October 26, 2018

EU attention to fact-checking could do more harm than good

Last week, 60-odd fact-checkers and onlookers gathered in Brussels for a conference aimed at promoting collaboration ahead of the 2019 European Parliament elections.

The everyday work of fact-checkers across the EU shows how valuable such collaboration could be. False political claims and viral hoaxes get recycled across the continent with minor edits (see the Agence France-Presse buzzer fact check linked below). Working together could get fact checks out faster and to a much larger audience.

Yet the conference, which Alexios attended, also raised the usual concerns about too many EU officials’ attitudes toward fact-checking.

“Europe is under attack,” said European Parliament President Antonio Tajani in his opening remarks — as if defending it was the duty of the united fact-checkers. Shortly thereafter, the European Parliament’s spokesperson Jaume Duch Gulliot argued that the Brexit referendum went the way it did because of “fake news,” an argument that is at the very least hard to prove. (At least Commissioner Mariya Gabriel used her time to stress the importance of independence and transparency in any pan-European fact-checking endeavor.)

Depicting fact-checking as an instrument against Europe’s enemies, as the EU has done in the past, risks making the fight against misinformation as polarizing in the EU as it is in the United States.

Fact-checkers are wary of European politicians with their own agendas wading into the promotion or regulation of fact-checking, especially when their self-awareness as vectors of misinformation is so limited.

This was painfully evident last week. Asked by Alexios whether he would make a concrete commitment to his voters to be more factual and correct incorrect statements faster in the future, one MEP retorted that he found this “slightly insulting.”

But there was some progress. In Brussels, there were lessons from previous fact-checking collaborations in France and Sweden, as well as the defunct FactCheckEU platform. And as they waited for pasta, a group of IFCN-verified fact-checkers committed to some form of alliance ahead of May 2019.

(Screenshot from UOL)

This is how we do it

  • Aos Fatos’ fact check of an interview with Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro and journalist José Luiz Datena was its third-most viewed story of the year.
  • Lithuanian fact-checking outlet 15min launched a project that tracks how politicians change their positions over time.
  • A photoshopped image of an apartment buzzer was used in xenophobic hoaxes across Western Europe. AFP Factuel debunked it.

This is bad

  • Last week’s hearings with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexual assault, spawned a variety of misinformation and misleading statements. One false claim was even shared by some reporters.
  • The head of India’s ruling party encouraged his organization’s social media volunteers to spread misinformation ahead of next year’s election.
  • Lady Gaga fans are creating fake Twitter accounts and writing negative reviews about the movie “Venom” in order to promote the artist’s own movie, which premieres the same day.
In this May 18, 2012, file photo a television photographer shoots the sign outside of Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

A closer look

  • Facebook met with representatives from Myanmar, the Philippines and Sri Lanka to discuss its misinformation problem. Here’s what they talked about.
  • Full Fact published a report outlining how the fact-checking project thinks the United Kingdom should respond to misinformation. A key theme: Don’t overreact.
  • Which countries worry the most about misinformation? This new Reuters Institute study found that Brazil takes the cake.

If you read one more thing

The Singapore Parliament has issued its recommendations for what the government should do about misinformation. BuzzFeed News’ Craig Silverman wrote an in-depth analysis of the situation.

17 quick fact-checking links

  1. Indonesia’s communications ministry announced that it will start debunking false claims during weekly briefings.
  2. Lead Stories is working on a tool that shows how fake news websites are often part of interconnected networks.
  3. The Tallahassee Democrat launched a fact-checking project going into this fall’s midterm election in Florida. Some are expressing concern about its funding and staffing.
  4. Google is building a search engine specifically for fact checks.
  5. Reporters Without Borders took an official stand against attacks on fact-checkers worldwide.
  6. Twitter has stepped up its effort to remove fake accounts before the U.S. midterm elections. As one reporter noted, it’d be great to know more details about how this is being done.
  7. Wired U.K. profiled Full Fact in its latest issue.
  8. Can we stop with these seemingly anonymous, first-person accounts from fake news writers?
  9. Good news for photo sleuths: Google will soon allow users to search for a specific area inside a photo.
  10. Pakistan’s information ministry has created a Twitter account aimed at “exposing fake news.” _Thinking face emoji_
  11. Egypt charged a human rights activist for “spreading fake news” over a video that criticized the government for the amount of sexual harassment in the country.
  12. California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have created a fake news advisory group, saying it’s unnecessary.
  13. A conspiracy theorist vlogger was arrested for making death threats against YouTube employees.
  14. Two daily newspapers in Okinawa started fact-checking online misinformation during a gubernatorial election.
  15. Happy 6th birthday to Pagella Politica.
  16. The Knight Foundation is accepting proposals for research centers focusing on “the future of an informed society” including the study of misinformation.
  17. The Newseum built a browser extension that gives users more details about a news outlet’s credibility.

Until next week,

Daniel and Alexios

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