The Week in Fact-Checking: Malaysia is criminalizing fake news

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

Malaysia moves to outlaw fake news

The Malaysian government raised eyebrows this week when both houses passed a bill outlawing fake news, punishable by up to six years in prison for both its publication and sharing. Online service providers would be responsible for third-party content, foreign news outlets reporting on Malaysia could be affected and anyone could lodge a complaint against an alleged purveyor of misinformation.

But the opposition argues the government’s definition of what constitutes fake news — “any news, information, data and reports which are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas” — is too vague and that the bill is an effort to stifle free speech ahead of the August election. Malaysia's head of state still needs to sign the bill into law, but that is expected to be a formality since he supports the bill anyway.

ICYMI: Malaysia’s fake news bill is part of a larger trend of governments intervening against misinformation. Here’s a guide to different actions around the world.

Bachelet

This is how we do it

Fact-checking day highlights

  • Factcheck.org solicited questions from readers on Facebook throughout the week about its fact-checking process. Then it answered them in videos on Monday.
  • France 24 did segments with Derek Thomson, director of their Observers citizen verification project, and Jane Elizabeth, director of the Accountability Journalism Program at the American Press Institute, on International Fact-Checking Day. Observers also launched a verification guide.
  • Ana Pastor’s startup Newtral published an Instagram video explaining the fact-checking methodology on her prime time TV show El Objetivo. The Spanish fact-checker also published a segment asking people whether certain claims were true or false.

Facebook
The logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square, Thursday, March 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

This is bad

  • Facebook found 273 fake pages and accounts linked to Russian misinformation efforts.
  • Following a shooting at YouTube’s headquarters, BuzzFeed News kept track of hoaxes about the incident.  
  • InfoWars identified a Massachusetts man as the Parkland school shooter, and he’s suing.

A closer look

Election
(Shutterstock)

If you read one more thing

The Washington Post reported this week that a new study shows fake news might have swung the U.S. election in favor of Donald Trump. But Brendan Nyhan, a government professor at Dartmouth College, debunked that notion, pointing to a February column in The Upshot that warns against overblowing the political influence of bots and misinformation.

Quick fact-checking links

More than 75 percent of Americans think major TV and newspaper outlets report fake news, according to a new Monmouth University poll.  // Arizona’s AZ Fact Check Team looks back at seven ways politicians have mangled the truth.  //  Ireland’s Ferret Fact Service is celebrating one year in the biz.  //  Aos Fatos’ fact-checking bot Fátima grew to Twitter from Facebook and won an anti-misinformation challenge in Brazil.  //  Here’s how far automated fact-checking has come over the past two years — and the obstacles still in its way.  //  The International Center for Journalists is expanding TruthBuzz.  //  How the “teens snort condoms” non-story went viral.  //  Here’s where philanthropy to fight fake news is headed these days.  //  Fighting fake news in Mexico: WAN-IFRA writes about Verificado 2018.  //  PolitiFact published an eight-step guide to avoid falling for fake news for fact-checking day.  //  Facebook has expanded its fact-checking program to Indonesia.  //  The Washington Post’s Abby Olheiser kept track of all the major April Fools’ Day pranks on the internet this year.  //  The EU is facing more pushback on its efforts to counter disinformation.  //  Take a look inside Croatia’s Faktograf.  //  An Indonesian cabinet member threatened to shut down Facebook if the company doesn’t crack down on fake news before next year’s election.  //  Also for Fact-Checking Day: Vera Files created their own fact-checking quiz and the Better Government Association shared fact-checking tips.

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