September 27, 2018

Visualizing the spread of political falsehoods

How much misinformation made the rounds on Twitter during the French presidential election last year? Possibly not a lot.

That’s according to a study conducted by the Politoscope project at the Institute of Complex Systems of Paris Île-de-France, which analyzed the interaction between Twitter accounts. The report looked at 60 million exchanges from more than 2.4 million users by collecting data related to French politicians and political keywords in real time using an automated visualization platform.

According to the methodology, which Le Monde’s Adrien Sénécat covered for Décodeurs, the more accounts retweeted each other, the more they were considered to be “close.” The result is a variety of heat maps showing the interactions between different political groups on Twitter.

So how does that relate to misinformation?

Using data compiled by Décodeurs’ Décodex project, which keeps track of misinformation the fact-checker identifies online, Politiscope researchers were able to map how fake news links circulated during the French election. What they found is that only 4,888 tweets of 60 million they analyzed linked to one of the stories that Décodeurs had debunked at the time — less than 0.01 percent of the total.

That finding echoes what other researchers have found about the proportion of misinformation to all posts on Twitter. That includes the observation that, according to Politiscope, fact checks of misinformation get about four times fewer shares than the original falsehood.

Décodex’s data is not exhaustive, as the project did not fact-check every piece of misinformation on Twitter. And, as Sénécat noted in his article, the same domains they identified have racked up far more shares on Facebook.

Emeric Henry, an associate professor of economics at Sciences Po, told Daniel that much of what the study covers has already been documented elsewhere. But the findings do shed light on how misinformation spreads.

“One of the main interesting findings is that fake news is mostly circulated by politically affiliated accounts (in particular those of the embattled candidate Fillon) whereas debunks mostly came from unaffiliated accounts,” he said in an email. “This seems like quite a new observation.”

In an email to Daniel, Sénécat agreed, and said that fact-checkers should think about adapting their methodologies to tackle a range of political misinformation.

“We fact-checkers should not only work on 100 percent false information but also delve into other phenomena such as propaganda,” he said. “And considering that false information is a portion of a more massive phenomenon, which we could define as misinformation as a whole.”

IFCN fellows
(From left): Dror Sharon of The Whistle and Manuela Tobias of PolitiFact are the 2018 International Fact-Checking Network fellows. (Courtesy The Whistle and PolitiFact)

This is how we do it

  • Meet this year’s class of IFCN fellows, who will work on projects about automated fact-checking and how to fact-check elections.
  • Africa Check got the British ambassador to Senegal to correct a statistic he used about female genital mutilation.
  • North American fact-checkers worked together to publish fact checks about trade policy for the 25th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

This is bad

  • Several people have been fooled by 4chan and 8chan hoaxes this week. Here’s how to report on anonymous message boards responsibly.
  • Fake news sites are targeting Macedonia’s vote on whether or not to change the country’s name as part of an agreement with Greece.
  • The “Siri Suggested” feature inside Safari have recommended conspiracy sites and misinformation, Charlie Warzel reported for BuzzFeed News.

Coming up

  • The International Center for Journalists is looking for a TruthBuzz Fellow to work with PolitiFact and The News & Observer. Apply by Oct. 8!
  • EU fact-checkers are meeting in Brussels today and tomorrow. Some form of collaboration for the 2019 European Parliament elections might emerge.
  • Are you a U.S.-based fact-checker with a big idea? Apply for the IFCN’s $10,000 flash grant by Oct. 1 (that’s this Monday!)

A closer look

  • The BBC published an in-depth investigation of a viral video depicting a murder in Cameroon. Here’s how its journalists and freelancers verified the video.
  • Daniel updated our ongoing guide to what actions governments worldwide are taking against misinformation. Tell us which we should include in our next update — and if you want to help us make it even better, reach out.
  • Facebook removed more than a dozen hyperpartisan pages after it found that they were being managed by the same fake account.
WhatsApp India
In this Monday, June 11, 2018 file photo, a protestor stands wearing a badge showing Nilotpal Das, right and Abhijit Nath, left, who were killed by mobs inflamed by social media, during a silent protest in Gauhati, India. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath, File)

If you read one more thing

Don’t just blame tech companies like WhatsApp for the rise of mob violence in India — blame the cultural divisions and government failures that caused them, Alexis Madrigal wrote for The Atlantic.

11 quick fact-checking links

  1. WhatsApp has appointed a grievance officer to field complaints about (but not limited to) misinformation in India.
  2. This new project is fact-checking claims about women in Europe.
  3. Google and Facebook agreed to a code of conduct created through an EU process on how they should deal with misinformation. The heterogeneous group of observers asked to provide an opinion on it (of which Alexios was one) did not deem this a breakthrough, but Reuters Institute Director Rasmus Nielsen was more optimistic.
  4. The BBC will extend its fact-checking service to cover the 2019 elections in India.
  5. Fact-checking in science journalism is a “healthy but inconsistent,” CJR wrote about a new report.
  6. Now that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been banned from most major platforms, should journalists keep covering his antics?
  7. Quartz published an alarmist view on the future of manipulated media.
  8. Full Fact helped publish a paper on automated fact-checking that improves the project’s current claim detection by 5 percent.
  9. Mamma mia, the new President of Italy’s state broadcaster. He’s tweeted InfoWars stories in the past.
  10. The New York Times has joined a slate of publishers that ask readers to send them potential examples of misinformation.
  11. Africa Check is hiring a fact-checker based in Johannesburg. Apply by Sept. 28 (that’s tomorrow!)

Until next week,

Daniel and Alexios

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Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
Daniel Funke

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