Public notebook

Friday’s Lies

Friday is lie day, it appears.

In an article in The Economist, “Lie Detector“, we learn about Demaskuok, a Lithuanian tool developed to spot fake news, a much larger problem there because of the intensity of its information war with Russia.

The tool spots fake news story candidates for analysis by humans by looking for things that make content more likely to be disinformation, including that it’s posted on a Friday.

Another clue is that disinformation is crafted to be shared. Demaskuok therefore measures “virality”—the number of times readers share or write about an item. The reputations of websites that host an item or provide a link to it provide additional information. The software even considers the timing of a story’s appearance. Fake news is disproportionately posted on Friday evenings when many people, debunkers included, are out for drinks.

Other reasons for posting fake news on a Friday spring to mind. People are tired and their defences are lower at the end a working week. Take a look at gyms on Friday morning vs Monday, or see how many people have a pastry or other treat instead of healthy porridge. In matters of information vigilance perhaps we are, as with diet and exercise, Spartans on Mondays and fatigued guards half asleep at our posts by Friday.

Velocity is another possible reason. As The Economist notes, fighting fake news is a race against time. If fake stories survive unchallenged in the news and social media for long enough they stick in people’s minds and become accepted. Weekends mean fewer people at work who may be able to spot and debunk information that is wrong. They get two days of lower scrutiny in which their story can take hold and start spreading under its own momentum.

Disinformation may be getting easier to identify with techniques and tools like this, but the goals of information war are harder to see. It’s commonly thought that the professional dissemblers are trying to stir up

Moreover, some worry that even Demaskuok’s success may play into Russia’s hands. Rob Procter, professor of social informatics at the University of Warwick, in Britain, offers a sobering thought. The Kremlin’s goal, he suggests, is not so much to convince Westerners that certain falsehoods are the truth. Rather, it wants its adversaries to doubt that anything can be trusted as true. If this is the aim, software that increases the number of news reports which get debunked may, paradoxically, have the opposite effect to that intended

Or maybe that’s just what they want you to think.

Public notebook

What you humans call common decency

For a little while, first thing this morning, the most-read article on the FT this morning wasn’t Brexit*, war or impending catastrophe of any of the current flavours, but a heartwarming story of how a few kind words from a member of cabin crew made someone feel a bit better.

It wasn’t dramatically over the top service. They didn’t perform a miracle. They were just an empathetic and tried to make things a little better. But it won over Pilita Clark:

“In an age of relentless customer service surveys and blather about “customer delight”, that flight attendant was a reminder of how little it takes to turn customer relations disaster into triumph — and how rarely it is done well. I have lost count of the times a bank or phone company person has responded to a plea for help with a computer-assisted wall of chill. Sympathetic, warm and humorous people may not be the easiest to find. But any company that manages to put them at the heart of customer relations will always be one step ahead, especially when that help is most needed 30,000 feet up in the air.”

There’s going to be a flurry high fives and glowing emails of pride over at Qantas HQ this morning.

You might take the wrong moral from this story: treat every customer as if they are an FT columnist because… they might be! The better lesson is to hire, train and support humans to be able to act like nice humans when faced by another sub-set of humans called customers. This can be achieved by letting the first kind of human have enough humanity left intact after undergoing processing and by the corporate machine that they can show it to the customer kind of human.

* This was about 6 a.m. An hour later when I checked, the top story was – once again as it seems it shall ever be – Brexit.