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"There has to be a way where quality info and rises to the top of my feed," Dan Rather said at the State of the Valley conference.

Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images
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Dan Rather in Silicon Valley: ‘These pipelines have wreaked havoc’

Tech, news and community leaders spoke at the annual State of the Valley conference. Disinformation was top of mind.

Dan Rather told a group of Silicon Valley business, political and community leaders Friday that the region's big technology companies need to do more to fight the disinformation that threatens this year's election, and shouldn't seek to avoid responsibility by arguing that their platforms are simply gateways to third-party content.

"It's not enough to say, 'Well, we're just the pipelines.' These pipelines have wreaked havoc," Rather, the former CBS News anchor, told the audience during his keynote address at the State of the Valley conference in San Jose, described as an annual town meeting focused on the region's biggest challenges. "There has to be a way where quality info and rises to the top of my feed."

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Rather noted that tech companies have been blamed for "the rise of authoritarianism, denigration of truth and facts, the fanning of ethnic, cultural and religious hatred and economic inequality." He said that "the technology of Silicon Valley has helped contribute to some of that. But more importantly it can help with solutions."

During an earlier panel, Richard Gingras, vice president of Google News, said the company takes responsibility for its role in the flow of information, and urged others to do the same. Google has said it is taking steps to fight disinformation following the 2016 election but has faced criticism over video content on YouTube and how it is shared and recommended to viewers.

"At Google, we take our role in the ecosystem seriously," Gingras said, but added, "We cannot be the ultimate deciders of what is and isn't free expression." He said news organizations and government leaders should join tech companies in addressing misinformation in an age when "the internet (has) put a printing press in everyone's hands."

Sally Lehrman, a journalist and the CEO of the Trust Project, a consortium of news agencies seeking to develop transparency standards, discussed the group's efforts around the world, which include enlisting news organizations to use trust indicators, such as labeling news as analysis or opinion, that can signal to readers the nature and quality of what they're consuming. She said governments "at every level can help propel more thoughtful, engaged civic debate. We're missing that right now."

The conference held by Joint Venture Silicon Valley addressed major issues including rising income inequality and a shortage of affordable housing. Acknowledging the "techlash" that Rather referenced in his keynote address, Joint Venture President and CEO Russell Hancock said, "Our reputation has really taken a hit."

On Thursday, down the road in Menlo Park, disinformation on tech platforms was a major theme as the World Health Organization convened about a dozen large companies at Facebook's headquarters — among them Google, Amazon, YouTube and Airbnb — to "work together on solutions to the coronavirus," CNBC reported. Shoddy information about the virus emerged as an initial focus, but the group plans to convene every few months.

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