Factually: Banding together

This week a study by the Oxford Internet Institute showed that only 1% of a sample of YouTube videos spreading COVID-19 misinformation received a fact-checking label when recirculated on Facebook. The study authors concluded that Facebook’s Third Party Fact-Checking program may be overmatched by the sheer amount of false information on YouTube and Facebook. (Full disclosure: Facebook requires that its fact-checking partners are verified signatories to International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles).

It’s no secret fact-checkers are facing an uphill battle in the war against misinformation, but in the absence of a larger fact-checking force, collaborations have been key in amplifying the power of individual fact-checkers.

Last Friday, hoping to build on the success of the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, the IFCN launched FactChat, a bilingual WhatsApp chatbot that brings together fact-checks from 10 American fact-checking organizations with two Spanish-language broadcasters to offer users 2020 election fact-checks in English and Spanish.

West African fact-checking organization Ghana Fact is looking to build a wider network of fact-checkers by training media organizations in the basics ahead of that country’s December national elections. So far Ghana Fact has trained 11 media organizations, with training sessions scheduled for an additional 20 in the coming weeks.

Members of the public, too, have seen power in numbers when it comes to debunking COVID-19 falsehoods. On Monday, KCUR reported on a Facebook group for survivors of the virus who have banded together to stave off misinformation about the disease. The 27,000-member support group works with trained medical professionals to screen out misinformation, and provides survivors a space to talk about their experiences fighting the disease.

Now it’s election season in the United States, where fact-checkers are dealing with massive amounts of misinformation about the candidates and their positions, while at the same time checking misinformation about COVID-19 and the upcoming Supreme Court nomination fight. U.S.-based fact-checkers have been reluctant to collaborate when fact-checking elections in the past, as IFCN Associate Director Cristina Tardáguila wrote in 2019. This may stem from American journalists’ competitive impulses. But given the number of falsehoods they’re dealing with now, they may be forced to collaborate just to keep up.

– Harrison Mantas, IFCN

. . . technology

  • Content moderation presents a “world of trouble” for whatever company ends up running TikTok, wrote Axios’ Scott Rosenberg and Sara Fischer.
    • The problem, they wrote, is this: “Many U.S. teens are treating TikTok not just as a channel for light-hearted fun but as a space to discuss personal problems, traumas — and politics.”
  • The Verge’s Casey Newton, who writes “The Interface” newsletter, is starting what he described as “a tiny media company dedicated to covering social networks and their relationships with the world.” He’s calling it Platformer.

. . . politics

  • The New York Times has started a new feature called “Daily Distortions” aimed at debunking and bringing context to viral misinformation on social media.
  • Russian trolls need simply to quote President Donald Trump to put out divisive messages aimed at sowing discord among U.S. voters, the Times’ David E. Sanger and Zolan Kanno-Youngs reported Tuesday.
    • “And rather than travel the back roads of America searching for divisive issues — as three Russians from the Internet Research Agency did in 2016 — they are staying home, grabbing screenshots of Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts, or quoting his misleading statements and then amplifying those messages,” they wrote.

. . . science and health

  • A public affairs specialist for the infectious disease agency headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci was writing under a pseudonym for the conservative blog RedState.com and published articles that fed into a disinformation campaign about the COVID-19 virus.
    • The Daily Beast, which broke the story, said the employee, William Crews, “has derided his own colleagues,” casting them as part of “a left-wing anti-Trump conspiracy.”
  • The generational divide when it comes to misinformation about COVID-19 might not be what you think. In a survey of people across the United States, researchers found that people 18 to 25 had an 18%probability of believing a false claim about the coronavirus, compared with 9%for those over 65, The New York Times’ Adam Satariano reported.
    • The study was conducted by researchers from Harvard, Rutgers, Northeastern and Northwestern universities.

This space is usually populated by big, meaty fact-checks that dissect voting records or government documents or use technological tools like reverse image searches or geolocation to untangle a falsehood.

But in the war against misinformation, the falsehoods that aren’t complicated or tricky need to be debunked, too. It’s part of the everyday work of fact-checking.

So the Associated Press gets the nod this week for knocking down an assertion by President Donald Trump that he talked former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe into opening five new auto plants in Michigan.

What we liked: The AP took a no-baloney approach. “Trump is making up the story,” it said. “No Japanese automaker assembly plants have been announced or built in Michigan, let alone in one day, and there are no plans to add any.”

– Susan Benkelman, API

  1. Clemson University professors Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren have developed an online quiz called “Spot the Troll” to educate the public on some of the tell-tale signs of fake online accounts.
  2. Graphika released its report on “Operation Naval Gazing,” a Chinese inauthentic influence campaign thwarted by Graphika and Facebook earlier this week.
  3. Pinterest’s hard line strategy against misinformation, particularly involving anti-vaccine posts, could serve as a model for Facebook, Stat’s Erin Brodwin wrote.
  4. KCRW’s Madeleine Brand interviewed Alex Gibney, who directed “Agents of Chaos,” the new documentary about the Russian disinformation campaign before the 2016 election, and Camille Francois, a cyber conflict researcher featured in the documentary.
  5. The News Literacy Project has launched a free program of tools and resources to help the public spot and debunk misinformation. The project includes a version of its signature e-learning platform, Checkology.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to send feedback to factually@poynter.org. And send us your favorite fact-checks! We’d love to hear from you.

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Until next week,

Harrison and Susan

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