How social media platforms and fact-checkers fight fake news


See also: “Fake news? What it is and isn’t, and how journalists fight it

Facebook is targeting three key areas, according to its website: disrupting economic incentives, building news products to curb the spread of false news and helping people make more informed decisions when they encounter false news.

Twitter took down a total of 770 fake news accounts during summer 2018 in anticipation of the U.S. midterm election. However, according to Politico, a 2018 Knight Foundation study found more than 80 percent of the accounts that spread misinformation during the 2016 election are still active and publish upwards of a million tweets a day.

Maria Molina and S. Shyam Sundar, researchers from Pennsylvania State University, presented their findings on identifying fake news at the 2018 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Conference, noting several ways people can tell if news is fake:

  1. Linguistic features. This includes proper grammar and spelling, or language indicating something is an opinion piece rather than a news article
  2. Source and intentions. This refers to the credibility and agenda of the organization where the media came from.
  3. Structural components. The logo or structure of a website might look legitimate at first glance, but a closer look could reveal discrepancies. In addition, the “About Us” section of a website can help show if the purported news source is actually satire or some other news alternative.

“I think the important thing is to realize that fake news is not only about one type of feature,” Molina said. “We can find so many different types of information.”

That’s why, whether a fake news story is actually an advertisement or something else, it’s important to “take it for what it is.”

Fact-checking initiatives also play an important role. According to the Poytner Institute, which publishes a code of principles for non-partisan fact-checkers, there were 114 fact-checking initiatives in 47 countries as of February 2017.

One of these fact-checking initiatives is TEGNA’s Verify, which “grew in response to factors eroding public trust in the media such as the ‘fake news’ phenomenon to the proliferation of dubious stories making the rounds on the internet,” according to its website.

Journalists with Verify receive training from Investigative Reporters and Editors, and stations such as CBS affiliate KHOU-TV in Houston, Texas, air at least one Verify-inspired story per day. A month after its launch in May 2017, Verify platforms had drawn 4.4 million visitors and 5.8 million page views, with videos played 665,000 times.

“(Consumers) want to know ‘Where are you getting that information?'” Vice President of News TEGNA Corps Ellen Crooke said while speaking at the AEJMC Conference. “Content that we used to be able to just fly by and just assume that they trust and they agree with doesn’t work anymore. They want to know exactly who you’re sourcing that information from.”

Deborah Dwyer, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, agreed with Crooke while presenting her research on ethical listening to journalism educators.

“Readers are starting to really demand more assertive reporting,” she said. “Readers are now connecting with journalists to say, ‘Why aren’t you calling this a lie? Why aren’t you calling this out more aggressively?'”

However, Dwyer also said there’s a “silver lining” in the fake news problem: the opportunity for journalists to rebuild credibility.

“The public ought to feel safe in turning to mainstream media for information,” she said. “We’re not peddling fake news.”

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