The Week in Fact-Checking: Fake Twitter accounts are annoying — but not harmless

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

‘A fact-checking army’

For U.S. President Donald Trump’s annual State of the Union address Tuesday night, fact-checkers came out in force. They took to a new live fact-checking platform to provide context in real time. They posted fact checks to Twitter and Facebook as Trump spoke — some of which went viral. At one point, PolitiFact’s site went down briefly because of the rise in traffic.

The verdict: “President Trump’s State of the Union speech had soaring rhetoric — and many dubious facts and figures,” according to The Washington Post Fact Checker.

Robot
(Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash)

This is how we do it

  • Fact-checkers have started using an automated tool that automatically scans for checkable claims in CNN transcripts.
  • Africa Check has a new step-by-step guide to using reverse image search tools on mobile devices, and a tip sheet for fact-checking photos.
  • A fact-checking project debunking hoaxes about last weekend’s Czech presidential election runoff got about 80,000 pageviews on its first day.

This is bad

  • Inspired by President Trump, an Idaho state legislator wants to start a “fake news awards” program in her state.
  • An Italian news wire sent out the wrong photo of a woman who died following a train crash (This doesn’t need to happen. See AfricaCheck item above).
  • Maria Ressa, CEO of the Philippines news site Rappler, says some governments use “patriotic trolling” to intimidate journalists. Rappler’s license has been suspended by the government after the publication criticized the current administration.

This is fun

  • Comedian Stephen Colbert fact-checks (or lie-checks, as he calls it) President Trump’s comments about climate change (or as Trump called it, “heating and cooling.”)
  • A Snopes fact check about a video that claims to depict a showering rat was widely shared this week.
  • Late-night comedians had some fun after this week’s State of the Union address. Here’s a roundup.

A closer look

  • What’s behind fake news? Money, lies and manipulation — and Mirko Ceselkoski, a fake-news mentor in Macedonia who offers no apologies.
  • The United States, along with England, Belgium and Japan, has refused to participate in a global testing program to determine if students can spot misinformation, according to Business Insider.
  • Are Europe’s efforts to legislate against fake news futile? This Daily Beast reporter thinks so.

IFCN
(Graphic by Isaac Avila Rodriguez)

Coming up

  • Italian fact-checkers: apply to this flash grant by Feb 5.
  • Innovating fact-checkers: apply to Fact Forward by Feb 8.
  • There are two more weeks to apply to Global Fact V (400 people have already done so)

If you read one more thing

Fake accounts and followers on Twitter are annoying, ridiculous — but not harmless.They can “help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations.” The New York Times explains.

Quick fact-checking links

Nigeria is getting its first national fact-checking platform, called Dubawa.  // Facebook’s fact-checking project heads to Italy.  //  How to respond to critics on Twitter.  //  ICYMI, the IFCN has a research database.  //  The American Bar Association weighs in with its Legal Fact Check on foreign influence in elections.  //  A sportswriter who witnessed the real-life story fact-checks the “I, Tonya” movie.  // Tom Trewinnard writes about “what we’ve learned from seven years of verifi-checking” at Meedan.  //  A snowy  interview with Craig Newmark at Davos.  //  Those infamous “Jack the Ripper” letters were fake.  //  How to teach children to spot misinformation about energy and climate issues.  //  The government of Nigeria liked this fact check.  // We have more bad news about fake videos.  //  Maybe Instagram is a healthier version of Facebook. Maybe not.  //  This data scientist had to create her own army of bots to fight bots there were impersonating her.  //  The Guardian published an anonymous account from a fake news writer.  //  Conspiracy theories about the Virginia Amtrak crash abound on Facebook.

Looking for previous editions of this newsletter? You can find them here.

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