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Just the Facts, Ma'am: Q+A with Challenge Creator Diane Francis

BY MAUREEN MURTHA | 3 min read

Diane Francis is an American-Canadian journalist, entrepreneur, commentator and author of ten books. You can add "HeroX Challenge Creator" to that list, as of last month when we officially launched the Fast and Furious Fact-Check Challenge. Every once in a while, a challenge comes along that aligns perfectly with current events, and this time, it's all about the integrity of information. As coverage of US federal politics becomes increasingly divisive, public frustration with media biases and lack of trust in politicians is more apparent than ever. With the Fact-Check Challenge, Diane Francis has tapped directly into the need for better, faster, and ubiquitous fact-checking of information, the solution to which would be an indispensable tool for anyone who values the truth. We jumped at the chance to ask her a few questions about the particularly heated subject of her challenge.

Q:You’ve had a long and distinguished career in journalism, and witnessed tremendous shifts in how we consume news - do you recall at what point the need for an innovation in fact-checking became apparent to you? 

A: The traditional media has been hollowed out by tech giants like Google and YouTube and Facebook for a number of years. They have captured the eyeballs, but never replaced the curation that professional journalists working in newsrooms performed. They don't do follow ups either to keep "them" or sources honest, whether it's politicians, sports figures or any other public figures. The creation of real-time news through multiple platforms bombards the public with information that cannot be checked in real time. That is what's missing and must be created as soon as possible: A tech solution to a problem caused by tech.

Q: Similarly, when did you realize you wanted/needed to run a HeroX challenge? Did you pursue any other avenues for solving this problem prior to creating an incentive prize?

A: I'm a member of Peter Diamandis' Abundance360 organization and he challenged us at his two-day conference this winter to identify an issue(s) that were very personal and important to us and the rest of the world then find a tech solution. HeroX presented and I suddenly had my epiphany -- real-time fact checking using emerging technology.

Q: According to polls taken near the beginning of the primaries, both the current Democrat and Republican presumptive nominees were deemed more dishonest than honest by the largest margins of their respective cohorts. They both proceeded to win the majority of votes. What do you think that says about general perception (and value) of truth in public figures?

A: I think that demonstrates two things: That the public wants honesty and perceives apparent dishonesty and secondly that the hollowing out of the traditional media and its replacement with a wild, uncurated social/Internet media has aggravated the problem to the point where we have people running for public office that tell lies, on purpose or whatever.

Q: How does the popularity of social media factor into fact-checking, currently? Could it be a useful tool for outing falsehoods?

A: Social media as well as algorithms, data science, crowdsourcing, AI and whatever else is available will be the materials that this new "house" of accuracy and curation will be created from.

Q: Does the direct commercialization of news via the structure of ad sales and search engine "hits" have a serious affect (one way or another) on the spread of bad information?

A: Ads drove the legacy business model too and are not the problem unless they are allowed to contaminate or blend with the news and facts. The problem is that Google, Facebook, Twitter and the Internet are de facto publishers and have, so far, ducked any responsibility or liability for spreading damaging mistruths, inaccuracies or propaganda without justification. Newspapers and TV broadcasters could never do this and neither should the real-time media.

Q: What industry or professional field has the greatest potential to provide an ideal solution to your challenge?

A: Tech, tech, tech. Don't know what or what combination of emerging technologies but I do know that curation by humans is too slow and dangerous to rely on given today's real-time dissemination.

Q: If a full-blown solution to the fact-check challenge appeared tomorrow, what do you imagine the immediate impact would be?

A: It would help keep them honest. It would level the playing field finally for voters, consumers and investors.

Q: If you could use an incentive prize to solve any OTHER problem close to your heart, what would that be?

A: One Challenge at a time and I also want to use this space to make it perfectly clear that if there are other donors out there who want to increase this $50,000 prize to attract more and bigger teams then I'd be happy to partner this.

Q: Funny enough, two of the most well-known aphorisms are “the truth hurts” and “ignorance is bliss” -- do you think most people prefer to hear biased or misleading information over the real facts?

A: Nobody likes to be lied to or misled. This is one of the greatest tragedies of human existence and has caused misery, violence, wars, suffering and damage.

Q: And finally -- as we ask everyone this -- do you have a favorite fictional superhero - or real-life personal hero? Or both?

A: Gandi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, not fictional characters.

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