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Re: A Credibility Use Case: Lessig v New York Times ("Clickbate Defamation")

From: Bob Wyman <bob@wyman.us>
Date: Sun, 29 Aug 2021 21:10:00 -0400
Message-ID: <CAA1s49VOPfY0R2R_nL_ZC_JRfxFL4NH2MUKNj3PMeB2E9J-zhA@mail.gmail.com>
To: Sandro Hawke <sandro@hawke.org>
Cc: Credible Web CG <public-credibility@w3.org>
Sandro wrote:

> it's perhaps the kind of situation where ANYONE willing to spent 30
> minutes hard work can evaluate it.

I chose the Lessig v NYT example, in part, because it is so easy to
evaluate. In fact, the New York Times' own defense was to say that anyone
who actually read the article would realize that the headline was
inaccurate. The problem here is that, given the New York TImes' reputation
for credibility, few people will actually question the headline's accuracy
unless some signal can be attached to it to indicate that further
evaluation is needed or, at least, that it is controversial. To amplify
your Alice & Hitler example: It's as though a headline said: "Alice likes
Hitler," even though she's quoted in the article's paragraph 25 as saying:
"I hate Hitler, but I like his style of painting." While we might question
Alice's aesthetic sense, there is no reasonable way to go from her
statement to the headline's clear meaning. But, given that the quote is in
paragraph 25, few readers will discover the contradiction on their own.
Most readers will forever think of Alice as someone who likes Hitler and
may remain comfortable with that belief because it is based on statements
by the highly credible New York Times. ("Who am I to dispute what the NYT
has written?") Had the claim been made by some other source, many readers
might have either ignored it or questioned it. In such cases, credibility
is a problem since it discourages readers from questioning statements.

bob wyman

On Sun, Aug 29, 2021 at 8:37 PM Sandro Hawke <sandro@hawke.org> wrote:

> Interesting scenario.  A few thoughts.
> This is not low-hanging fruit. Evaluating contradictions between credible
> sources, like this, seems like harder territory to address than some common
> cases like: a source with no obvious credibility rating, so people end up
> believing it because it says something they like or uses a nice layout.
> But maybe it's not that hard either.  The easy thing about this is that
> it's perhaps the kind of situation where ANYONE willing to spent 30 minutes
> hard work can evaluate it.  Lessig's argument is that the NYT headline and
> lede are dangerously misleading summaries of his article and the
> interview.  No special information or access or skill is necessary to
> evaluate Lessig's claim that the NYT got it wrong; just read the article
> and interview and think a little.  That kind of thing can be sort of
> crowd-sourced. It's not like a public health claim or a mystery.
> It's quite hard among self-contained fact-checks, though, because the text
> has some nuance and the topic is extremely sensitive.  It's like if Alice
> makes a false derogatory statement about Adolf Hitler, then who wants to
> wade into the muck, fact check her, and get branded a Hitler apologist?
> And then if her argument required some nuance, ... it's a total mess.
> On the mechanical issues:
> It's clear to me we need a credibility layer independent from the content
> layer.
> When you're viewing content from X, you need independent annotations and
> filtering based on signals from your whole credibility network, beyond the
> control of X.
> Ways this could be done:
> 1. When you're getting your content through social media, the credibility
> layer can be implemented by the social media platform. I expect social
> media vendors will be happy to do this once the system is proven to work
> well but not until then.
> 2. When you're getting your content through a browser, the credibility
> layer could be implemented in a browser extension for now and eventually in
> the browser itself. I think browser vendors would love to do this if the
> system is proven to work well, but not before then.
> 3. The website for X *could* provide the credibility layer branded as a
> neutral 3rd party service that they swear they wont tamper with. I think
> this is more likely for product vendors than news vendors. X could be a
> manufacture of Widgets, and they want you to use your credibility network
> to see that people generally have a great experience with X's Widgets. I
> think it could also work for news sites, though.
> I think the most promising deployment strategies are via (1, above)
> finding a small social media platform that's interested in making this
> their distinctive feature, and via (3, above) finding some high traffic
> sites who are very confident of their credibility rating among people who
> know them and want to spread the word to others.
>     -- Sandro
> On 8/29/21 5:34 PM, Bob Wyman wrote:
> Many think that reliable credibility signals will be useful in addressing
> the problem of misinformation. But, how do credibility signals help, or
> hurt, when one highly credible speaker accuses another highly credible
> speaker of spreading misinformation? Can credibility signals make it harder
> to combat misinformation?
> Some context: On Sept 14, 2019, the New York Times carried an article
> discussing a medium.com post written a few days earlier by Lawrence
> Lessig. While the body of the article summarized Lessig's arguments
> with reasonable accuracy, its headline inaccurately described Lessig's
> position and did so in a way that Lessig believed caused him significant
> and lasting harm. (For context, see: https://clickbaitdefamation.org/ )
> Lessig asked for a correction, but the New York Times, for quite some time,
> refused to act, saying that anyone who read the entire story would realize
> that the headline was inaccurate. Lessig argued that most people would
> believe that the headline was accurate, since the NYT is highly credible,
> and that most who saw the headline wouldn't read the entire article.
> Eventually, the NYT backed down and made a correction to the online story.
> The New York Times is widely considered to be highly credible. It has been
> publishing for a long time, it has won thousands of awards, and can present
> many other indicators of credibility that could be captured in signals.
> Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Harvard, co-founder of
> CreativeCommons.org, winner of many awards, and once presidential
> candidate, is also able to present many positive credibility signals. Yet,
> Lessig and the New York Times are in conflict. In this case, not about an
> article, but just the article's headline.
> Given the Lessig v NYT controversy, how do credibility signals help or
> hurt the ability of third-party readers to correctly identify
> misinformation? How would credibility signals have helped limit the impact
> of the misinformation in the New York Times' headline? Also, while Lessig
> was able to mobilize his considerable public reputation and spend a great
> deal of effort and expense in combating the NYT, we must wonder if someone
> without his many positive credibility signals would have found it
> dramatically harder, if not impossible, to either defend themselves or
> convince the NYT to correct the headline. When a highly credible source
> spreads misinformation about someone whose credibility can't be well
> established, should credibility signals be considered harmful or
> counter-productive?
> Given the web as we know it, Lessig was able to rebut the NYT article by
> writing a 3,500 word piece on medium.com. Lessig also coined the term
> "Clickbate Defamation" and created a website devoted to it. Further, he
> contacted the New York TImes, he was interviewed by a variety of other news
> organizations, and he created a podcast series to lay out his case in
> detail. He also filed a legal suit for damages against the New York Times.
> Of course, even with all that effort, only a tiny fraction of those who
> read the NYT piece ever became aware of Lessig's determined and voluminous
> rebuttals. His credibility remains severely challenged in the opinion of
> many readers of the original story who never saw the follow-up. Had Lessig
> fought less, or been less well-known, it is quite possible that the
> correction would not have been made. The New York Time remains, of course,
> considered by many to be a credible publisher.
> There are a couple interesting "mechanical" issues here:
>    - While the New York Times would be likely to present, embedded on its
>    own website, a great many signals attesting to their own credibility and to
>    that of their writers, they are unlikely to be as vigorous in presenting
>    similar signals concerning the many subjects of their writing. Thus, within
>    the context of any story, the signals are always likely to be very biased
>    towards the writer or the publication. Is a reliance on one-sided,
>    self-asserted credibility signals a problem that should be addressed?
>    Should there be a way to "inject" off-site, but relevant, credibility
>    signals into the readers' context? If so, how?
>    - Unless the New York Times provides for comments (they only do so on
>    some stories), any rebuttals of their articles, or challenges to
>    their credibility, are likely to be seen by only a tiny percentage of those
>    who read the rebutted articles or statements. Even when comment sections
>    are provided, the NYT moderates those comments, controls their
>    presentation, etc. Thus, it is likely that even if Lessig had been able to
>    write a comment on the NYT site, few readers of the headline, or even of
>    the full article, would have seen the comment. (Note: Annotation systems
>    could help here, if more widely used.)
> Should credibility signals be useful in a case such as the Lessig v NYT
> controversy? If so, how are they useful? What is their role? If they are
> not useful, or are counter-productive, what is the value of credibility
> signals? Can the utility of credibility signals be increased by some change
> to their design or implementation?
> bob wyman
Received on Monday, 30 August 2021 01:11:26 UTC

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