CNN’s Samuel Burke talks DigiCon, the role of Facebook in politics, and how to address fake news

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The CNN Money business and technology correspondent discusses some of the challenges faced by the Philippine tech industry, from slow internet speed to the effects of social media on journalism and politics. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — This year’s DigiCon, dubbed the largest event for digital practitioners in the Philippines, brings in an array of tech industry leaders from across the globe to one stage. CNN’s business and technology correspondent Samuel Burke took to the stage on Oct. 3 to talk about dispatches from the frontlines of technology and the ways in which the country can address the most pressing tech issues.

The London-based reporter for CNN Money has and continues to cover major international technology events and talks to some of the biggest names in tech, like Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and Alibaba CEO Jack Ma, to name a few.

When it comes to developing tech in countries like the Philippines, he says it’s important to think about what would makes sense for that particular country, rather than look to Silicon Valley as a model. “It's really easy as a tech reporter to go to a place like the Philippines and say that everybody should be like Silicon Valley,” says Burke. “But nowhere else in the world has the money that Silicon Valley has, the universities that Silicon Valley has.”

Burke suggests looking at Israel instead, which he calls “the second Silicon Valley of the world.” “It's a very small country but [there is] so much tech. And because they're so small, they're always thinking about getting out of Israel, how to sell their product to another place,” he says.

Aside from his DigiCon talk, Burke also joins campus journalists in a roundtable discussion — streamed live on CNN Philippines’ Facebook page on Oct. 4 at 3 p.m. — where he opens with the recent wave of forced logouts on Facebook reportedly caused by a hack exposing information on nearly 50 million users. Burke and guests delve into whether trust in Facebook and social media is dwindling among users especially as a news source, the effects of these platforms on journalism, as well as how internet speed affects citizens.

CNN Philippines Life got to chat with Burke prior to his DigiCon appearance about what he thinks the biggest challenges are in the local tech industry, the way social media affects local and international politics, fake news, and what we can do to become responsible users of technology. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

Photo-7 (3).jpg "[The issue of internet speed] is not about convenience, it's about innovation," says Burke. "I've been talking to people here in the Philippines using their cell phone as their hotspot because it's faster than their internet connection at home ... that means that young Filipino engineers, entrepreneurs, that [have a] great idea, that idea might be stifled." Photo by JL JAVIER

What do you think are the most pressing tech concerns that have to be addressed in the Philippines?

Certainly it's internet speed. And it's not just the Philippines. We always look to South Korea, which has not only the fastest internet in Asia but the fastest internet in the world. Now, I think the mistake that a lot of people make is they think that's about convenience. [That it's about] ‘Oh, can I watch my YouTube video or my Netflix video.’ It's not about convenience, it's about innovation. Because if you don't have fast enough internet, how are you gonna make the next great product for yourself, for your region, for your country, for the world. And so internet speed isn't just about getting something fast. It's about making sure you're up to date so that you can continue growing as a country and build your own products.

This is a huge problem for lots of parts of Latin America, where I also report because I speak Spanish. For our audience, this is crucial to them because, [for example,] imagine the guys at Netflix. How could they have created Netflix when they moved to video over an internet connection if they still had 1-megabyte speed? Because the technology changed, they created a new product to match the technology. So that's why internet speed is so crucial.

I've been talking to people here in the Philippines using their cell phone as their hotspot because it's faster than their internet connection at home. Well, that's not just inconvenience, that means that young Filipino engineers, entrepreneurs, that [have a] great idea, that idea might be stifled. So it's of huge importance for countries like the Philippines to do everything they can to get faster internet.

The problem can be is, who do you want to get your internet from? Facebook has worked on products like bringing internet to people. Do you want the same people that you get your social networking from to be your internet service provider? So there are these bigger concerns about all that. But speed is incredibly important.

Talking about Facebook, there have been a lot of stories over the last couple of years about how Facebook has contributed to the presidential campaign of President Duterte, how this helped him win the election, and how Facebook and social media have been  allegedly weaponized against opposition. What are your thoughts on that?

Anybody who's running for office, whether it's President Duterte, whether it's President Trump, Hillary Clinton, opposition, people in office, of course they're gonna use Facebook. Who wouldn't use Facebook? It's just a given. Now, I think the real answer in all this, if anybody has any questions or any problems with how people are using it, it comes back to transparency.

If you think about Mark Zuckerberg, he said at the end of the 2016 presidential elections that the idea that Facebook somehow swayed the elections is laughable. That's the word that he used, laughable. Now, actually, that was laughable, because the same company that was saying, ‘Well, we weren't having that big of an influence on the elections,’ they were going to President Trump's campaign, they had people from Facebook, not working on the campaign, but selling their product [like,] ‘Do you want to put advertising here?’ So obviously they know if they're selling ads that they can have an influence.

So the important thing in this is very simple things like labeling. If the president of the Philippines or if the president of the United States, or the president of whatever country is going to be using Facebook, it's important that we know that. And the opposition. It isn't about one president, it's about what these platforms do. So we make sure, okay, this is somebody who purchased it, or who purchased it for them, and so we know where it's coming from. And I think it would be a big mistake on all of our parts to just make it about one person. It's more about these platforms realizing, and they are realizing, they are working.

I've interviewed Jack Dorsey, the CEO and co-founder of Twitter, we've talked to all of these companies, and they are working hard, but they have to move fast because there's an election everyday somewhere in the world. And so with the amount of money that they make, they have to be held to a higher standard. If they're gonna make that much money, then you've got to invest in the platform so that we as citizens and we as journalists can see where this information is coming from.

Photo-3 (4).jpg "It's now our responsibility, unfortunately, to find out where [fake news] stories are coming from," says Burke. "We have to become guardians of the people ... and really aggressively go after these people and expose what they're doing." Photo by JL JAVIER

What do you think about the idea that the responsibility also relies on citizens and how they should be more responsible with how they consume content online and be more digitally literate?

In the United States, they're actually working and doing more and more media literacy courses. When we think about “literate,” that's a very general term. Can someone read and write? That's what literacy means. But even smart people [can have problems with digital literacy]. My mom is the example I always use. During the election in the United States, my mom sent me an article and she was so surprised by it, and the reason I became a journalist, in part, is because my parents love news. And my mom sent me this article and it was a fake news article. It looked like but it said And so if somebody as smart as my mom, who loves news as much as my mom, is making these mistakes, we have to have literacy but a different type of literacy.

They're literally going to schools now and talking to people about how to identify fake news and how to identify real news, but also questioning. There's nothing wrong with questioning anything that you see on any platform. You have to always question.

I think something that we have a real honor of at CNN is that we have an audience who loves news, and so they're very critical thinkers, so we're always thinking about how smart the audience is. You always wanna have somebody who's saying, ‘No, actually, also this [is an] opinion,’ or ‘I also see this, here's another fact.’ So I think it's on all of us to question everything. That's what makes us good journalists for sure. If somebody tells us something, if somebody says one plus one equals two, [you say], ‘Okay, why?’ And that's the same thing that we have to apply as consumers of news as well.

How else do you think journalists can improve their processes when it comes to addressing fake news?

I think that it's now our responsibility, unfortunately, to find out where these stories are coming from. CNN did a big series on fake news coming from Macedonia, and it's sad because we'd just like to be covering the news. If there's a terrible storm that hits the Philippines, I want to be covering that. I don't want to have to cover people who are trying to deceive us, but that's our job now as journalists. You can't change the reality. There's what you want and there's what there is. So unfortunately it's on us now to hopefully get these transparency tools from the social networks so that we can look at it and say, ‘Okay, somebody's not telling the truth when they tweet this,’ or, ‘This person posting this ad, we know where it comes from and they're a partisan person. This isn't a piece of news, this is a part of a campaign.’ So, [it's] unfortunate, but [it's the] reality. We have to become guardians of the people as well and really aggressively go after these people and expose what they're doing.

And that's some of what we've already done [at CNN]. I was able to find, for example, in the United Kingdom, some of the very same accounts that according to Twitter and Facebook were Russian accounts that were tweeting and posting about President Trump, so these were Russians apparently trying to influence the US campaign, then started tweeting about Brexit. They didn't bother changing pictures or names or anything like that. They started now on a campaign. So it's on us to find those accounts. I started looking through, I got the list of the names of the Twitter accounts from the US Congress and I started looking and saying, “Oh these are Brexit messages too.” So that tells me that the people who were trying influence the US elections were also trying to interfere in elections in the European Union. So that's our job now.


Watch "Meet the Millennials" with Samuel Burke on CNN Philippines’ Facebook page and catch the initial telecast on Oct. 6 at 8 p.m.