Tackling Fake News

February 21, 2017

Written by NewsWhip

We’re announcing a couple of modest initiatives at NewsWhip to help our customers respond to “fake news” – fictional stories dressed up to look like news, and recently getting outsize traction on social networks.

What we mean when we talk about Fake News

Before taking any initiative involving fake news, we should be clear what exactly we are talking about. The phrase “fake news” is being slung around by politicians lately, and is in danger of losing its meaning. Some use the term “fake news” for any reporting that contradicts their political preferences.

Fake news is not these things. It is limited to a simple phenomenon: the creating of news stories without any basis in fact. “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

We believe there is such a thing as truth and accuracy in reporting. The success of the human species since the Enlightenment is built on establishing accurate, reality-based explanations in science, engineering, technology and human affairs. In today’s world, journalism feeds our public sphere of debate, giving us many of the facts on which our political decisions are made. Fake news poisons that public sphere with falsehoods, bringing policies and political decisions based on prejudices and falsehood rather than facts.

The big social networks are looking at ways to staunch the spread of fake news and the filter bubble environment where it thrives. Meanwhile we’ve been looking at ways we can help our customer base – journalists and editors – address the fake news problem.

1. Making it easier to find fake news

First, something simple. Spike can be used to find trending fake news stories which journalists might not normally spot due to the filter bubble effect.

For example our content team has created a sample “Fake News” Panel in Spike, tracking the output of websites that have previously produced fictional stories dressed as news. Using a panel like this, journalists can see which stories from those sources are getting major social traction, get email or Slack alerts if anything starts blowing up, or just get regular digests of what’s big among the readership of these sites.

To get our users started, we have relied on a list of “fake news” sites vetted by the Wikipedia community. Not all news from these sites is fake, but the sites have previously shown a disregard for truth in their reporting.

We’ll update our starter Fake News Panel regularly as sites come and go. Spike users, you can edit the Fake Sites panel by removing or adding sites as you see fit. We plan to follow this with pages and social accounts that also produce fake news.

We’ve also added a panel tracking the “fake news” phenomenon that Spike users might find useful. Other pre-made panels in Spike include a fake news influencers view showing the pages spreading misinformation on Facebook, and view of videos published by fake news outlets.

2. Supporting French newsrooms with the CrossCheck initiative

The problems of fake news and other misinformation dissemination online is not limited to the US. European countries also face challenges in combatting localised versions of the phenomenon, with several key elections taking place across the continent in the Netherlands, France, Germany and elsewhere this year.

To this end, we’re working with First Draft News in providing support to leading French publishers during the country’s presidential election this spring.

The CrossCheck initiative gathers expertise from the media and technology industries to debunk hoaxes, rumours and other misinformation around the French election. Seventeen newsrooms are taking part, including Le Monde, Liberation, Agence France Presse, BuzzFeed News and more. Journalists from these sites will work together to find and verify content such as photos, videos, memes or news stories circulating publicly online.

NewsWhip is making Spike available to journalists in these newsrooms in an effort to help journalists quickly spot the fake stories gaining traction on social media in France, identify the social accounts passing on these stories, monitor international coverage around the election for fake reports, and more.

CrossCheck goes live on February 27th, and you can email crosscheck@firstdraftnews.com for more information if you’re interested in finding out more.

3. Keep Popping the Filter Bubble

Our technology is designed to give media professionals a view into what content is engaging people now in any niche – including niches they may not encounter very regularly. We will adjust our training sessions with journalists to emphasize the importance of seeing other people’s perspectives and news feeds. We hope this helps journalists understand the language within different filter bubbles, and find ways to pop them.

Our product team has examined approaches for ranking the integrity of sources, and other technological means of sifting truth from falsity. Perhaps we can offer better pattern recognition in future, but as I recently said on CNBC, determining if something is true or false still requires a smart person in the loop.

We’ll keep spotting the fake stories for those smart people, so they can spear them with good old reality-based reporting.

Tune into our Webinar on February 23rd, for insights into three years of social data

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