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Beyond Engagement: Rethinking Product Strategy in an Era of Misinformation

Beyond Engagement: Rethinking Product Strategy in an Era of Misinformation

In the ever-changing world of technology, one problem has remained at the forefront of news and social media over the past decade – misinformation. There are 4.9 billion social media users globally, handing the majority of the world’s population a chance to share information online, but the lines between fact and fiction are becoming increasingly blurred. The pressure to report first and report fast has become intertwined with the ability for any citizen to make unfounded claims of their own online. In 2018, a study by MIT students found that false news stories were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories, while it took true information six times longer to reach the eyes of 1,500 people.

While limitless access to online information was once an asset, it has arguably mutated into a liability, raising numerous questions over ethics for those hosting our news. According to a Newsworks study, eight in ten people come across fake news day-to-day, while 52% of those surveyed admitted to being deceived by fake news at least once. Furthermore, one in ten admitted to never checking the reliability of these claims, and almost half (45%) only do this sometimes. Product strategies in the past have focused on assets such as user engagement and network effects, but these techniques are not well-equipped to handle the unique problem of misinformation.

As with any problem, some of the brightest minds in tech are currently working tirelessly to find solutions to misinformation. Unfortunately, the current attempts have fallen short of the ultimate goal to stem the rise of fake news, as tech companies are struggling with adopting the right product strategies. Algorithms find false positives and false negatives, policies often find themselves up against ethical speedbumps, and even effective tools are not always scalable across multiple regions. Focus on short-term fixes often wrongly trumps sustainable, long-term solutions.

Organizations worldwide not only find it difficult to resolve the issue, but their efforts also often fail due to quick fixes focused on short-term metrics. Google, the most trusted content consumption platform and owner of YouTube, is actively addressing this issue. Abhishek Kanal, a Product Strategy Lead for Global Responsibility at YouTube, has been at the helm of efficiently tackling the problem not just for Google but the entire tech industry.

After graduating with a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management from Duke University, Kanal led a diverse team of GTM specialists, policy experts, legal counsels, engineers, and data scientists at Google. In this role, he honed his expertise in spotting and analyzing misinformation and crafting robust product strategies to resolve these issues. Kanal also led the team that launched YouTube information panels on topics like Covid-19, climate change, vaccinations etc. featuring up-to-date news from authoritative sources like CDC and WHO, helping viewers to verify facts and access relevant information.

Kanal also continues to spearhead YouTube’s entire global election efforts, shaping information for 2 billion active users on a daily basis. These initiatives aim to keep viewers informed about election schedules, candidate choices, voter registration, and polling locations. Kanal played a crucial role in implementing backend features that not only reduce the distribution of false election-related information but also scrutinize video quality to directly address potentially misleading content related to elections.

In the realm of product strategy, Kanal has emerged at the forefront of the industry in recent years, founding Urban Donate in 2016 – India’s first non-monetary donation platform. This platform linked Mumbai households to over 15,000 children and elderly in shelters, inspiring major non-profits in India to launch similar platforms and enabling the donation of millions of items. Kanal also served as the Strategy and Operations Consultant at Deloitte where he spearheaded the test strategy for Oregon’s Integrated Eligibility software, essential for state initiatives like Medicaid and social services.

Across his career, holding vital positions at Google, Urban Donate, and Deloitte, Kanal has proved himself an expert in the field of purpose-driven technology innovation, but he expects plenty more innovation on the horizon. In his own words: “As the lines between technology and social impact continue to blur, the role of a product strategist transforms from being a mere planner to a societal architect, shaping platforms and services that don’t just engage users but empower them, foster responsible citizenship, and drive transformative change.”

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