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How Microsoft and NewsGuard use humans to fight fake news



Microsoft's Darren Laybourn and NewsGuard's Gordon Crovitz talk with Henry Blodget
Microsoft’s Darren
Laybourn and NewsGuard’s Gordon Crovitz talk with Henry Blodget
of Business Insider on Monday, December 3, 2018 at


  • Microsoft
    and NewsGuard
    are among the companies today fighting fake news with human
    oversight and moderation.
  • Disinformation and hoaxes have run rampant in recent
    years, fueled by tech platforms like Facebook.
  • Microsoft takes a different approach, manually curating
    trusted news for its MSN portal and funneling revenue back to
  • NewsGuard, meanwhile, assesses and rates news outlets
    so readers can learn more about the news outlets they’re
    looking at.

To fight fake news, some companies are turning to an old-school
technology: humans.

In recent years, the spread of misinformation and hoaxes have
been turbo-charged by algorithmic platforms like Facebook and
Google — from politically motivated Russian agents to
all-American fraudsters just trying to make a quick buck off
advertising revenues.

It’s become a subject of frequent criticism of the tech giants
that enabled it, who have responded by tweaking their tech to try
and eliminate it while maintaining the systems that made it
possible. But others are taking a different approach, eschewing
algorithmic fixes in favour of deliberate human curation and

Speaking at Business Insider’s IGNITION
in New York on Monday, Microsoft’s Darren Laybourn
and NewsGuard’s Gordon Crovitz talked about their organizations’
respective strategies for fighting fake news.

Laybourn, a 17-year Microsoft veteran, is the corporate vice
president of Microsoft News, where he oversees MSN, the Redmond,
Seattle company’s news portal. Microsoft doesn’t write news
in-house, instead leaning on a team of 800 people who can bring
in content from 4,5000 publishers around the world that the
company has deals with. (Business Insider is one of these

Readers are provided a range of perspectives, and news outlets
are vetted by Microsoft’s team beforehand — and paid for their

“I think we’re doing a really good job,” Laybourn said. “Over the
last four years, we’ve given back $700 million to publishers …
we’ve evolved to a model where we have no content of our own, we
just distribute the news.” It’s a starkly different approach than
Facebook’s anyone-can-share free-for-all (with significant
additional costs), but the curation makes it far, far harder for
fraudulent publishers to sneak in.

Meanwhile Crovitz, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal
(and a board member of Business Insider),  is cofounder of
NewsGuard, a service that rates news outlets on their “trust and
accountability.” It measures them on a series of criteria and
then provides “nutrition labels” that can brief news readers on
the specific news outlet they’re viewing.

“On the internet, everything kind of looks the same, and it’s
really hard for regular people to know if this is a trustworthy
source or not,” the media exec said. “For the social media
companies and the search engines, it’s all one giant

NewsGuard employs 30 journalists to vet news outlets, and the
outlets it covers now account for 98% of news consumption in the
US, he said.

“Part of the problem of these platforms is … [an]
engineering-focused culture, where surely every problem can get
solved by a machine,” he added. “But at some point human
intelligence … is more effective than artificial intelligence.”

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