The amount of digital information available to us at all times is continually increasing, and it is not all Pulitzer worthy.
It is almost impossible to watch cable news and not hear about fake news. Often a hyper-political term that is interpreted different ways, actual fake news describes stories presented as true, but have no basis in fact. There is no “spin” or subjectivity component; the stories are provably false.
As recently highlighted in MoneyLaundering.com, fake news can add additional challenges to the already complex role of compliance professionals. Fake news stories are often negative in nature, and identifying negative news is a critical element for investigators and compliance officers.
Not a New Problem
While the term “fake news” has recently gained a lot of attention, the task of vetting the reliability of news and Internet sources has been part of the daily job of analysts for years. During the course of any investigation, an investigator is faced with the task of determining whether information is found on a subject of interest. Is the source a reputable newspaper or media outlet? A displeased client posting on a consumer complaints board? These are the types of decisions analysts make whether they realize it or not.
While completely nonfactual news does add an additional wrinkle to source vetting, the process of vetting the credibility of a news source remains relatively unchanged.
Determining the Reliability of a Website
A useful resource for vetting source reliability is Northern Michigan University’s guide to Evaluating Internet Sources. This website provides a handy resource that outlines the below six elements to consider when evaluating a website for its reliability of information.
|Authority||Is it clear who is responsible for the contents of the page?
Is there a way of verifying the legitimacy of the organization, group, company or individual?
Is there any indication of the author’s qualifications for writing on a particular topic?
Is the information from sources known to be reliable?
|Accuracy||Are the sources for factual information clearly listed so they can be verified in another source?
Is the information free of grammatical, spelling, and other typographical errors?
|Objectivity||Does the content appear to contain any evidence of bias?
Is there a link to a page describing the goals or purpose of the sponsoring organization or company?
If there is any advertising on the page, is it clearly differentiated from the informational content?
|Currency||Are there dates on the page to indicate when the page was written, when the page was first placed on the Web, or when the page was last revised?|
|Coverage||Are these topics successfully addressed, with clearly presented arguments and adequate support to substantiate them?
Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information?
Is the target audience identified and appropriate for your needs?
|Appearance||Does the site look well organized?
Do the links work?
Does the site appear well maintained?
Not mentioned, but inherent in all of these elements, is the requirement for internal judgment, experience, and common sense.
Technology to the Rescue! </sarcasm>
Many large Internet companies, like Google and Facebook, have undertaken efforts to reduce fake news (which Facebook defines as “clear hoaxes spread by spammers for their own gain”) in their products. While one would think that these companies would implement the latest machine learning or artificial intelligence technology to easily root out the problem, it seems the most effective approaches have been providing tools that allow users to flag potentially false stories, and the use of human curators to review stories and sources.
From an investigative resource perspective, other websites have attempted to provide a solution in the form of “fake news checkers.” Sites like Media Bias Fact Check attempt to not only identify sources associated with the publishing of fake news, but also seek to identify bias in news sources along the political spectrum using the following methodology. This can be a very useful tool if you are unfamiliar with a website that may have a strong political leaning.
Sites like Fake News Checker aggregate fake news lists from different sources and combine that with Alexa information to provide some additional insight into the website’s visitor traffic information.
While the above sources can be helpful, it is extremely important to emphasize that the authors and groups who categorize websites should not be immune from the same analysis as outlined above.
While there has been an increase in the prevalence of completely nonfactual news, the techniques used to verify credible information online remain relatively unchanged. The ever increasing amount of digital information will continue to generate new and evolving issues, but having access to this information is a net benefit to compliance, AML, and investigative professionals.