Return to Transcripts main page
Interview with the Co-Founder of Wikipedia; Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Becomes Target for Russian Troll. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired December 19, 2017 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: You are watching the debate in the U.S. House of Representatives on the tax report bill ahead a role call later
tonight. Tonight, the truth behind fake news, the founder of Wikipedia tells me how he's fighting back against this 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.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) (END VIDEOTAPE)
AMANPOUR: Good Evening everyone and welcome to the program. I'm Christane Amanpour in London. 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 American and European
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 cofounder Jimmy Wales is
hoping to do that with his new venture, Wikitribune. The collaboration between professional journalists and community volunteers who collectively
fact check and produce accurate news.
The Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian, Anne Applebaum also joins me. She was a victim of a Russian smear campaign herself, we had a
conversation about all of this. Jimmy Wales, Anne Applebaum, welcome but let me just ask you first about fake news.
The term has been around forever, apparently, according to Merriam-Webster, since the 1890s. But there's no doubt that Donald Trumps is responsible of
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?
ANNE APPLEBAUM, HISTORIAN: Well certainly, the Soviet systems ruled by used of what we used to call propaganda and we've now decided to call fake
news, and these were whole systems of spreading a false version of reality design deliberately to manipulate people and to be used for political
We saw over the last several years the Russians become very sophisticated in the way that they use fake websites combined with social media, combined
with official media to creat false stories. And we've also seen some domestic political organizations in western countries adopt many of the
The difficulty with what Trump has done is that Trump ran a campaign that used many elements of the kind that Russian propagandists have used in
their campaigns in systems of fake websites, conspiracy theories, leaked material that's been spun into hundreds of different kinds of stories. I
mean, these are tactics that have been used in Poland and in Ukraine, elsewhere in this part of the world.
AMANPOUR: And you yourself were a victim of it.
APPLEBAUM: I was once a victim of - not alone. I was the subject of a whole series of fake stories that were then spun into other kind of stories
and repeated all around the web. Actually one of the reasons I know about this is you get interest in these things when you follow them.
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 then form one part of the internet to the next so that people don't even know where they originally came from
and I think we'll be seeing more of that.
AMANPOUR: You, as founder of Wikipedia have sort of like almost a crowd sourcing kind of -
JIMMY WALES, CO-FOUNDER OF WIKIPEDIA: Yes -
AMANPOUR: Encyclopedia and now Wikitribune. What are you trying to do with that? How is that designed to attack fake news?
WALES: Well one of the things that we've seen in the world of Wikipedia is that, the Wikipedia community has been very robust in now falling for fake
news. As a community, they're very obsessive about trying to get it right. The classic Wikipedia debate is not about politics, it's about is this a
good source or not and so when they see these true fake news sites, they're not easily duped by them, and so that has been a bit of a resistant
The idea, really, is to say look, let's try to bring in a community, a strong, healthy community and professional journalists to work together
side by side to try to fact check stories, try to do new things in journalism.
It's really a pilot project on experiment, having a lot of fun, trying to figure out what it is we can do to help fund the more and better journalism
because one of the biggest things is the business models of journalism have been under extreme pressure.
AMANPOUR: For the last many years start ups in the Silicon Valley big tech (Yong Hudi)'s 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 have so clearly have played into the
distortion of fact and truth?
WALES: 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. 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 they should maybe warn me and say hey you don't want to look like an idiot in front of your friends.
And I think they're going to need to because I do think that consumers are concerned about it. When you look at the trust levels that 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 maybe my friends are not as smart as I thought they were. Maybe I shouldn't trust that and I think for places like
Facebook, they need to think about that.
AMANPOUR: And where do you stand on that, the responsibility of these tech giants who have literally taken over the world, often for good, but as
we've seen over the last for 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.
ANNE APPLEBAUM, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: 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 it actually - I think they're going to be multiple solutions.
One of them might involve building communities of trust like the like as Jimmy Wales is doing. Others might be finding ways to help newspapers
reach people who live in (alegated) eco chambers and don't have access to good news. So, there may be multiple solutions. I do think it's pretty
inevitable now and this is beginning to happen in a lot of European countries, but at the very least tech companies are going to be subject to
I mean so for example, Germany has very strict hate speech laws of a kind that we actually in Anglo Saxon countries probably wouldn't want to have.
But the Germans have them that's their law, that's up to them to decide. And they've now made Facebook subject to that law.
AMANPOUR: So we're talking about laws and trying to figure out how to better regulate this. Does anything sort of jump out at you?
WALES: Well, as Anne was saying one of the things that 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 that 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 the local law
isn't the answer.
AMANPOUR: 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 does that have on any number of governments where the Democratic or Authoritarian around the world?
APPLEBAUM: Well, that's now a really interesting story because the fact that the President of the United States now seems to seek deliberately to
undermine mainstream media and normal reporting as oppose to these fake websites. It means that other dictators and other non dictators and other
leaders around the world have begun to do exactly the same.
And so when the Burmese government has information that it doesn't like about - that it's reading about its torment of the Rajinga people and ethic
cleansing. It simply denounces the reports of that and says fake news. We've now seen that happen in multiple countries actually.
The dictators and those who would 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 they underestimate the degree to which the American President is a role model for other leaders.
People are watching what he's doing they're listen 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 then we can too.
AMANPOUR: If you had a perfect solution what would Ricky Tribune's contribution to that be?
WALES: Well, one of the things was really (intrigued) by me, there's a group online called The Donald on Readit and it's all Donald Trump fans.
And, they live in a bubble, I have to say. But, one of them was complaining (to) CNN and so on and they said, I just wish there were a
Wikipedia of news.
And, what they meant by that was, they don't know who to trust anymore. They don't know what's going on. They want have somebody help them sift
through and not feel like it's not coming from the left or coming from the right, just giving us facts.
Now this came from quite an odd place online but I think it's a (sentiment) feel. There is a demand to say, no, if you can just sit back and reflect a
minute. Let's think this through, show me where the arguments on all sides, it's really old fashioned in a way but I think there is a demand for
And, you know, Wikipedia is incredibly popular so that approach of trying to be fair and trying to be neutral, still has huge appeal.
AMANPOUR: And, and what are we meant to think when even Facebook is saying, whether it's the company, itself, saying the way that Facebook is
consumed by some people may not be actually good for their health? We read articles about smart phones high jacking people's brains. I mean literally
talking about rewiring brains. Changing the social compact, changing the social dynamic, which obviously has political implications, as well as
also, (develop) to other social culturing implications. How do you see that playing out?
APPLEBAUM: Well, I think that Facebook has been a little late in understanding this. And actually, one of the reasons why it is, at least,
expressing the company's is expressing some concerns is that the employees inside the building are now expressing concerns. I'm not sure that other
kind of pressure would have made any difference. I mean, I do think, I know that there will be efforts over the next year or two, look at ways in
which (Agernisms) can begin to deliver people more balance views.
They are going to look at ways, in which, you know, is there some of kind of technical rigid you can create so that for example, when you, when you
click on a page of news that has a, you know, that comes from a strange source for example, could some kind of, you know, warning pop up? Lots of
people is going to be playing with that.
But, I think that Jimmy Wales is onto something when he notes that. The real problem is that the, you know, people want to have sources that they
trust. They want to have information that they trust. And, finding ways to brought, you know, to both deliver news that is trustworthy and that has
some kind of, some kind of basis in reality is going to be the, you know, is going to be the real goal over the next few years.
I mean, I think there is going to be multiple answers. I mean, maybe Wikitribune is one answer. It may be that mainstream newspapers find
different ways to deliver news, different ways to write news in ways people find more trustworthy. I do think there is going to be a multiple instead
of solutions and waiting for sort of one kind of regulation to fix the problem or one technical widget to, you know, to attach to your computer
that will fix the problem is wrong.
I mean, among other things that is the definition of what we mean by evidence based. What we mean by fact based also difference between people
in this clearly (gray) (zone).
AMANPOUR: What do you see in the next twelve months (being) out in this field?
WALES: Well, in the next twelve months, I expect that we will see the major tech giants make some real strives for in dealing with the true
(statement) problem which is effectively just spam. Websites were set up two days ago with outrageous headlines with no concern for the truth. And,
that's fine but we shouldn't assume that the problem is fixed.
Donald Trump, being a part of the problem, will still call mainstream media fake news but also will low quality outlets out there, who are pushing bias
agendas and so on. So, 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 it is (ware) for the long haul.
AMANPOUR: And just, you are sitting in Poland there. It was one of the first to try to, you know, democratize that Soviet block. What is
happening in Poland with the media and the crack down there right now?
APPLEBAUM: So, right now, we have in Poland, a democratic elected government, which is seeking to restrain the media. And which actually,
does use Trump as a kind of an 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 is very (pro-willing) party. Almost, kind of parity and there has been quite a lot pressure on independent media, all in
very subtle ways, attempts to, for example, restrict advertising and threaten companies that want to advertise independent newspapers. And,
there has also recently been a (find) on the most important independent television station for showing opposition demonstrations on T.V.
You know, when the Berlin fell, one of our ideas was, of course, 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 kinds of newspapers and so on. I think the one thing that we didn't count on was the idea that
the business model of the mainstream media, would collapse so quickly, so relevantly quickly.
And while it's 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 even even even other counties 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(ph) or by people close to the government in a deliberate attempt to undermine them. And that's, you know, that that may be an unavoidable
problem but it's one of the other issues which we're going to need to find solutions to in the next few years.
AMANPOUR: And this final word, extraordinary that were talking about this, the truth here being at risk of getting lost in the weeds while at the same
time some great journalism coming out of main stream media in the last year.
WALES: Yes, fantastic. I mean 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 actually making a business case out of funding that
kind of journalism. And I think that's something that I'm really happy to see that New York Times subscriptions are way up and people are starting to
realize that actually journalism's worth supporting.
AMANPOUR: Jimmy Wales, Ann Applebaum, thank you so much for having this discussion with me.
WALES: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And just as social media plays a role in fake news, the US now says Facebook accounts played a role in helping North Korea link cyber
attacks. 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 has tried to reveal a more honest and complex view of North Koreans. It comes at a critical time, of course, as the US National
Security Advisor, 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 would be necessarily a peaceful resolution. Now Barbara Demick spent years covering the Koreans 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.
BARBARA DEMICK, AUTHOR: Thanks so much. Thanks so much, nice to be here.
AMANPOUR: Yes, 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 talk to the ordinary people you tracked down over a period of time?
DEMICK: You know, this 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 such monsters so, you know, I rather like North Koreans and I really came to enjoy their
company when I, when I interviewed them.
AMANPOUR: But what do you think, when you say they're like us, I'm sure they are, every every human has pretty much the same instincts by in large.
But do they know what's going on around the world? What is their view of their own regime, like the regime; do they blame the US for all the bad
things that are happening to them?
DEMICK: Well, certainly the regime would like them to blame the US. The, you know, all of the North Korean propaganda is that the US is to blame for
the shortage of electricity, the lack of food, it's all because they're in a state of war.
And they use this war to, you know, keep the people in line. But increasingly, North Koreans, you know, listen to smuggled radios, they have
USBs 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.
AMANPOUR: And, you know, I was stuck 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?
DEMICK: The city is called, Chongin, and actually very few foreigners, including myself, have been there. I traveled around parts of North Korea,
but not this city. But what I did was, I decided to interview defectors from one particular place and it happened to be Chongin because it was a
city not on that Chinese border.
But there were a lot of defectors who came from Chongin and they they tended to be smart people, a little bit savior than ordinary North Koreans.
And there were lots of them. And I felt like by interviewing people from one city, I could sort of fact check myself. You know, you never quite
trust what defectors are (staying) but if you have dozens of people from one city saying yes I saw dying children by the railroad tracks in the
1990's you know it's true. So that was the technique. And Pyongyang is this model city, it is a Potemkin village, it's all the winners of North
Korea's society so this was a much more ordinary place.
AMANPOUR: And you say winners, everybody is led to believe that in a real communist state like North Korea that everybody's equal but they're not,
DEMICK: No and less so than in many communist places there are very strictly ranked by their loyalty to the regime, it's a whole system called
Songbun and you're like the core class, you're a wavering class, you're a hostile class and there's not a number, but 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.
AMANPOUR: I want to just go back to what you said about food and people being able to feed their families et cetera. Obviously the worst time for
North Korea was during the famine in the 1990's for a variety of reasons; the Soviet Union in a collapse; 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 (don't know) families who literally 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.
DEMICK: I think it's horrific and it's as you said, Korean families are very close and older people would basically starve to death so that the
younger ones could survive. Everybody, everybody I met from North Korea even the ones who didn't particularly suffer had somebody they loved who
they watched die of -- in the famine; if not directly of starvation, of some disease caused by malnutrition. Just everybody had a terrible story,
waking up in the morning to see that your baby sleeping in the bed next to you was dead. It was -- I was always in tears listening to these people.
And they would always start out modestly saying oh nothing terrible happened to me but it did to all of them.
AMANPOUR: And you also recount how some people are actually savvy, very savvy as you say, but 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?
DEMICK: I think with time people have gotten much smarter, especially since the famine of the 1990's and I remember hearing this from one coal
miner, not an educated man, and he said to me 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. 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 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.
AMANPOUR: I was going to say that. We hear definitely that the economy miraculously has actually got a bit better; they've got a little bit of
private enterprise and it's not as dire. So I was wondering what you thought about the sanctions and whether, certainly the West says they're
not looking for regime change, but I'm sure they'd like to think that 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?
DEMICK: Well it's interesting, North Korea, people don't really understand, North Korea thrives on being anti-American it's their raison d
etre, it's -- anti-Americanism is the force that gives them meaning. And in a way President Trump is playing into their own hands with this sort of
rhetoric about North Korea; they can say see, see, see what the -- how the Americans are insulting our leadership and so I think that right now the
North Korea leader probably has pretty good support inside North Korea. I haven't been there for a while, but I think all of this is really boosting
Kim Jong-un's image, I think Donald Trump has done him a favor.
AMANPOUR: What is extraordinary - I mean that is an extraordinary thing that your saying right now, but also you being obviously a lot in South
Korea and I think to say that you know an anti-North Korean protest drawls very few people, but it's not the same when their protesting the United
States. And that's in an allied nation.
DEMICK: That's right. I - you know of all the places I've worked I've felt I think actually the most anti-Americanism in Sol(ph). I mean Korea
analysts hate when I say this and I was there at a particular time. But 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.
AMANPOUR: On that really extraordinary note from a allied country Barbara Demick. Thank you so much for joining us. And that is it for our program
and our conversations tonight. Remember you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at Amanpour.com and follow me on face book and
twitter. Thanks for watching and good bye from London.