Overcoming Fake News and Echo Chambers in the Age of Social Media


Online news sources have grown significantly in recent years. With this increase, more people are relying on social media sites to discover and share news stories.

According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report of 2016, 51% of a global sample said they use social media as a source of news every week, and about 1 in 10 use social media as a main source of news.

Along with this emerging trend, access to free online platforms as well as tools that simplify the creation of websites have contributed to the spread of unverified stories. Together these factors influence the way news is discovered, consumed, and published.

This article aims to define two important media trends that have sprung up as a result: the proliferation of “fake news” and “echo chambers.” It will also provide insight into the actions of leading media companies to adapt to this changing framework and develop a new model for the future of journalism.

Defining ‘fake news’

Throughout 2016 and 2017, “fake news” was used to label misinformation campaigns that used social media and automated bots to intentionally spread false information. It has since evolved to become a toxic media brand used to describe inaccurate news.

To the alarm of many news professionals, politicians have also started using the term to undermine the credibility of unfavorable media outlets. For the sake of this article, the term “fake news” will be used to address any news stories that are simply false or purposely misleading.

According to the Reuters Institute’s 2017 trends and predictions report, by the end of the 2016 US Presidential election, there was actually higher engagement with fake news stories on Facebook than with accurate journalism (see below).

Due to the ease of sharing on social networks, untrue or exaggerated articles can spread quickly. Also, as the accepted definition of “fake news” remains ambiguous, these stories may be difficult to identify.

For these reasons, it has become increasingly important for news publishers to ensure their credibility with audiences in order to maintain a high level of integrity for their readers and to avoid being labeled as fake.

Fact-checking and data-based journalism to combat fake news

According to a 2017 report from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Policy, the issue of fake news can addressed by three primary methods: prioritizing fact-checking, promoting bipartisan discussion, and fostering a collaborative research environment. We have already seen shifts in influential media companies to meet these goals.

At its 2017 F8 conference, Facebook announced plans to outsource fact checking to third parties like Politifact and Snopes in order to provide analysis of claims being made by news outlets online. This year, the Google Digital News Initiative (DNI) also awarded funding to projects such as the British prototype: Fact-checking Automation and Claims Tracking System (FACTS). This platform seeks to be the first to fact-check claims automatically using statistical analysis.

The same report claims, “we should seek stronger future collaborations between researchers and the media.” In addition to reducing the cost of data-based journalism, some publishers are pursuing “open-data” based platforms that focus on shared use of data, research, and user collaboration.

In 2017, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced the launch of WikiTribune. “Articles are authored, fact-checked, and verified by professional journalists and community members working side by side as equals,” states the website. The project aims to produce “evidence-based” journalism that is founded on data, research, and user collaboration.

News aggregation and user-interaction to break echo chambers

When it comes to self-tailored media, or “echo chambers,” the main causes are twofold. The first is that many people share and interact with news stories they agree with or of which they approve. In addition, social media users are free to select which media outlets to follow, and which ones to block.

The result is a potential bubble of information that may discourage engagement with challenging viewpoints.

Even more, if the view or information reinforced by these media choices are inaccurate, it may lead to a personalized information trap of unreliable sources. This has created concern among readers who don’t want to miss challenging viewpoints.

To address this issue, some consumers are turning to news aggregators. In fact, according to the Reuters Digital News Report, 57% of respondents said they prefer news aggregators in order to access a variety of sources.

News aggregators like Google News and Yahoo Japan are already quite popular with people whom prefer to receive news from multiple sources.

In China a new app called Bingdu combines news aggregation, user-driven advertisements, and Facebook-style recommendation algorithms to attract around 10 million active users.

Another Google DNI funded initiative comes from Europa Press Comunicación via a news platform that aims to “facilitate the use of open-data both as a source of news and as a fact validation instrument.”

Solutions require collaboration and innovation 

The problems of fake news and echo chambers will not be solved overnight. We have already seen a shift in news production by leading media companies to ensure credibility in this changing media ecosystem. Innovative emerging publishers should continue to foster a strong relationship between publishers, readers, and researchers. This is an essential first step in building a more positive media landscape for the future.


Image sources: Reuters Institute’s 2017 trends and predictions reportReuters Digital News Report,

6 Key Strategies Media Companies Need to Prosper in the Future News Industry


One of the most striking trends in 21st century innovation is the significant potential for media to create value on a global scale.

Media, in all its forms, is fuelling economic growth, structural change, and technological advances like never before. As society debates the role and influence of media in a “post-truth” world, it is increasingly apparent that the future of media is crucial to shaping the future of humanity.

Media futurist Ross Dawson shared useful insights on how to create a vibrant future for media organizations in his keynote at the #SchibstedNext 2016 event held by Schibsted Media Group. You can see the video of the full keynote below.

Despite the widespread changes impacting the global media industry, Dawson pointed to the enduring and insatiable human appetite for information in a multichannel media world.

“Arguably the entire economy is becoming based on media, the creation of messages, the flow of messages, and where they are going,” Dawson said.

Here are six key ways in which media organizations can empower themselves to create their own future, drawn from Dawson’s talk at #SchibstedNext.

1. Create a compelling vision

“The best way to predict the future of media is to create it,” Dawson told the media leaders assembled in Oslo. For today’s media organizations, achieving a successful transition to tomorrow hinges on understanding “who it is we can be, who it is we want to be, moving forward”.

Forging a compelling vision for your media organization and communicating it effectively is vital for staff to adapt to the merging of technology and humanity, Dawson said, in an era when “technology is more and more capable, taking more and more of who we are”.

Without a clear strategic vision, companies are more likely to be blinded by past successes and overpowered by technological change. As the report of the 2020 group for the New York Times recently put it:

“To do nothing, or to be timid in imagining the future, would mean being left behind.”

2. Translate experimentation into value creation

Today, in the space of a day, you can test an idea, see how people respond, and develop it further. This has become a fundamental capability of every organization in the entire media industry.

“Revenue is highly uncertain, so you need to be able to experiment,” said Dawson. “For every experiment you should know what you want to learn, and when you learn that, you will be able to design the next experiment.”

Dawson referred to a basic test-and-learn model favored by entrepreneurs and outlined in The Lean Startup by Eric Ries: come up with an idea, put it into action, learn from that, iterate, and turn it into a result. “You can learn from others, absolutely, but you need to be able to create your own guidebook,” Dawson added.

Part of converting experimentation into value creation is a focus on community: “Being able to connect people, define what it is that’s common between them…to be able to create media which is relevant to all of those people, and to be able to filter that…to the individual…across many news or media organizations.”

3. Make the most of human and machine intelligence

Alongside advances in algorithms and the proliferation of convenient, high-tech user interfaces, robots and amateurs are now making music, art, video, and journalism in ways that were once limited to professionals. Dawson offered advice on how media organizations must respond:

“I believe that in the last 20 years, one of the most important things is how technology has enabled our creativity. If we are looking for the best media, we must bring together the professionals—who have the expertise and the context—with the amateurs, with all of us, with the many that are enabled by technology to create new possibilities.”

Optimizing both human and machine intelligence will become increasingly critical to value creation as organizations collect ever more data and achieve new milestones in consumer knowledge and engagement.

4. Ensure a clear and dynamic platform strategy

As existing and emerging media platforms vie for our attention, a solid understanding of platforms and their relationship to value creation is essential to steer media towards a positive future.

The best platform strategies, in Dawson’s view, are dynamic and user driven: “How is it you create value for participants? That’s the fundamental aspect of a platform,” he said. “Designing value for the participants in ways that they can create that together.”

In order to maximize value for participants across platforms, Dawson highlighted the role of data analysis, signal monitoring, user feedback loops, and collaboration with both internal and external platform creators.

5. Build on your existing capabilities and transcend their boundaries

A focus on transcending the boundaries has underpinned recent innovations in the media world, including the immersive virtual reality smartphone app available from the New York Times.

Media organizations must continue to think beyond the boundaries—such as print, broadcast, and even digital—if they are to create more compelling experiences for the audiences of tomorrow. Dawson elaborated:

“You need to be able to say, what are our capabilities today? What are we great at? What are we distinct at? What are we world-class at? What is it that we are going to build on? As organizations and individuals you need to be able to map your path and capability development moving forward.”

In order to transcend the boundaries and promote innovation, media brands are learning “to actually live what they are doing so that the messages that flow outside represent who they are,” said Dawson. This involves building the flow of communication and transparency internally in ways that mirror the external values and perceptions of a brand.


6. Foster bold and agile leadership to create your own future

Even as user participation in media continues to flourish, Dawson reminded the Schibsted audience that strong leadership remains crucial, because the future of media “is not a spectator sport.” As the Law of Requisite Variety makes clear, only those organizations that are as flexible as their environment will have the power to be able to create the future.

Therefore, leaders’ ability to put a bold vision into action, to push out the boundaries and set new standards for media will be crucial to success in the industry going forward. This is especially important because, at its core, the future of media “is an experiment,” Dawson believes.

“There is no roadmap to be able to say, this is exactly where the future of media is going. You need to create that. For your individual organization, it is going to be a different answer.”

What Motivates People to Click on News Stories


In the digital era, a news story’s success is often measured by its page views. Not only that, metrics play a large role in informing editorial decisions, partly because of the assumed link between clicks and audience interests.

While these statements may seem self-evident, a recent study in the academic journal Journalism reveals some cracks in these notions. Researchers at VU Amsterdam, a university in Netherlands, explored 56 news users motivations for clicking or not clicking stories by asking them to share their thoughts, or “think aloud”, as they browsed news online.

The researchers found several reasons for why people click on certain news items and not others. They also suggest that a lack of page views doesn’t necessarily mean users think a news story is not interesting or important.

Click-worthy news stories

Some of the motivations for clicking on news items:

    • They were personally relevant to a reader’s everyday life and offered information for discussions in social settings.
    • Events happened nearby, though what constituted close proximity was subjective.
    • Prominently placed news items received clicks because their location gave the impression that they were important.
    • Follow-up pieces were clicked, granted a user had been tracking the story and the news item had a new development.
    • Headlines with familiar information, such as a name, a news user recalled but could not immediately place.
    • Headlines, even if considered uninteresting, received clicks if accompanied by a visually appealing photo.
    • Amusing or funny headlines attracted clicks, even if story content had little value to users
    • Disheartening headlines garnered clicks, but not if they were perceived as excessively sad. “Feel good” headlines received clicks because of their light-hearted nature and positive affect on the reader, not because they fell into a particular news genre


Why people don’t click new items

  • Headline appears informationally complete, so there is no need to read full story.
  • There’s an associative gap between a headline and the story, so readers don’t connect the news item with their pre-existing interest in a topic.
  • Users already know the story, think the news is obvious, or that the news repeats itself (“supersaturation”) too often without providing new developments.
  • Headline is an opinion a news user disagrees with or is dismissed as petty.
  • A news item is too in-depth and the user doesn’t have enough context to understand it.

When not clicking doesn’t mean not interested

There were pragmatic reasons behind why users did not click on stories, even though they were interested in them.

  • Data-heavy stories weren’t clicked because they cost the user too much to view.
  • Items with videos were sometimes avoided because load times and commercials would disrupt user experience
  • Users didn’t have time to read the full story or thought they’d get more information on it later from a different source.

Other news users browsed headlines to stay informed, but were satisfied with this superficial “scanning” or “checking” that they didn’t click on stories. They went online for the news headlines alone.


In terms of page views, these findings give insights into what makes a headline weak versus strong and “clickable,” thus offering direction on how newsrooms can improve. However, behavior from news users who prefer to scan consistently for snack-sized developments suggests a more compulsive and cursory tendency in consuming news, and it’s doubtful that more effort in constructing headlines will translate into higher click through rates from this group.

If an online publication’s goal is to gain more clicks in order to bring in more advertising revenue, experimenting with site design and focusing on user experience may result in solutions that override the pragmatic reasons holding back user engagement.

The study suggests that news users are not simply interested in so-called trivial and soft news items, but that explanations for not clicking on a story are more complex and nuanced. If news organizations can focus in on what users do like, such as personally relevant stories and ones with social utility, while delivering it an user-friendly and and tailored format, it’s possible both to maintain journalistic integrity and better captivate audiences.

Read the full study here.

How Chatbots and News Messaging Apps Are Changing Editorial and Commercial Innovation


In a 2015 blog post entitled “The Future of News is Not an Article,” Alexis Lloyd, the then creative director of the New York Times R&D Lab, envisaged a future that unlocked the potential of “Particles” instead of articles.

She pointed to Particles, “the potentially reusable pieces of information within an article,” as the way forward for news organizations to encode information in a more accessible, relevant, and long-lasting manner:

“The Particles approach…means that news organizations are not just creating the “first draft of history”, but are synthesizing the second draft at the same time, becoming a resource for knowledge and civic understanding in new and powerful ways.”

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Lloyd’s essential message was that organizations must transcend the limitations of the traditional news article—a relic of a relatively print-dominated era when storytelling had fewer platforms—in order to make the most of, and the most impact in, a digital media environment.

Based on this premise, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has recently published a report by media consultant Kevin Anderson entitled “Beyond the Article: Frontiers of Editorial and Commercial Innovation”. The report urges news organizations to think “beyond the article” in terms of “both the content they produce and the commercial revenue that supports their journalism.”

‘News as conversation’

Given the pressures surrounding existing business models for news, Anderson argues that editorial and commercial innovation must go hand in hand to propel journalism forward in a digital world. One of the key developments he sees at this intersection is the use of messaging apps and chatbots. These platforms are fuelling the shift to “news as conversation,” an approach that seeks to capitalize on mobile and messaging trends, build closer relationships with audiences, and generate new commercial opportunities.

The potential of a “news as conversation” approach has become increasingly apparent since usage of the big four messaging platforms—WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber, and Facebook Messenger—overtook the big four social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat—in monthly active users throughout 2015 and 2016.

“Beyond the Article” covers three interesting case studies that harness this trend: the Facebook chatbots of social news network Rappler, the apps driving youth engagement with newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, and the conversational interface and notification system of the Quartz news app. The key findings of these case studies are highlighted below.

1. Helping people see the whole picture: Improving content discovery and crowdsourcing through Rappler’s Facebook chatbots


Rappler, a growing Philippines-based social news network, sought to overcome the content limitations of Facebook’s algorithms and newsfeed in a way that would better communicate its distinctive editorial voice and priorities.

“People are really seeing a lopsided view of what we are serving our public, and that has an impact on the quality of discourse,” Rappler’s head of research and content strategy, Gemma Bagayaua Mendoza, said in an interview with Anderson. “In the Philippines as in the United States, the echo chambers are really out there, and they are affecting how people respond to situations in current events. We would like to be able to have direct access to people so they see the whole picture.”


Rappler dedicated two developers to work on a Facebook chatbot called RapRap. Launched in July 2016, the chatbot is a conversational application that allows users to ask basic questions or enter keywords to see related stories from the Rappler site.

Rappler has also built a chatbot that assists people to contribute to its crowdsourced #NotOnMyWatch anti-corruption project. #NotOnMyWatch uses real-time data to show where and how corruption happens, a game-changing approach in a country where very few families who pay bribes actually report corruption.

Benefits and challenges

The first round of chatbot development was relatively quick and “the effort was fairly low,” according to Rappler’s then-CTO Nam Le. Despite this, spreading awareness about how users can interact with the bots remains important as technical developments unfold. The bots are expected to gradually recognize and respond to a greater variety of user requests and submissions.

The RapRap chatbot has helped Rappler to capitalize on a surge in Facebook activity amid declining Twitter usage in the Philippines. As the bot facilitates user discovery of the breadth and depth of Rappler content, the organization anticipates more story views and more advertising revenue. The sales team is exploring ways to make this happen.

Meanwhile, the chatbot for #NotOnMyWatch has benefited from crowdfunding and private-sector grants. By providing a convenient online reporting process, the bot is helping mobilize individuals and communities to supplant Facebook rants with actual reports of corruption. “This is something that we hope to carry into the next years. If we can make it work, it will make fighting corruption far more transparent,” said Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa at the Philippines Social Good Summit in 2016.

2. From a WhatsApp experiment to a custom-built app: Engaging youth audiences through chat at Helsingin Sanomat


Nyt (“Now”), the youth-oriented section of Finland’s largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, wanted to grow its reach among 15- to 26-year-olds. Initial efforts to engage this age bracket on social media had plateaued, with Instagram and Facebook strategies proving less successful than expected. Consequently, the Nyt team sought a new strategy to effectively engage with the target audience, especially its youngest members.


Realizing that WhatsApp is used by around 80% of youth in Finland, Nyt launched a WhatsApp newsletter in autumn 2014. It first sent subscribers a few top stories, a small number of headlines, and a joke. Although the team didn’t heavily market the newsletter and only expected a few hundred early adopters, within a week 3,000 users had joined. Shortly afterwards, Nyt had to cap the number of users at 5,000.

The limitations of the WhatsApp platform soon became apparent. Faced with what news editor Jussi Pullinen called “a manual labor hell” of managing multiple distribution lists and precariously navigating the platform’s terms of use, the Nyt team decided to work with an external firm to develop a custom-built app that could mirror the conversational format of WhatsApp.

Benefits and challenges

Nyt’s WhatsApp experiment offered a useful learning curve that informed the design of the app. The Nyt team had been surprised at the intensity of interaction from young WhatsApp users who asked questions, sent audio and video files, and gave direct feedback about what they wanted more of and what Nyt should change.

“People who were from the Helsinki region really liked getting tips on new restaurants or bars or info on events on the town via chat,” said Pullinen, rather than having to “go and look that info up”. Chat therefore proved to be a convenient, social and user-friendly way for Nyt to engage a youth audience. As Pullinen explained in a post on Medium:

“All in all, it felt very personal and very natural to be a media brand and to chat.”

But there was a significant stumbling block: WhatsApp users were not clicking through to the website. Consequently, rather than relying on website traffic, the Nyt app is designed to drive revenue through partnerships with local businesses who provide coupons, contests, and sponsored content. Building these partnerships requires more work than selling ad banners, but Nyt’s data indicates that its young readers tend to block or ignore ads, yet they are relatively open to reading quality sponsored content.

The Nyt app now has many times more users than those on the WhatsApp newsletter. However, maintaining user engagement has been harder. “Our core audience is on WhatsApp all the time. When you have a separate app, you have a threshold there,” Pullinen said in an interview for “Beyond the Article.” Despite this setback, the Nyt app continues to unlock valuable insights into the brand’s youth audience, including their preferences for a distinct editorial voice, a short digest format, and direct, genuine interaction.

3. Playful, creative and condensed: Newsbites, notifications and the Quartz brand experience


Given that consumer use of notifications tripled in many countries from 2013 to 2016, digital business news outlet Quartz wanted to enter people’s mobile notification streams. It sought to achieve this in a way that would align with its three guiding principles: “provide global business news, respect readers’ time, and go where the readers are.”


After weighing up several contrasting ideas, from a minimal mobile experience with extensive notifications to a mobile version of the full Quartz website, Quartz decided instead on an app with a conversational interface. In an article about the launch of the Quartz news app for iPhone, Zachary M. Seward explained:

“We put aside existing notions about news apps and imagined what our journalism would be if it lived natively on your iPhone. It wouldn’t be a facsimile of our website. It would be something entirely different, with original writing, new features, and a fresh interface.”

Launched in February 2016, the Quartz app presents users with newsbites, where they can click on an emoji-filled icon to receive a story summary in live-chat style messages, or they can skip to the next story. Users can also choose from four types of notifications: basic news updates, important and interesting news, “really, really big news,” and the “markets haiku”.

Benefits and challenges

Quartz’s chat-based app is strikingly relevant for time-pressed audiences and Millennials. The app’s instant responses mimic the familiar format of texting, generating a comfortable, amusing vibe similar to chatting with a friend. Although the app does not at first understand an individual user’s news preferences, the decisions that users make about article choice and notifications provide Quartz with a wealth of customer data points, fuelling feedback loops that may be used to build more efficient and personalized customer experiences.

Some people may find the app a bit limiting because it chooses which news stories to reveal, one at a time. But in the view of Adam Pasick, push news editor for Quartz, this is precisely the app’s crucial differentiator: “We’re providing a very slim, curated view of things that we find interesting,” he told Anderson. “This is really a small snack size as far as reading the news goes.” In contrast to the Quartz website’s array of in-depth feature articles, the Quartz news app thrives on its brevity, epitomized in the cryptic and popular daily Markets Haiku.


To help monetize the app, Quartz places visual ads within the app’s update stream. This may seem counter-intuitive given consumer trends towards ad-blocking and ad resistance. Nonetheless, for many users, the overall experience of the app is likely to be positive, convenient and even delightful. According to Quartz creative director Brian Dell, the goal is “to match our user’s context, and build the best brand experiences for that in a Quartzy way.”

Convergence in the business case for news as “particles” of conversation

In the three case studies above, the alignment of clear editorial goals with technology and business outcomes has paved the way for innovation in how people understand, experience and engage with news. By converting news into “particles” of conversation, Rappler, Helsingin Sanomat, and Quartz are making information resonate with their readers in direct and convenient ways that could revitalize brand-to-consumer relationships.

Nonetheless, there are many challenges involved in making chat-based news successful and sustainable. Harnessing the rise of bots and messaging is only one trend involved in creating the future of news—a future increasingly being shaped by the synthesis of editorial and commercial aspirations.

Image sources: Rappler.com, fightcorruption.ph, Helsingin Sanomat via Medium.com, Quartz via BrentManke.com, and Quartz via Mike Wickett