There was less misinformation during the midterms than in 2016. But its form has changed.

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.

2016 vs. 2018, misinformation edition

Two years after a presidential campaign defined by the explosion of viral fakes on social media, one question loomed over the misinformation beat ahead of the U.S. midterms: How bad would it be this time?

If we define the problem in the tightest possible manner — entirely fabricated viral stories published for economic gain — things seem to have gotten better. Serial offender YourNewsWire seems to have lost some of its reach on Facebook, Bloomberg reported, and its delisting by a sponcon provider seems to have led the website to relocate to a new domain. As the BBC reported, social media companies sighed a collective breath of relief.

That’s not to say that a circus of hoaxes didn’t surface during the campaign or on election day, which reporters at BuzzFeed News and The New York Times (among others) diligently tracked. We’re going to need to return to the question with data at hand, but at least qualitatively, this time felt different.

Facebook was more aggressive about removing voter fraud hoaxes. And so was Twitter, with more than 40 far-right trolls commenting in private chats that they struggled to get misinformation about the voting day off the ground, Ben Collins reported for NBC News.

One of the most-discussed, problematic viral videos of the night, which showed a malfunctioning voting machine, wasn’t fake, but rather miscaptioned and weaponized for political purposes.

This silver lining points to the remaining challenges. The blatantly bonkers and spammy fakes might be gone, but propaganda and partisan misinformation are alive and well, BuzzFeed News' Charlie Warzel wrote this week. There’s still plenty of work for fact-checkers, journalists and the platforms.

FB
This July 16, 2013 file photo shows a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

This is how we do it

  • Chequeado published a report on how the past two month’s of its partnership with Facebook have gone.
  • Two startups are building apps that could help journalists verify manipulated images and videos faster.
  • A new fact-checking site has launched in Portugal.

This is bad

  • LinkedIn is now the home of false memes and hyperpartisan content, BuzzFeed News’ Craig Silverman reported. Nowhere is safe.
  • Snapchat, which has largely avoided the misinformation problems that have plagued other tech platforms, might serve as an accessory to fakery elsewhere online.
  • According to Aos Fatos, misinformation was shared at least 3.84 million times on Twitter and Facebook in the lead-up to Brazil's election.

CNN
(Screenshot from CNN)

This is fun

  • A CNN anchor used jars of candy to display how many falsehoods President Donald Trump has said since he was elected, according to The Washington Post Fact Checker.
  • Factcheck.org highlighted some “unique and unusual” U.S. midterm campaign ads in its 2018 FactCheck Awards.
  • Snopes’ website went down for some scheduled maintenance on Election Day in the U.S. It now has a new site design.

A closer look

  • Ahead of the U.S. midterms, Facebook removed 30 Facebook accounts and 85 Instagram accounts that may have been engaging in inauthentic behavior. MediaWise posted a short video explaining the move and the Tow Center’s Jonathan Albright wrote an in-depth blog post about the long-term gaming of Facebook’s engagement numbers.
  • Both NBC News and Wired published stories about why misinformation on WhatsApp is hard to stop in two of its largest markets: India and Brazil.
  • Who believes in online misinformation? Delusion-prone individuals, according to this new study.

Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping stands during a welcome ceremony for Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

If you read one more thing

Freedom House released a report on how authoritarian governments around the world are hiding behind anti-fake news laws in an effort to suppress free speech.

9 quick fact-checking links

  1. The Chinese government is now labeling Weibo posts that it deems to be rumors.
  2. Please, no more of these headlines. We’re begging you.
  3. Remember those deceptive news sites launched by American politicians over the summer? Daniel found that almost all of them stopped posting before the midterm election, and MediaWise explained how voters can avoid falling for them in the future.
  4. Nieman Lab reported that there was no big spike in misinformation during the U.S. midterms. But that’s not the whole story.
  5. After Snopes reached out to Breitbart about one of its stories, the latter published yet another story about the interaction.
  6. Facebook was referred to a European Union watchdog over the existence of false advertisements on the platform.
  7. Venezuela has launched a task force aimed at coming up with responses to “fake news.”
  8. It’s almost the end of the year, which means you should send us your favorite media corrections (especially from outside America!)
  9. The New York Times has a new documentary on disinformation.

Until next week,

Daniel and Alexios

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