Elon University

Keynote – Craig Newmark, Craigslist Founder and Internet Hall of Famer, Discusses Disinformation and Free Expression Online

Brief session description:

Monday, July 24, 2017 –  Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and a Web pioneer, Internet Hall of Fame member, philanthropist and leading advocate on behalf of trustworthy journalism and other civic and social justice causes, delivered a kickoff talk during the opening plenary session of IGF-USA 2017 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Read the print story and see video highlights on this page. You can view the full, archived video of Newmark’s talk here.

Details of the session:

Craig Newmark, founder of the San Francisco-based classified advertising website Craigslist, outlined how journalism organizations and news consumers should approach the sharing of information. In particular, he said it’s vital for people to understand the ethics and reputation of the outlets they choose to digest.

Newmark extolled his positioning as a journalism outsider, which he believes allows him to offer an unbiased perspective on the current state of the field. The computer engineer has donated $1 million to the Poytner Institute and is currently on the advisory board of Wikipedia.

Newmark said democracy hinges on the accuracy and accountability of the free press, and because of that it is imperative to assess the constantly morphing atmosphere of the journalism industry and address the problem of “fake news.”

“What I’m starting to do is work with organizations operating in good faith that are trying to do good things so it can get to a point where we are trustworthy of journalism again,” Newmark said.

Newmark said November’s presidential election was a “wake-up call” and forced journalists to revert back to the basics. Checking the facts, ensuring accuracy and issuing corrections when needed are more essential now than ever because of a heightened sense of skepticism regarding the dissemination of fake news. So, Newmark said, organizations must be as transparent as possible.

Newmark said companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple are taking steps to ensure the information they share is accurate, but that may not be representative of the entire tech industry. Newmark implored news organizations to act under a reliable code of ethics and to enact strong correction policies.

Newmark Keynote Address IGF PhotoNewmark suggested articles and websites be labeled with an accuracy score. Advertising companies rarely want to work with agencies that knowingly report inaccurate or fictitious content, so Newmark believes this step would be a useful check and balance. That way, if ad companies choose to partner with an unreliable organization, they would have made a “conscious choice.”

The 2012 Internet Hall of Fame inductee also said creating more fact checking organizations like PolitiFact could reduce disinformation. Newmark said Wikipedia is where “facts go to live,” but explained that the company is enduring issues attempting to verify its content. Many of its articles still have errors, so creating umbrella fact checking organizations would be a useful asset for journalism.

But just like reporters in other countries, fact checkers aren’t trusted and are even in danger of physical and reputational harm, Newmark said. If news organizations invest more in security and create a culture of appreciation, Newmark theorized it would aid in the fight against misinformation and fear among reporters.

“We’re beginning to see already networks of networks, who are merging to work together and know who is operating in good faith and who is not,” Newmark said. “No one is acting as an arbiter of truth. The watchdogs are these networks of networks of fact checkers and I’m hoping that they create an entity which is too big to fail and too big to be attacked successfully because these people are under threat right now.”

Newmark is planning to donate $3.5 million to other philanthropic causes, according to Nieman Lab. Organizations are already creating projects to address the issues he’s mentioned, which is a reason why he’s optimistic about the future.

“The wake-up call for people like me is to help the people doing good work in journalism and from there to put our money where our mouth is,” Newmark said.

– By Emmanuel Morgan

Click here to return to IGF-USA 2017 homepage.

The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at IGF-USA 2017 included the following Elon University School of Communications students, staff and faculty:

Janna Anderson, Bryan Baker, Camille Behnke, Liam Collins, Diego Pineda Davila, Colin Donohue, Maya Eaglin, Christina Elias, Meagan Gitelman, Alex Hager, Tommy Kopetskie, Deirdre Kronschnabel, Jared Mayerson, Emmanuel Morgan, Grace Morris, Jackie Pascale, Mariah Posey, Alexandra Roat, Ginna Royalty, Alexandra Schonfeld, Jamie Snover, Erik Webb, Brooke Wivagg.