Fact-checkers gear up for EU elections
A big development in fact-checking this week came in Europe, where 19 news organizations are collaborating on a project called FactCheckEU. They’ll fact-check politicians’ rhetoric and misinformation ahead of the May parliamentary elections.
(Full disclosure: The platform is being helped with an innovation grant from the IFCN, and the participants are signatories of the IFCN’s code of principles. Watch the IFCN’s new associate director, Cristina Tardáguila, talk more about the project with Newtral here.)
European Union leaders are warning of coordinated misinformation campaigns ahead of the vote, Reuters reported. Facebook is ramping up its efforts on this front, too, after it and other platforms were criticized by EU officials for not doing enough to combat misinformation.
To learn more about FactCheckEU, we spoke with Jules Darmanin, the project’s coordinator, via email. This Q-and-A has been shortened and edited for clarity.
Can you tell us more about the vision for FactcheckEU? Particularly for readers not in Europe, what is the misinformation ecosystem like there and how do you think you can make a difference?
I think all fact-checkers are acutely aware that misinformation knows no border. That’s a given. But it’s especially true in Europe, which is both a single political structure and a region with many different languages and cultures. That’s the core reason for FactcheckEU. The fact-checking community in Europe identified this problem and we decided to build a multilingual fact-checking platform to tackle it.
The misinformation ecosystem in Europe has some specificities. For instance, it’s much less money-driven than some of the misinformation you have in North America — simply because, if you’re looking to maximize profit, you’re not going to open a blog of fake stories on Lithuanian or Danish politics.
But the fact that the EU has so many languages poses other challenges. For instance, when a Greek TV talking head says on the air that migrants are given free brothel coupons in Germany — a hoax that Germans know rather well — this false information can spread freely in Greece. Fortunately, we have a Greek partner who debunked this, so if this story pops up in another country, we’re prepared. That’s one of our main goals.
The launch of this project two months before Europe’s parliamentary elections is obviously important. What are your plans for after the election?
This project is rather ambitious in terms of languages covered and of output. After the election is over, we will take some time to see what we could have done better, and to take a broader look at how different national audiences reacted to the project. This will help us figure out the next steps.
What were the origins of this effort? How did these 19 news organizations come together, for example? Did you choose them or did they choose you?
There was already an ongoing conversation between some European fact-checkers. And in May 2018, Libération won the IFCN Fact Forward Grant for CheckNews, its Q&A project. Libération very generously offered to use the money to build the FactcheckEU website, which has a Q&A module that is already giving us interesting questions to work on.
When I joined the project early this year, most of the European IFCN members were already there. I reached out to the others, especially in central and eastern Europe. It wasn’t hard convincing them! Fact-checking is sometimes a lonely, Sisyphean task, so it feels good to realize that we’re all in this together.
The deadly terrorist attack on a New Zealand mosque Friday posed a difficult new challenge for social media companies, as they tried to rid their platforms of copies of a livestream that the shooter put on Facebook. As The New York Times’ Kevin Roose wrote, the murders appeared designed for the Internet. So much so, BuzzFeed noted, that the shooter left little room for fakes or hoaxes — usually seen after such episodes — to fill the void.
Facebook has expanded its fact-checking partnership to Spain. The latest projects to join the program, which lets fact-checkers limit the spread of false content on the platform, include Newtral, Maldita.es and the Agence France-Presse’s Spanish team. (Disclosure: Being a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles is a necessary condition for joining the project.)
As we’ve noted, India is determined to fight disinformation. But with how heavy a hand? In an opinion piece, Bloomberg’s editorial board argued that recently drafted regulations would impose what it calls “drastic if not impossible obligations” on platforms, saying they would “worsen security, eliminate privacy, and undermine freedom of speech.”
Mother Jones explored what it calls the “bizarre and terrifying” case in Gabon, where President Ali Bongo released a video to reassure his country after getting treatment overseas for a stroke. But was it doctored? The author, Ali Breland, doesn’t make a judgment, but suggests it almost doesn’t matter — just the possibility that it could be a deepfake created enough doubt to feed chaos, and a failed coup.
Donald Trump and others on the American right have been critical of fact-checking. But such criticism can come from the left, too, as this piece from left-leaning outlet ThinkProgress shows. It takes on the Associated Press fact-checkers’ conclusion that presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke inaccurately suggested there is a consensus about a window for addressing climate change.
…the future of news
- Last week we noted The Verge’s conclusion that deepfakes “are not a real problem.” Some U.S. politicians would disagree, and are exploring regulatory responses, USA Today reported.
- In October, Google announced that it was building a search engine for fact checks. The beta version of that feature is going live soon, according to a blog post from the Google News Initiative, as well as an updated version of the markup that fact-checkers embed in their articles so that they’re picked up by Google.
- Do you have a great fact-checking idea? Apply for the IFCN’s innovation fund by March 29 for the chance to win $50,000.
Each week, we analyze five of the top-performing fact checks on Facebook to see how their reach compared to the hoaxes they debunked. Check Poynter.org on Friday for more on this week’s numbers.
- Rappler: “Photo of a Hugpong ng Pagbabago rally drawing a massive crowd” (Fact: 8.4K engagements // Fake: 316 engagements)
- Agência Lupa: “A photo of a former police officer suspected of killing Marielle wearing a Lula shirt” (Fact: 2.7K engagements // Fake: 323 engagements)
- Full Fact: “You shouldn’t put a tampon in a stab wound” (Fact: 1.2K engagements // Fake: 68.8K engagements)
Liputan 6: “Circulating Photo of KPU Logistics Truck with ‘Chinese characters’ on it, this is the fact” (Fact: 1.1K engagements // Fake: 1.3K engagements)
- PolitiFact: “No, House Democrats did not vote to allow noncitizens to vote as part of HR 1” (Fact: 1K engagements // Fake: 7.1K engagements)
India has been rife with misinformation over the past few weeks following a terrorist attack in the Kashmir region. And with general elections coming up April 11, even more false claims are making the rounds online.
This week, the Agence France-Presse’s fact-checking team in India debunked a false photo that claimed to show a member of the National Congress Party saying the country would be ruled by Muslims. As proof, the image bears a misleading caption and the party’s symbol in the upper-right-hand corner alongside an image of a man in a skull cap.
But that man isn’t a member of the opposition party — he’s a U.S.-based Imam from a 2014 lecture that doesn’t even mention India. AFP debunked the image by doing a couple of reverse image searches.
What we liked: AFP did a great job of laying out every step of its fact-checking project in a way that any reader can understand, breaking the text up into single paragraphs. The outlet did a simple reverse image search to find a YouTube video depicting the Imam, and concluded that the Congress Party’s logo was photoshopped in after the fact.
Quartz Obsession has weighed in on, well, our obsession.
Facebook temporarily blocked White House social media director Dan Scavino because the company thought his account was a bot. It later apologized and restored the functionality.
In Jamaica, a fake recruitment ad inspired 2,000 people to show up for interview for acceptance into the army’s Jamaica National Service Corp.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a series of bills making it illegal to propagate “fake news” or to “disrespect” the state. The latter appears to carry stiffer punishments.
Full Fact has released a report on the so-called “backfire effect,” which posits that fact checks that don’t confirm readers’ ideological beliefs will further entrench their misperceptions. After reviewing existing literature, Full Fact found that “the backfire effect is in fact rare, not the norm — and suggests fact-checking does help inform people.”
Daniel interviewed the new head of Africa Check, Noko Makgato, this week. He laid out his priorities for one of the world’s fastest-growing fact-checking outlets.
Some grieving parents have become targets of anti-vaccination activists, who blame them for their own children’s deaths. “Nothing is considered too cruel,” write Elizabeth Cohen and John Bonifield for CNN.
Relatedly, a couple weeks ago we raised the question of what government officials could do beyond threaten social media platforms that spread vaccination misinformation. CBS News this week put that question to one of the lawmakers pressuring the companies.
The Los Angeles Times summarized the basics of what researchers know about misinformation and fact-checking.