Democracy's immune system is in trouble. Here's what we can do

Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT) December 1, 2017

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Craig Newmark is the founder of Craigslist and the Craig Newmark Philanthropies, which supports and connects nonprofit communities and drives civic engagement. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. This is the next installment in CNN Opinion's series on the challenges facing the media as it is under attack from critics, governments and changing technology.

(CNN)Throughout history, the media has been used to manipulate and influence political outcomes. Julius Caesar used war journaling, or a written firsthand account of war and its rationale, to justify the invasion and destruction of the Gallic tribes two millennia ago. His heir, Octavian, used a disinformation campaign to convince the Senate to declare war against Mark Antony.

In later years, new communications tools, such as the printing press and moveable type, made it easier for philosophers including John Locke and Thomas Paine to influence new forms of democracy, which, while imperfect, have been more successful than other forms of government.
What these historic figures didn't have access to is digital technology, which democratizes media but also eases the spread of disinformation. The internet allows all who have access to participate, but it also amplifies the effectiveness of media manipulation via automation. Botnets (which are made up of networks of individual, social media and bot accounts that appear to be owned by real people) act as a force multiplier, distributing disinformation in the form of "fake news" on a massive scale. We saw this in the 2016 US presidential election, as Russian propaganda flooded social media platforms to divide the nation.
However, a broad community of good actors, including foundations and nonprofits committed to journalistic integrity, are emerging to promote media literacy and good-faith reporting. As a news consumer and a philanthropist (not an expert), I'm invested in supporting these knowledgeable institutions and initiatives to ensure that we have access to fair and accurate reporting. I care about this issue because I believe a strong, vigorous and trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy.
Last year that immune system failed, which is why we need to focus on rebuilding and sustaining a trustworthy press now more than ever. While a complex task, given the evolving uses of technology in spreading disinformation, in order to remedy this issue we must create a more formalized journalistic code of ethics for the digital age.
There are several governing principles for such a code -- more than can be covered in this piece. In fact, the Society of Professional Journalists (SJP) has a comprehensive code of ethics for news organizations to follow, and the Online News Association has a "Build Your Own" ethics code project, designed to let news organizations