The Yellow Vest protests showcase the enduring reach of misinformation — and the desire for fact-checking

The Week in Fact-Checking is a newsletter about fact-checking and accountability journalism, from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network & the American Press Institute’s Accountability Project. Sign up here.

What the Yellow Vest protests tell us about misinformation

The French “gilets jaunes” (“yellow vests”) demonstrations started in mid-November in reaction to diesel tax increases. They have since morphed into a much broader protest against President Emmanuel Macron. Online commentary about them has generated a bounty of misinformation.

Late on Tuesday night, we asked Guillaume Daudin, who runs AFP Factuel, what the past month has been like as a fact-checker.

“Is ‘crazy’ a good answer?” he promptly messaged back.

Things started heating up for Factuel on Nov. 18, when a debunk of an image allegedly of the gilets jaunes was revealed as originating from a 2014 demonstration. Strikingly, that debunk gathered more than twice as many retweets as the original hoax.

The yellow vests attracted international interest because Macron has been heralded by some as a centrist response to populism and taunted by others (including U.S. President Donald Trump) as an ineffective globalist stooge.

This interest has also meant international amplification of false news. Gustavo Petro, former mayor of Bogotá and presidential candidate, tweeted another picture of the wrong crowd in exhorting his own followers to protest the Colombian government. Tweets accusing the media of being biased for using misleading perspectives to exaggerate the size of fires started by protesters went viral in Spain. And Trump’s claim that protesters were chanting “We want Trump” was found to be baseless.

Two seemingly conflicting takeaways emerge here. On the one hand, contentious political events developing in an uncertain manner keep providing fertile grounds for misinformation. On the other, this is also a moment when the public is most eager for fact-checkers to help detect the signal from the noise.

Libération’s CheckNews published at least 99 stories on the topic. AFP Factuel’s Twitter following tripled from 18,000 to 54,000 in the month of demonstrations.

The first episode of (Mis)informed is live

Last week, the IFCN launched a podcast about fact-checking and misinformation. In the first episode, which went live yesterday, Daniel talks to Amy Sippitt from Full Fact and Brendan Nyhan from the University of Michigan to try and answer one big question: Who is fact-checking for?

Subscribe to (Mis)informed wherever you get your podcasts, and let us know what you think by filling out this form.

This is new

  • PolitiFact’s lie of the year: The online engine of hoaxes, conspiracy theories and smears against the victims of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
  • Egypt has imprisoned more journalists on “false news” charges this year than any other country.
  • The Washington Post Fact Checker has a new rating: the Bottomless Pinocchio. It’ll be used for false claims that are repeated over and over again.
(Screenshot from RMIT ABC Fact Check video)

Show and tell

  • RMIT ABC Fact Check in Australia published a video about its engagement over the past year with policymakers and readers.
  • Nieman Lab published a few strategies for combating health misinformation.
  • These Czech students created a game that helps teenagers tell fact from fiction online.

The Bad Place

  • A year after YouTube promised to cut down on the amount of bogus content on the platform, conspiracy theories still run rampant.
  • An imposter Facebook account was used to drum up support for the migrant caravan, BuzzFeed News reported.
  • Fox Business Network apologized after a Republican lawmaker spread an anti-George Soros conspiracy theory on air.
In this May 25, 2018 file photo, family member grieve by a portrait of Bala Krishna, a 33-year-old motorized rickshaw driver who was killed by a mob inflamed by social media in Jiyapalli village, outside his house at Korremula village, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, India. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A., File)

A closer look

  • Wired has a deep dive on how WhatsApp facilitates the spread of misinformation and violence in India.
  • Nieman Lab’s 2019 predictions went live this week, and Claire Wardle of First Draft nailed hers: “2019 will be the year when misinformation becomes harder to track as it moves out of sight, into more closed and ephemeral spaces.”
  • The Guardian checked in with a few of Facebook’s fact-checking partners to see how the project is going. The verdict: Not well. But stay tuned for a more comprehensive version of this story on Poynter.org tomorrow.

Alexios is leaving

Alexios is leaving his position as IFCN Director in February. He’s grateful to a bunch of people, including Will Moy for this too kind post on the Full Fact blog.

7 quick fact-checking links

  1. Here are PolitiFact’s top 10 most popular fact checks of 2018.
  2. Breitbart took it upon itself to fact-check the role of consent in the Nativity story and it’s *ahem* something.
  3. Psychology Today takes a look at what some of the research says about how misinformation spreads online.
  4. Snopes came under fire for a fact check about a viral photo of congress members who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
  5. Another political group created an AI-powered Trump impersonation to warn about deepfakes.
  6. Africa Check is hiring a developer.
  7. Deepfakes made the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs.

Until next week,

Daniel and Alexios