To fully understand fake news, you have to follow the money.

Meaning both the money that pays for it, and the money it pays.

The system behind both is adtech: surveillance-based advertising. Without it, we’d have no more fake news than we’ve had since forever in the offline world.

Also, before we seek remedies in policy, we need to look at our own participation in the adtech system.

For example, Privacy Badger tells me the excellent research paper you point to, Real Solutions for Fake News? Measuring the Effectiveness of General Warnings an Fact‑Check Tags in Reducing Belief in False Stories on Social Media, carries “21 potential trackers,” most of which plant tracking cookies for the adtech surveillance system in visitors’ browsers. Here’s a list of those trackers:


On that same page there is a cookie notice:

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Pro Tip: you don’t have to say “OK” to anything here. You can click on the little x and make the banner go away. But they don’t want you to do that. They want you to click on the big OK, or fail to “Manage Cookies.” (Which, if you click on that link, leads you to a giant, confusing and intentionally obfuscatory maze of “choices” in a “Privacy Preference Center” that gives you no way at all of going back to see whether or not the site complied with any of it. Oh, and nearly every site you encounter now has one of these, all meant to cause enormous amounts of labor, time and cognitive overhead on your part.)

This is the issue academic researchers need to be tackling, and journalists need to be writing about, especially because they are part of it.

I am too, both as editor-in-chief of Linux Jounral and through my involvement with centers at two universities.

Anyone interested in joining efforts to both understand and fight what is clearly a morally compromised and deeply destructive system, write me (doc at searls dot com) after visiting what I’ve written on the topic here and here.

Two books are also required reading for all who are interested (and everyone should be): Shoshana Zuboff‘s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and Brett Frishman and Evan Selinger’s Re-engineering humanity.

I‘m also working on more comprehensive versions of this comment. These will appear soon in Linux Journal and in my blog.

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