíse dlí agus gairmiúla ar fud na cruinne,,en, who are constantly exposed to gruesome material on social media. The broadcasting of live, ongoing events has now become much more pervasive.
A more positive recent development is the teaching of media literacy, as exemplified by the work of The Guardian Foundation.
The final speaker was Jo Tinning-Clowes, who spoke entertainingly but seriously about Fifty shades of Fake. In her view, there is a scale of news fakery, from satire and parody at one end of the scale, to disinformation with malicious intent at the other.
The deliberate spreading of fake news is age-old. Propaganda, exaggeration, the falsification of material have been happening for centuries. But nowadays, there is more subtlety and nuance in the way that this sort of disinformation is generated and propagated. It’s less crude and more technologically sophisticated – as illustrated by the fake videos that Andrew Duchon talked about, and much of it consists of sowing doubt rather than crudely pumping out a particular viewpoint: there is a phenomenon of ‘whataboutism’, as a means of rebutting a story not by denying it, but by shifting the argument. But the good news is that initiatives abound to help detect fakery (e.g. Politifact, FactCheck) and through the medium of media and information literacy, there are drives to encourage more discerning approaches to information.
All in all, a thought-provoking evening, even if much of what we heard was troubling and cause for real concern.
Many Thanks to the SLA Events Committee for organising another stimulating event, to Seema Rampersad for taking the photographs and to Manzama for sponsoring the event. Manzama is the leading provider of current awareness and market intelligence to legal and professional service organisations around the globe.
Tá Jo Tinning-Clowes sásta cóip den chur i láthair a chur chugat,,en,cuir r-phost i,,en,Martin Belam de,,id; please email her at
Dr Andrew Duchon’s presentation Present and future applications of artificial intelligence for current awarenessalso included examples of computer-generated art. Andrew presented via webcast from the US, a first for SLA Europe.
Martin Belam of The Guardian reassured the audience that the underlying practises of the newsroom are unchanged
Jo Tinning-Clowes concluded her entertaining talk with some useful fact-checking advice
SLA Europe Events always provide good networking opportunities and News on news carried on the tradition
Guests enjoyed tasty canapes and drinks