Jimmy Wales: Fake news “a quantum leap we should be very concerned about”


Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales speaking at Westminster Media Forum, April 2018. Credit: Daniel Bruce

“The advertising-only business model has been incredibly destructive for journalism,” said Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales at a Westminster Media Forum event on Thursday 26 April 2018 in London that looked at “fake news”.

“We need to resolve the incentives so that it makes sense and is financially sustainable to do good news,” Wales added.

Wales cited examples of false news stories that had been published on the Mail Online, such as an article featuring a projection of a perfect horizon in Beijing, erected as a way to compensate for the pollution, which proved fake, and a story claiming the Pope supported Donald Trump. He said the Daily Mail of 20 years ago was different. While not what he would choose to read, he thinks there is a place in the media landscape for tabloids, but one running fake news is “a quantum leap we should be very concerned about”.

Suggesting alternatives to advertising-only models, Wales said the Guardian’s donation request box (which he admitted he had consulted on) was an excellent example of how a media organisation can earn money without compromising standards. Meanwhile, a total paywall was very beneficial for some media, in particular financial media, with those readers valuing inside knowledge on the markets, though it would not suit all (the Guardian’s Snowden files, for example, were information he said he would want everyone to be able to access at the same time).

Wales’s concerns about the advertising-only, clickbait-style media models were echoed by others throughout the conference. Drawing an impressive panel of industry experts across media, law and tech, they all united in the view that while fake news meant a myriad of things to many different people, and was not something new, it was nevertheless problematic. Mark Borkowski, founder and head of Borkowski PR, spoke of the 19th-century great moon hoax and how “everything is different and everything is the same” before adding: “The speed at which we expect to get information, without proper fact-checking, is a plague.”

Nic Newman from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism proposed different ways for media to gain more trust, of which “slowing down” was one. Richard Sambrook, former director of global news at the BBC and now director of the Centre for Journalism at Cardiff University, said the rise in the number of opinion pieces over evidenced-based journalism was because they were cheaper to commission.

Better education about what constitutes good quality, reliable media was another solution proposed.  

“Audiences need better education and sensitivity around algorithms,” said Kathryn Geels, from Digital Catapult.

Katie Lloyd, who is development director at the BBC’s School Report and who runs workshops around the country educating school children into news literacy, said there was a sense of urgency and confusion when it came to the topic and that teachers feel like it really needs to be taught.

“Young people are on the one hand savvy and on the other not so much and need extra help,” said Lloyd, adding that of those children she had interacted with, most knew what fake news was in principle, but not how to spot it.

“When we started talking to teachers they said they didn’t have the tools and the skills to teach it,” she added, tapping into a point raised by head of home news and deputy head of newsgathering at Sky, Sarah Whitehead, who said media education was just as important for older people as it was for the young, as the world of online was not the domain of only one group.  

Lloyd also explained that diversity was essential when it came to who was delivering news as people were more likely to trust news from those they could relate to. This was in response to an audience member saying they had spoken to school children who expressed that they respected news on Vice over the BBC. Lloyd agreed that it was essential for news organisations to have a wide range of people in terms of age and background. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1524822984082-ad9d065c-d104-5″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

19 March: Where is Bassel Khartabil?


Join the Jimmy Wales Foundation and other organisations, including Index on Censorship, in a day of solidarity, awareness and support for Palestinian-Syrian open access activist Bassel Khartabil.

Khartabil was detained on 15 March 2012, the first anniversary of the Syrian uprising, as he left work in the al-Mezzeh district of the city. He has been in prison for four years, although his exact location is currently unknown.

Khartabil started Syria’s first hackerspace in 2010 to help advance the open source movement in the country. He is also known for his work with on free culture projects such as Creative Commons, Wikipedia and Mozilla Firefox.

On 12 November 2015, Khartabil’s wife, Noura Ghazi Safadi, reported rumours that her husband had been sentenced to death by the military courts, although the Assad regime has yet to confirm or deny the reports.

On Saturday 19 March people around the world will take to the streets, including at a demonstration at Marble Arch in London, to #FreeBassel. Find the Bassel cutout and take selfies with him and upload it with #WhereIsBassel on social media.

When: 19 March, 2pm
Where: Marble Arch, London (Map)

Bassel Khartabil: Four years since arrest of Palestinian-Syrian online freedom activist


Four years have passed since Palestinian-Syrian software developer Bassel Khartabil (aka Bassel Safadi) was arrested in Damascus. Following the protests that swept the country in 2011, Syria descended into civil war, leading to a conflict which has now claimed over 250,000 lives. Khartabil was detained on 15 March 2012, the first anniversary of the Syrian uprising, as he left work in the al-Mezzeh district of the city.

The online activist was tortured for five days by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and was then tried without having access to a lawyer by a military court on charges of “harming state security”. His trial lasted a matter of minutes.

Back in 2010, Khartabil started Syria’s first hackerspace, Aiki Lab, in Damascus. It was a base from which he helped advance the open source movement in Syria. Khartabil is also known for his work on free culture projects such as Creative Commons and Mozilla Firefox, and was an avid contributor and editor to Wikipedia. Prior to his arrest, he was working on software to enable the free flow of information in a country where online communications and networks were closely monitored by the government.

Because of his efforts using technology to promote an open and free internet — especially in Syria, where online censorship is rife and access to knowledge is scant — Khartabil won the 2013 Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named him as one of the top 100 global thinkers.

basselUntil 3 October 2015, he was being held at Adra Prison in Damascus by the Syrian government. Without prior warning, he was moved to an unknown location, although there is speculation he may have been transferred to the Military Field Court in Qaboun. On 12 November 2015, Khartabil’s wife, Noura Ghazi Safadi, reported rumours that her husband had been sentenced to death by the military courts, although the Assad regime has yet to confirm or deny the reports.

“I’ve just gotten disturbing and shocking news that Bassel has been sentenced to death. I think this means that the transfer to military prison was very dangerous. I really don’t know other news. May God help him, we hope it’s not too late. We are worried sick about his life,” Ghazi Safadi wrote.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has deemed Khartabil’s imprisonment as arbitrary and in violation of international law. He has already spent four years unlawfully behind bars with very little contact with the outside world. He was married in prison and has spent four birthdays there.

We encourage you to join Index on Censorship in renewed calls for Khartabil’s immediate release. On Saturday 19 March, a worldwide demonstration in support of Khartabil will take place, including a protest at Marble Arch in London.

In the run-up to the demonstration, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales advocated for Khartabil’s freedom. “The current case that I’m really, really campaigning for is the case of Bassel,” he said. “It’s a huge deal; go out and find out about it, but get involved in all of these cases.”

Khartabil’s absence has been felt not only by his family but by the communities he has worked so hard to foster. We must not forget the contributions this champion of free speech has made to digital freedoms.

What’s Russia blocking on the web?

Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot – videos of their “Punk Prayer” protest are blocked by Russian authorities

April saw a bizarre variety of sites blocked by the Russian authorities or internet service providers – among them Pussy Riot videos, Wikipedia, the Yandex search engine, Blogger blogs, sites promoting bribery and corruption, sites of land developers and the humorous anti-encyclopaedia Absurdopedia (the Russian version of Uncyclopedia). Even the parody website Gospoisk (gossearch.ru) was blocked. The site is a fake search engine, ostensibly created with government support: when a visitor types a query in the search box, he or she is asked to enter his first and last name, patronymic, passport details, address and the reason for the request. Compiled by Andrei Soldatov