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tv   Amanpour on PBS  PBS  December 20, 2017 12:00am-12:30am PST

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welcome to this edition of "amanpour on pbs." tonight the truth behind fake news. the founder of wikipedia tells me how he's fighting back against the epidemic. and a pulitzer prize winning author on how she became a target of russian trolls. plus a rare glimpse into the lives of ordinary north koreans. we find out what they really think about the regime of kim jong-un. >> "amanpour" on pbs was made
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possible by the generous support of rosalyn p. walter. good evening, everyone. welcome to the program. i'm christiane amanpour in london. with the world's news. fake news took on a whole new meaning and momentum this year, from president trump's mouth to the ears of dictators around the world, to russia's disinformation campaign during the american and european election cycle. even the pope is calling it a very serious sin. so, how do we fight back? how do we stand up for the truth? wikipedia co-founder jimmy wales is hoping to do that with his new venture, wikitribune. a collaboration between professional journalists and community volunteers who collectively fact check and produce accurate news. and also the pulitzer prize winning author and historian anne applebaum, she was the victim of a russian smear campaign, herself. they join me to have a
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conversation about this. jimmy wales and applebaum, welcome. let me ask you first about fake news. you know, the term has been around forever. apparently, according to merriam webster, since the 1890s, but there's no doubt donald trump is responsible for making it a huge part of everyday conversation. anne applebaum, author, historian, and journalist there in poland. let's not forget, poland was within the soviet sphere. one of the countries that fought back early against soviet domination but fake news is a phenomenon that came from over there, right? >> well, certainly the soviet systems ruled by use of what we used to call propaganda. we've now decided to call fake news. and these were whole systems of spreading a false version of reality designed deliberately to manipulate people and to be used for political goals. we saw over the last several years the russians become very
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sophisticated in the way that they use fake websites combined with social media, combined with official media to create false stories. and we've also seen some domestic political organizations in western countries adopt many of the same tactics. the difficulty with what trump has done is that trump -- trump ran a campaign that used many elements of the kind that russian -- that russian propagandists have used in their campaigns. systems of fake websites, conspiracy theories, leaked materials that have since spun into hundreds of different stories. these are tactics used in poland, ukraine, other parts of the world. >> you were a victim yourself? >> i was once -- i've been, not alone. i was the subject of a whole series of fake stories that were then spun into other kinds of stories and repeated all around the web. actually one of the reasons i know about this is you get interested in these things when u follow them.
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but these tactics, although they started out being very much russian tactics, the russians began to play with them several years ago, it's now much wider than that. lots of people now understand how to create what are so-called inorganic social media campaigns. how to create fake stories, how to move them from one part of the internet to the next so people don't know where they originally came from. and i think we'll be seeing more of that. >> you, as founder of wikipedia, have sort of a crowd sourcing kind of encyclopedia. now wikitribune, what are you trying to do with that? how is that designed to attack fake news? >> one of the things we've seen in the world of wikipedia is the wikipedia community has been robust in not falling for fake news. as a community they're very obsessive about trying to get it right. the classic wikipedia debate is is not about politics. it's about is this a good source or not? so, when they see these true fake news sites, they aren't easily duped by them. so that has been a bit of a
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resistant mechanism. the idea really is to say, look, let's try to bring in a community, strong, healthy community, and professional journalists to work together side by side to try to, you know, fact check stories, try to do new things in journalism. it's a pilot project, an experiment. having fun trying to figure out, what is it we can do that will help fund more and better journalism, because one of the biggest things is the business models of journalism have been under extreme pressure. >> for the last many, many years startup in the silicon valley, big tech people, young hoodies, you know, have been sort of the messiahs. and now this year the worm is turning against them. where is the responsibility of the ceos and the people who run these sites, which so clearly have played into the distortion of fact and truth? >> well, i think we have to be very careful here because on the one hand, yes, if falsehoods are being spread and they have an ability to do something about it, then naturally we think they probably should.
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on the other hand, we can imagine a slightly different set of historical circumstances where an announcement by facebook that they're going to start shaping our view of the world by facebook deciding what's true and false, that sounds very alarming and not really something we want. we want them to preserve their status as a platform. i don't want facebook deciding what i'm allowed to share. at the same time, if i'm about to share something that's fake, maybe they should warn me and say, hey, you don't want to look like an idiot in front of your friends. i think they're going to need to. i think consumers are concerned about it. when you look at the trust levels people have, i just saw some results from edelman's trust barometer survey where there's a hugely declining trust in news that i get from my friends. i think people are saying, well, maybe my friends are not as smart as i thought they were, maybe i shouldn't trust that. think for places like facebook, they need to think about that. >> and where do you stand on that? the responsibility of these tech giants who have literally taken over the world, often for good,
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but as we've seen over the last year, for very, very bad. can they be regulated? should they be regulated? does politics have a role to play in that or do they have to sort it out with the consumers playing their role as well? >> i mean, ideally what i'd like to see is the tech companies working together with governments and together with consumers to find solutions to these problems. i mean, actually, i think there are going to be multiple solutions. one of them might involve building communities of trust like the -- like jimmy wales is doing. others might be finding ways to help newspapers reach people who live in alienated ecochambers and don't have access to good news. there may be multiple solutions. i think it's inevitable now and this is beginning to happen in a lot of european countries that at the very least, tech companies are going to be subject to local laws. i mean, so, for example, germany has very strict hate speech laws
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of a kind that we in the anglo-saxon countries probably wouldn't want to have. the germans have them. that's their law. that's up to them to decide. they've now made facebook subject to that law. >> we're talking about laws and trying to figure out how to better regulate this. does anything sort of jump out at you? >> well, as anne was saying, one of the things we should expect to see, particularly across europe, is more enforcement of local laws on the internet. but i want to raise a little bit of a cautionary note about that. wikipedia is currently banned in egypt, for example, and for reasons that would not suit our sort of ideas of freedom of expression, freedom of speech. and they are demanding we follow local law, but that's something that's really not compatible with human rights and so we won't. and so, there is this difficult thing around the tempting notion that internet companies should just follow local law because sometimes local law isn't the answer. >> the term, "fake news," when the president of the united states used it to smear us, the traditional media, what does that do? what kind of boomerang effect
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does that have on any number of governments, whether democratic or authoritarian, around the world? >> well, that's now a really interesting story because the fact the president of the united states now seems to -- seeks deliberately to undermine mainstream media in northermal reporting as opposed to fake websites means that other dictators and other nondictators and other leaders around the world have begun to do exactly the same. and so when the burmese government has information it doesn't like that it's reading about its torment of the rohingya people and ethnic cleansing, it simply denounces the reports of that and says fake news. we've seen is that happen in multiple countries, actually. dictators and those who manipulate the news and those who would like to be authoritarian and those who would like to undermine reporting now simply copy president trump. i mean, i think we underestimate the degree to which the american president is a role model for other leaders. people are watching what he's
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doing, they're listening to what he's saying, and when he seeks on a daily basis to undermine real reporting and real journalism, then they say, well, if he does it, we can, too. >> if you had a perfect solution, what would wikitribune's contribution to that be? >> one thing that was really interesting to me, there's a group online called the donald on reddit and it's all donald trump fans. they live in a bubble, i have to say. but one of them was complaining about a story at cnn and so on. they said, i just wish there was a wikipedia of news. what they meant by that was, they don't know who to trust anymore. they don't know what's going on. they want to have somebody to help them sift through and not feel like it's coming from the left, coming from the right, but just giving us facts. now, this came from quite an odd place online, but i think it's a sentiment a lot of people feel. there is a demand -- i know if you could just sit back and reflect a minute, let's think this through, show me what are the arguments on all sides?
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it's really old-fashioned in a way but i think there's a demand for it. we know wikipedia's incredibly popular. that approach of trying to be fair and neutral, still has huge appeal. >> and, anne, what are we meant to think when even facebook is saying whether it's the company, itself, saying the way facebook is consumed by some people may not actually be good for their health. we hear articles about smartphones hijacking people's brains. they're literally talking about rewiring brains, changing the social compact, changing the social dynamic, which obviously has political implications as well as all sorts of other social and cultural implications. how do you see that playing out? >> well, i think facebook has been a little late in understanding some of this. and actually, i think one of the reasons why it is at least expressing -- the company is expressing some concerns is that the employees inside the building are now expressing concerns. i'm not sure that other kinds of pressure would have made any difference. i mean, i do think -- i know that there will be efforts over
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the next year or two to look at ways in which algorithms can deliver people more balanced views. they'll look at a way, is there some technical widget you can create so, for example, when you click on a page of news that has, you know, that comes from a strange source, for example, could some kind of, you know, warning pop up. i mean, lots of people are going to be playing with that. but i think jimmy wales is onto something when he notes that the real problem is the -- you know, people want to have sources that they trust. they want to have information that they trust. and finding ways to -- you know, to both deliver news that is trustworthy and that has some kind of basis in reality is going to be, you know, is going to be the real goal over the next few years. i mean, i think there are probably going to be multiple answers. maybe that wikitribune is one answer. it may be that mainstream newspapers find different ways
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to deliver news, different ways to write news in ways that people find more trustworthy. i do think there's going to be a multiple set of solutions and waiting for sort of one kind of regulation to fix the problem or one technical widget to, you know, attach to your computer that will fix the problem, is wrong. i mean, among other things, definition of what we mean by evidenced based and what we mean by fact based also differs among people and there are clearly gray zones. >> what do you see in the next 12 months playing out on this field? >> in the next 12 months i expect we'll see the major tech giants make some real strides forward in dealing with the true fake news problem, which is essentially just spam. websites just set up with no concern for the truth. that's fine, but we shouldn't assume the problem is fixed. donald trump being part of the problem, we still call mainstream media fake news but have low-quality outlets out there pushing biased agendas and so on.
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even though the problem may fade away a little bit because people will get tired of it and we'll solve the real fake news problem, it is something that -- we're in it for the long haul. >> and just, you are sitting in poland there. it was one of the first to try to, you know, democratize that soviet bloc. what is happening in poland with the media and the crackdown there right now? >> so, right now we have in poland a democratically elected government which is seeking to restrain the media and which actually does use trump as a kind of example and they do look up to his way of treating mainstream media. there has been a takeover of state media, which is no longer neutral but it's very pro-ruling party, almost kind of parity. and there's been a lot of pressure on independent media in subtle ways. attempts to, for example, restrict advertising, you know, threaten companies that want to advertise independent newspapers and there's also recently been a fine on the most important
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independent television station for showing opposition demonstrations on tv. you know, when the berlin wall fell, one much our ideas is, of course, now there will be free media all over the east, all over the former communist world because they'll simply copy our model and have multiple different kinds of newspapers and so on. i think the one thing we didn't count on is the idea that the business model of the mainstream media would collapse so quickly, so relatively quickly. and while in some rich countries, you know, in the united states, in britain, in germany, it's still possible for private media to survive as a business, in a lot of smaller countries, and poland is one of them, but also slovakia, even other countries in western europe, it's become more and more difficult for independent media organizations to survive and remain independent. many of them get bought out by oligarchs or by people close to the government in a deliberate attempt to undermine them. and that's -- you know, that may be an unavoidable problem but it's one of the other issues
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which we're going to need to find solutions to in the next few years. >> and just final word. extraordinary we're talking about this. the truth at risk of getting lost in the weeds, while at the same time, some great journalism coming out of mainstream media in the last year. >> yeah, it's fantastic. what disturbs me and bothers me in the back of my mind is knowing that some of the great newspapers of the world are doing amazing journalism but are having a harder and harder time in the long span surviving and actually making a business case out of funding that kind of journalism. ew york times" subscriptions are way up and people are starting to realize that actually journalism is worth supporting. >> jimmy wales, anne applebaum, thank you for having this discussion with me. >> thank you. and just as social media plays a role in fake news, the u.s. now says facebook accounts played a role in helping north korea linked cyber attacks.
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pyongyang's provocations are well known, but what is life like for ordinary north koreans? the most we usually see is goose-stepping soldiers in perfect formation and massive missile parades but my next guest tried to reveal a more honest and complex view of north kore koreans. it comes as a critical time, of course, as the u.s. national security adviser, h.r. mcmaster, says in an interview that the united states is committed to a resolution of the crisis with north korea, but wouldn't commit that that would be necessarily a peaceful resolution. now, barbara demick spent years covering the koreas and she has written "nothing to envy: ordinary lives in north korea" and she joins me now from new york. barbara, welcome to the program. >> thanks so much. nice to be here. >> yeah. you've been working for "the los angeles times" as a reporter all over that region and you've written this book, as i say. you know, what is the thing that surprised you the most when you
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talk to the ordinary people you tracked down over a period of time? >> this is always sort of a cliche, but north koreans are -- when you talk to them, they're kind of like us. they care about their kids, their homes, what they're going to eat. they're not, you know, such monsters. so, you know, i rather like north koreans and i really came to enjoy their company when i interviewed them. >> what do you think -- when you say they're like us, i'm sure they are. every human has pretty much the same instincts, by in large. but do they know what's going on around the world? what's their view of their own regime? like the regime, do they blame the u.s. for all the bad things that are happening to them? >> certainly the regime would like to blame the u.s. the -- you know, all of the north korean propaganda is that the u.s. is to blame for the shortage of electricity, the
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lack of food. it's all because they're in a state of war and they use this war to keep the people in line. but increasingly north koreans listen to smuggled radios, they have usb memory sticks with hollywood movies and south korean soap operas, so it's really hard to keep a country in the dark in that way. so they're not as ignorant as they once were. >> and, you know, i was struck by the fact that you actually didn't stick to pyongyang at all. you didn't take the city that most foreigners go to. you went to a whole different city to talk to north koreans there. which city was it? why did you choose that location? >> the city is called chongjin d actually a very few foreigners, including myself, have been there. i traveled around parts of nth korea, but not this city, but what i did was i decided to
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interview defectors from one particular place and it happened to be chongjin. it was a city not on the chinese border, but there were a lot of defectors who came from chongjin and tended to be smart people, a little savvier than ordinary north koreans. there were lots of people. i felt by interviewing people from one city, i could sort of fact check myself. you never quite trust what defectors are saying but if you have, you know, dozens of people from one city saying, yes, i saw dying children by the railroad tracks in the 1990s, you know it's true. so that was the technique. >> you know -- >> you know, pyongyang is this model city. it's a village. all the winners in north korea society. so this was a much more ordinary place. >> you say winners, you know, everybody is led to believe in a real communist state like north korea that everybody's equal, but they're not, right? >> no.
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and less so than in many communist places. they're very strictly ranked by their loyalty to the regime. it's a whole system. you're like a wavering class, you're a hostile class and there's not a number, but, you know, your ranking based on loyalty follows you and it determines what kind of job you can get, what kind of apartment you can get. so, yes, it is a very class-based society. >> i want to go back to what you said about, you know, food and people being able to feed their families, et cetera. i mean, obviously, the worst time for north korea was during the famine in the 1990s. for a variety of reasons. the soviet union collapsed, there was mismanagement and all the aid that they got sort of suddenly dried up. but i was stunned to read about some of the interviews. i know families who literally
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decided who was going to go without in order to save other members of the family. walk us through what it was like at that time. >> i think it's horrific and it's, as you said, the korean families are very close. and, you know, older people would basically starve to death so that the younger ones could survive. you know, everybod everybody i met from north korea, even the ones who didn't particularly suffer, had somebody they loved who they watched die in the famine. if not directly of starvation, of some disease caused by malnutrition. just everybody had a terrible story. you know, waking up -- waking up in the morning to see that your baby sleeping in the bed next to you was dead. you know? it was -- you know, i was always in tears listening to these people. they would always start out modestly saying, oh, nothing
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terrible happened to me, but it did to all of them. >> you also recount, you know, how some people are actually savvy, very savvy, as you say, but, you know, they were able to distinguish between who was really responsible for their misfortune. they laid it at the feet of their leadership, at least some of them, right? >> i think with time people have gotten much smarter, especially since the famine of the 1990s. and, you know, i remember hearing this from one -- a coal miner, not an educated man, and he said to me, he said, you know, we're not stupid, we know our own leadership is to blame for our problems, but we're also not so stupid that we need to talk about it. you know, i know what i think i know, what my neighbor thinks, he doesn't need to tell me. and i think there is some recognition. now, interestingly, people
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tended to blame kim jong-il because the late leader, because he was presiding at the time of the worst famine. things have gotten slightly better under kim jong-un. >> i was going to say that. yeah, i mean, we hear definitely that the economy miraculously has actually got a bit better. they have a little bit of private enterprise and it's not as dire. i was wondering what you thought about the sanctions and whether, you know, certainly the west says they're not looking for regime change, but i'm sure they'd like to think they can force a collapse of some sort or a surrender of some sort when it comes to their nuclear weapons. what did you find about that? >> well, you know, it's interesting. north korea -- people don't really understand it. north korea thrives on being anti-american. it's, they're raised -- it's the anti-americanism, the force that gives them meaning. and, you know, in a way president trump is playing into their own hands with this -- sort of this rhetoric about north korea. they can say, see, see, see what
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the -- you know, how the americans are insulting our leadership. and so i think that right now, the north korean leader probably has pretty good support inside north korea. i'm -- i haven't been there for a while, but i think, you know, all of this is really boosting kim jong-un's image. i think donald trump has done him a big favor. >> what's extraordinary, i mean, that's an extraordinary thing you're saying right now, but obviously you've been a lot in south korea and i think you say, you know, an anti-north korean protest draws very few people but it's not the same when they're protesting the united states. and that's in an allied nation. >> that's right. i mean, i -- of all the places i've worked, i felt, i think, actually the most anti-americanism in seoul. i mean, korea analysts hate it when i say this, and i was there at a particular time, but
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there's a lot of hostility to the u.s. and there's a lot of feeling that the u.s. was responsible for dividing the korean peninsula and that these tensions right now are a result of fears in north korea that the u.s. is going to attack them. so, a lot of people blame us. >> on that really extraordinary note from an allied country, barbara demick, thank you so much for joining us. that's it for our program tonight from london. thanks for watching "amanpour on pbs," and join us again tomorrow night. >> "amanpour on pbs" was made possible by the generation support of rosalyn p. walter.
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