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A new poll shows a lack of consensus on disinformation solutions

Who should be responsible for curbing the spread of disinformation?

We might start by looking at who is responsible for spreading it. Those of us who follow this topic closely know there are a number of answers to that question: nefarious foreign actors, irresponsible platforms, zealous partisans, politicians who lie with impunity, people who stand to make a buck off of misinformation and social media users who get duped into passing along falsehoods.

That lack of a single source also explains why it is so hard to identify a solution. There’s not just one place to look.

Now a new poll on disinformation reflects the difficulty people have in assigning responsibility for addressing the problem. NPR, PBS NewsHour and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion reported this week that a poll they conducted this month showed little consensus when it asked people to choose who should have the “main responsibility” for addressing the question: 39% pointed to the media, 18% to technology companies, 15% to the government and 12% to the public.

This is the second poll in a year in which the largest share of respondents said the media should have the primary responsibility for reducing the flow of misinformation. In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in early 2019, 53% of respondents said journalists have the most responsibility to fix the problem.

In the new poll, it’s worth noting the partisan breakdown of respondents who said the media holds the main responsibility. As NPR’s Brett Neely notes, it is probably not surprising that 54% of Republicans said stopping the spread of disinformation is mainly the media’s responsibility, given President Donald Trump’s repeated claim that the media traffics in “fake news.” In contrast, 29% of Democrats put the main onus on the media.

There is also the question of whether it is realistic to ask people to assign the main responsibility for stopping the flow of disinformation to one entity, since the problem almost certainly needs a multi-faceted solution. To address politicians who lie, the solution may be more fact-checking to hold them accountable. Platforms that turn a blind eye to dangerous misinformation may need more regulation. To help users spread less false information, we might need more news literacy programs.

At least people are aware that the problem is a difficult one. In the new poll, 59% of respondents reported that it is hard to tell the difference between factual and misleading information. That recognition could be an important step in getting more accountability – regardless of who people see as “mainly” responsible.

. . . technology

  • A collaborative project between The New York Times and IBM has been working to see whether blockchain technology can make it easier for news consumers to understand the provenance of online photos.
    • The upshot, wrote Hanaa’ Tameez for Nieman Lab, was that “they determined that a lot of things would have to change structurally about how photos work online for any solution to be widespread.”
  • Misinformation has been rampant in China since the confirmation of a new pneumonia-causing coronavirus. “A post circulating on the popular messaging app WeChat suggested that cities where patients had fallen sick should set off fireworks to kill the disease in the air,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
    • The IFCN and fact-checkers from Taiwan are having a hard time obtaining information about eight people who were arrested in the city of Wuhan earlier this month for allegedly spreading false news regarding the virus. The group was taken into custody by police forces before it became clear that the region was actually seeing an outbreak of a new fatal flu. International media hasn’t covered the case.

. . .  politics

  • Judd Legum’s Popular Information reported that Facebook “is allowing a major pro-Trump super PAC, the Committee to Defend the President, to run ads with lies.” This is contrary to its policy that political action committees and advocacy groups are subject to fact-checking even though politicians and parties are not.
    • “Over the last few months, the PAC has repeatedly used Facebook to advertise false claims,” Legum wrote.

. . .  the future of news

  • More than 500 people from 88 countries have applied to Global Fact 7, which means the next edition of the International Fact-Checking Network’s annual summit will be the largest and the most diverse in its history.
    • This year’s event, scheduled to take place in Oslo from June 24-27, will have five tracks. One will be dedicated to editorial issues. A second will focus on media literacy and training. The third will host developers and tech enthusiasts. The fourth track will be for executives, and the last one for academics. Those who are interested in presenting papers or research should submit abstracts to Oslo Metropolitan University. Applications will be open until Feb. 14.

Mexican fact-checkers from Animal Politico usually deal with false information regarding immigrants on  the country’s northern border with the United States. This week, they caught Mexican officials, including President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in a number of falsehoods involving the way Mexican National Guard troops treated migrants on the southern border.

Over the weekend, violence broke out when a group of about 2,000 immigrants from Honduras arrived at the border between Mexico and Guatemala at the Suchiate River, in an attempt to get to the United States. Following López Obrador’s strict orders, the troops stopped the migrants from getting into Mexico.

In an interview Tuesday, López Obrador said that “no human rights had been or would be ever violated” in the region. But fact-checkers from Animal Politico displayed a collection of images showing the opposite.

In a series of photos taken by AFP and the photo agency Cuartoscuro, fact-checkers showed how the Mexican border patrol ran after and jumped on people who tried to cross the river. In some images, it is clear that the troops are not offering the protection that the president mentioned in his interview.

The Mexican government said that no one was injured in the southern border and there “was nothing to be sorry about.” The Red Cross in Guatemala, however, told Animal Politico that seven people were hurt during the conflict.

What we liked: Animal Politico curated photos from different sources to show its audience what actually happened in a region that is not easily accessed by regular citizens. The fact that they also searched for information in Guatemala is a plus.

  1. An Ohio pediatrician who used TikTok to encourage people to get vaccinated was the victim of a smear campaign by the anti-vaccination movement.
  2. A journalist and free-speech advocate in Southeast Asia argued in a New York Times op-ed that Singapore’s anti-fake news law is being used to quiet dissent.
  3. Former Vice President Joe Biden sent an open memo to the media warning it to avoid spreading disinformation pushed by Trump and his allies.
  4. Algorithms are directing ads by American brands like Geico Insurance onto Russian disinformation sites, NewsGuard co-founder Gordon Crovitz wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
  5. Relatedly, some of the world’s biggest companies are funding climate misinformation by advertising on YouTube, according to a study from the activist group Avaaz.
  6. Fast Company interviewed Stanford misinformation researcher Renée DiResta about misinformation trends heading into the 2020 election.
  7. The Washington Post has updated its database of Trump falsehoods. He has made 16,241 false or misleading claims in his first three years in office.
  8. USA Today is seeking one-year reporting fellows to join its politics team as part of a fact-check program.
  9. In the days before the holiday celebrating his life, conspiracies about Martin Luther King Jr.’s death spread on social media. Daniel traced and debunked them for PolitiFact.
  10. The Tampa Bay Times debunked a Facebook rumor about sex traffickers purportedly luring motorists by lying down in roads.

That’s it for this week! Feel free to send feedback and suggestions to factually@poynter.org.

Daniel, Susan and Cristina

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Cristina Tardáguila is the International Fact-Checking Network’s Associate Director. She was born in May 1980, in Brazil, and has lived in Rio de Janeiro for…
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  • **fact-checkers showed how the Mexican border patrol ran after and jumped on people who tried to cross the river.**

    Is “jumped on” used as a synonym for “apprehended?

    I visited the linked pages and found nothing that looks like anybody “jumped on” anybody else in any kind of literal sense. Is tackling a border crosser who tries to evade the authorities a violation of the border crosser’s rights? If so, a fact check ought to try to make that clear.

    In fact, Political Animal (“Falso” rating excepted) doesn’t appear to make any direct allegation of a false statement by the Mexican government. Any such allegation appears to be made via implication, unless there’s something missing in translation (I have particularly in mind Google’s translation of the web page).

    For example, the page mentions the Guatemalan Red Cross reporting it treated individuals for bruises and cuts after the intervention by the Mexican National Guard. Post hoc ergo propter hoc?