Generation 40s – 四十世代

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假新聞當道與我無關 ?

信報財經新聞
經管錦言
2017-5-13

陳智健

傳媒報道一向是近代社會的重要訊息來源。隨着科技發展,資訊更為廣傳,公眾應更容易了解真相,作出更有理據的決定。然而資訊爆炸及碎片化,卻令我們無法有效處理太多太快的資訊。

當資訊接收不能改善人類生活,反而帶來反效果時,就出現所謂的「資訊煙霧」(Data Smog),令人無法分辨真假,不同意見的人亦無法達到共識,反而被其他不重要的、不正確的訊息模糊誤導。這情況令假新聞應運而生,對社會帶來的影響不容忽視。

假新聞大行其道,「同溫層」現象是其中一個主因。「同溫層」原本是氣象學名詞,又稱平流層,屬氣流相當穩定的大氣層。後來這名詞引用到社交媒體上,形容在一些議題上,彼此有着共同或類似信念、立場及主張的人,會較容易不自覺地聚合一起,從而更令其誤以為自己屬於「大多數人」的一群,因而出現錯判現狀的情況。

「同溫層」令人看不見真相

「同溫層」出現的其中一個重要原因,是由於社交媒體的演算法(Algorithm),會根據用者喜好,提供他們感興趣的內容,久而久之,用者能接觸到、有別於其認同的內容會愈來愈少,相反只看到自己喜歡或同意的內容。這種做法,用者可能得到更針對性、更符合其需要的內容,然而用者只會聽到一種聲音,造成迴響效應(Echo Chamber Effect),不論真假都照單全收。

加州大學戴維斯分校政治系教授Robert Huckfeldt教授曾於其著作Political Disagreement中指出,新出現的資訊能夠影響一個人改變原有立場的機率,與其身處的社會網絡裏意見分布息息相關。套用在社交媒體的例子,在「同溫層」裏的人,被新資訊說服而改變態度的機會,會較其他身處意見不一群體的人為低。

自去年的英國脫歐公投,至美國總統選舉,假新聞和「同溫層」均被認為對結果有一定影響,不但令人錯判形勢,誤以為脫歐必敗、特朗普不敵希拉莉,假新聞更一定程度上影響了不少人的立場。

別以為假新聞只會影響政治,雖然現時似乎尚未有就假新聞對工商業或市場運作影響的全面研究,然而可以想像的是,當假新聞製造不利流言,令企業運作受壓,甚至盈利受損,絕非難事。同時,正常的市場宣傳、品牌推廣和公關工作等,也會因假新聞的影響,成效大打折扣。

「後真相」(Post-Truth)是英國牛津辭典選出的2016國際年度字,顯示這現象對社會帶來重大影響。假新聞的興起和流行,是後真相時代的其中一個明顯例子:在輿論方面大眾不再信賴客觀的真相,不會以邏輯思考衡量篩選所有資訊,只靠個人情緒及認定的影響力。再加上「同溫層」互相加強對某項資訊的信念和取向,不利尋求真相和了解不同意見。

網上資訊辨識力須加強

要避免出現誤判,打破「同溫層」是其中一個重點,包括如何了解分辨網上內容的真偽,以及如何接收更多不同立場的資訊,其中年輕一代的資訊接收情況尤其需要重視。

史丹福大學去年一項針對年輕人如何分辨網上資訊的調查發現,82%的中學生無法分辨網站上的贊助內容與真實新聞,而很多學生亦只依據推特(Twitter)內容是否詳細、是否有照片等來判斷內容真偽,而非資料的來源。可見「數位原生代」(Digital Natives)——即一直活在互聯網世代、以網絡世界作為資訊來源和日常生活的主要平台的一代——在接收和判斷網上資訊的能力問題,實需要正視。

今年年初,經濟合作及發展組織(OECD)宣布,將在學生能力國際評估計劃(The Programme for International Student Assessment,PISA)中,增加「全球競爭力」(Global Competence),測試學生批判思維及辨識失實資料的能力,對社交媒體的資訊分析亦包括在內。

OECD的教育及技能主管Andreas Schleicher更進一步表示對社交媒體引致相同意見的人互相「圍爐取暖」的憂慮,希望提升學生分辨網上資訊可信程度的能力,以及開放接收不同立場的內容的態度。

另外,業內一眾科技企業有見假新聞的影響,已開始着手解決問題,如由Facebook及一些學術單位和非牟利組織發起的「新聞誠信倡議」(The News Integrity Initiative)計劃是其中一例。最近不少網上媒體或智庫等亦推出了「即時查核」(Fact Check)的網上功能,在重要的事件上發揮分辨消息真偽的作用。

當社會大眾漸漸慣於由網上或社交媒體獲取資訊,其便捷固然有助資訊流通,但如何了解當中的真偽就變得更為重要。若沒充分了解事實真相,加上排除與自己不同喜好立場的資訊內容,其造成的網絡偏見反映至現實生活中,將無助於我們作出理性決定。

作者為香港科技大學工商管理碩士校友會會員


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Cold calling in Hong Kong is so out of control, it makes you contemplate murder

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-05-05

Yonden Lhatoo is perplexed by the government’s reluctance to crack down on telemarketers, despite the public nuisance they cause

I don’t know if people remember any more, but it used to be the most annoying thing in the world to be “rickrolled” – clicking on a hyperlink online, only to be directed to a music video of British pop singer Rick Astley’s 1980s hit, Never Gonna Give You Up.

At least there was an element of humour in being pranked like that, but there’s nothing funny about receiving cold calls from telemarketers in this city, a scourge that sits well above being rickrolled in the global rankings of extreme irritants that make you want to strangle someone. I mean, what could be more infuriating than answering your phone while in the middle of something important, only to find some telemarketer on the other end of the line hawking products you’re least interested in.

It’s been a problem in Hong Kong for many years, but seems to be getting worse these days. I have a couple of apps on my phone to block nuisance calls, but the telemarketers bypass them with fiendish nonchalance.

Last week, while awaiting a call I could not afford to miss, I was ambushed by a saleswoman on the other end of the line and found myself swearing at her in utter frustration. She swore right back and hung up, leaving me to fleetingly contemplate murder.

But my personal experience pales next to that of a family whose allergy to telemarketers was shared online by a doctor. According to his Facebook post, a seriously injured car-accident victim required urgent surgery, but hospital staff seeking his wife’s consent had to make 18 calls to her before she picked up the phone. The caller ID number started with a “3”, leading her to believe it was the usual junk call that such prefixes have conditioned us to watch out for.

The incident has caused enough public concern to squeeze another commitment out of commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung to launch a public consultation on fixing the problem.

So, by the way, is the minister who has pretty much turned a deaf ear to the noise all these years, but was upset when the poor old privacy commissioner took the initiative to conduct a survey in 2014 that found nine out of 10 Hongkongers were bothered by unsolicited calls.

So complained that he had not been consulted, and questioned the validity of the study, although his own bureau a couple of years later found in a survey that 96 per cent of Hongkongers considered such calls a nuisance. And he still wants to “consult” the public first.

The fact is, Hong Kong already has a “do not call” register, and the millions of harassed citizens who have added their phone numbers to the list are protected by law from commercial electronic messages, including voice recordings. But person-to-person telemarketing calls are exempted.

And even if the register were to be expanded to cover cold calls, it would not filter out offshore callers. Having said that, it’s still made a difference in the US and Singapore, so why not here.

The government’s reluctance to take firm action stems from the prospect of an estimated 28,000 telemarketers losing their jobs. But at last count, 30 per cent of these jobs were outsourced to the mainland. The woman who swore back at me had a strong mainland accent, suggesting some office or shack across the border.

It’s a tough call, no doubt, but it’s hard to summon up any sympathy for people whose chosen profession centres on driving the rest of us nuts. The companies they work for should know that cold calls are no longer a cost-effective way of doing business.

I’m talking to you, lady with the potty mouth, and you, Mr Minister. Act now, or may the ghost of Rick Astley haunt you forever with the volume turned up to 11.

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post


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The links between global integration, technological advance, and economic performance in a liberal world order

South China Morning Post
Business
2017-05-10

China sees itself as still rising economically and a beneficiary of a liberal economic order, while America worries about economic decline and being a victim of the open global economic order it once championed

The emergence of outsiders Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in last year’s US presidential election reflects the rise of right and left wing populist reaction to poor economic performance – both low productivity growth and high economic inequality.

Economic factors may not be the only reason for the rise of populism in the US and around the world, but it is certainly a major part of the explanation.

It is not without irony that the president of communist China is now championing a liberal world economic order and telling the president of capitalist America the benefits of free trade.

The irony is perhaps not surprising, since China sees itself as still rising economically and a beneficiary of a liberal economic order, while America worries about economic decline and being a victim of the open global economic order it once championed.

Since the 2008 financial market meltdown, it has been customary to blame global economic integration and free market capitalism for failed economic performance. This accusation has gained widespread popularity in the media and public policy debates. But is it justified?

I don’t think so, and here is why: the wave of global economic integration and free market capitalism did not really start until after 1980, and mostly towards the latter part of the 1980s.

But economic performance in the West, particularly in the US, started to weaken in the 1970s. The forces behind this slow weakening have remained in place up to the present time.

Research by Professor Kevin Murphy shows that the real wage rates of men grew by 19.4 per cent in the 1940s, 29.7 per cent in the 1950s, 24.1 per cent in the 1960s, and only 5.0 per cent in the 1970s and -7.8 per cent in the 1980s.

In other words, labour productivity growth had started to decline rapidly in the 1970s and turned negative in the 1980s.

Robert Gordon’s work The Rise and Fall of American Growth (2016) reconfirms these results and shows that US labour productivity was at its peak during 1920-70, but fell off significantly during 1970-2014.

Gordon shows that the change in labour productivity is due mainly to changes in total factor productivity, which represents innovation and technological change.

Honda Motor Co’s famed humanoid robot Asimo descends a long staircase during its press unveiling for rental business at the Japanese automaker’s headquarters in 2001. Since then technological advances have been huge. Photo: AP

Most technological advances since the 1970s have tended to be channelled into a narrow sphere of human activity involving entertainment, communication, and the collection and processing of information.

This explains why the latest advances have not had a big economy-wide impact in lifting productivity. They have benefitted only a small number of industries and a limited, highly-skilled fraction of the workforce.

The economic slowdown in the US preceded the shift to ‘right of centre’ pro-market economic policies advocated by Milton Friedman and the Chicago School by more than a decade.

Global economic integration and free market capitalism in all likelihood prevented productivity growth from declining faster.

Could the concentration of technological advances since the 1970s in a small number of sectors have worsened inequality? In the period 1979-90 when global economic integration had barely taken off, the wage premium for college graduates over high school graduates increased from 42 percentage points in 1979 to 71 percentage points in 1990. Consequently, overall wage inequality for men grew dramatically between 1979 and 1990.

As with wages, Professor Murphy has showed how the pattern of economic inequality in the US has changed due to technological advances.

During the 1970s and 1980s, technological advances demanded more skilled workers so labour markets paid them a premium, thereby increasing wage inequality.

In the 1940s, technological advances demanded more unskilled workers so they received the premium, thereby decreasing wage inequality. In the 1950s and 1960s, technological advances did not favour either skilled or unskilled workers so wage inequality remained stable.

The changing pattern of technological advances provides a more convincing explanation for the patterns of wage inequality and productivity growth over the past five decades than blaming it on global economic integration.

Failure to appreciate the true forces at work will lead to the adoption of wrong policies that will not solve the problems society faces. They may even worsen them.

It is unlikely we can control the bias of technological advances. So the best policy is to influence the supply of skilled versus unskilled workers to support productivity growth and mitigate the effects of wage inequality.

The ideological debates will continue, but it is important we bring scientific analysis and empirical evidence to illuminate the questions we wish to resolve.

In the age of social media, where communications channels are echo chambers for the convinced and converted, shouting matches add no value and only reinforce prejudice.

Richard Wong is the Philip Wong Kennedy Wong Professor in Political Economy at the University of Hong Kong