Elections in India are just months away, and fake news on social media is a major concern. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is visiting the country, and has met Congress President Rahul Gandhi. He plans to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well, and sources said that fake news is likely to be a subject of discussion. However, Dorsey said that solving fake news is not going to be a single-step solution, but an evolving process.
"There will be no simple fix, but rather an evolving solution," Dorsey said, while speaking at IIT Delhi. "It's a lot like security, where no one can build a perfect lock, you just need to be 10 steps ahead of the people trying to break in. Maybe an AI will build a perfect lock someday."
The challenge, according to Facebook, is that artificial intelligence has difficulty identifying hate speech, which is very contextual. "Hate speech is often much more contextual, and you need to have a person reading to make the decision," explained Varun Reddy, a public policy manager for Facebook based in New Delhi.
Similarly, Twitter wants to reduce the scope of misinformation in order to properly tackle the question of fake news. "It's become very important to scope the problem, because misinformation is too broad a topic," said Dorsey. Quoting from the book Sapiens, Dorsey said that misinformation has been a critical part of human evolution. "We need to answer, what's the critical problem with misinformation? It's when it misleads people to take an action," he said.
Dorsey then gave an example of a tweet that included a phone number for people in the US to call, in order to register to vote. "This was dangerous, because people were not actually getting registered," which would have meant that their votes would not be counted, he pointed out. Therefore, he argued, "our job is not to identify misinformation, but to make sure it doesn't spread beyond its earned reach".
Dorsey did not, however, talk about whether a tweet which does not directly call for negative action, but helps create an atmosphere of violence, would be a concern for Twitter.
"We need to identify not misinformation, but misleading information, and there will be no single fix," he said.
Will Twitter ever get an edit button?
While speaking at IIT, Dorsey also addressed some popular questions about Twitter. For one thing, he said that making follower counts prominent was a mistake that the founders made in the early days of Twitter, and one that created unhealthy tendencies on the platform.
"It was okay 12 years ago, but it's not good today. The question that you need to ask instead is, 'how many healthy conversations do you have on the platform?'"
This is something that Twitter co-founder Ev Williams has also said in recent interviews. "It really put in your face that the game was popularity," he told ReCode. "I think showing follower counts was probably ultimately detrimental." But follower counts were a huge reason why Twitter succeeded in the early days, Williams acknowledged.
Dorsey also took on the perennial question of when Twitter will get an edit button, and replied that Twitter can't just "rush" it.
"You have to consider the question behind the question. Most people just want to make a quick correction, and that's not a bad thing," he said. "But you shouldn't be able to edit all tweets across time, otherwise I could tweet something, and you retweet it, and then I edit it. And then you've retweeted something you did not believe in."
"There are a bunch of things we can do, but are we solving a real problem? We have to make sure we're not making something that takes away from the public record," he added.