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The Week in Fact-Checking: Figuring out if ‘fake news’ is a real problem

Is it possible that purveyors of misinformation are just a bunch of bogeymen? Yet another study, published this week in Columbia Journalism Review, questions whether the “fake news industry” and its audiences are all that powerful. Powerful enough, for instance, to impact a presidential election. The Northwestern study, which examines fake sites as well as hyperpartisan sites,echoes some of the same points made in a Stanford University study earlier this month. See a slideshow of the data here.

Quote of the week
“I do not believe in the success of the attempt to flag Fake News reliably and especially with the requisite speed. However, that is not the problem or the responsibility of the media. Why should something false be marked? Something false should not be marked, it should not be published in the first place.” — Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer, in an interview on

Did you hear the one about goat sacrifices?
The Catholic Church and its Pope have been top targets for falsified news for many centuries. Now, the independent Catholic site Crux is fighting back, and it appears to be good for business.

False statements or ‘lies?’
Mainstream media outlets are grappling with whether to call out political falsehoods as “lies.” NPR says no, the New York Times says yes. Here’s what U.S. fact-checkers think.

Live fact-checking, analog style
A rival MEP got creative during Nigel Farage’s speech in the European Parliament (h/t Angelo Martelli).

Facts there, don’t care
Two researchers studying the controversial crowd-counting at Donald Trump’s inauguration found that even when presented with photographic evidence, some people will disregard facts as a way to show their partisan support. But this study says that a person’s curiosity about science may counteract their politically biased tendencies.

What and why the AP fact-checks
The Associated Press this week published its guidelines for fact-checking, which include “Be sure we are right” and “Prioritize items with relevance and importance.” A few weeks ago, AP was criticized for publishing a “fact check” of President Trump’s statement that actress Meryl Streep is “overrated.”

Two for the textbooks
Teachers and newsroom trainers, add these to your lesson plans. In this post about the U.S. waiving visas for all Asian travelers, look for clues that that the post was fake. And take a look at this “White House Reality Check” website for a lesson in how to determine credible sources of information.

PolitiFact-ing Facebook
PolitiFact Florida staff writer Joshua Gillin explains what PolitiFact has been doing in the weeks since they began helping fact-check fakery on Facebook.

Fact-checking pun
You look like you need a chuckle.

Hella hechos
Editors at the Spanish newspaper El Pais are fighting back against “fake journalism” with a new fact-checking blog called Hechos. 

Hacking fake news
Talking about the problem of fake news is important — but talking of its possible solutions is even better. On BBC World Hacks, four different approaches. Meanwhile, in the HeroX fact-checking automation competition, contestants “moved the fact-checking needle in the right direction” but the grand prize wasn’t awarded.

Some fact-checking fun
Will that slice of toast kill you? Full Fact hosts a Cambridge statistician’s post on whether it makes sense to launch a public health campaign on the dangers of burnt toast. Spoiler alert: The evidence isn’t particularly strong.

Fact-checking a pig and a few groundhogs
Though it might not seem like it these days, fact-checking doesn’t always need to be about politics. The Growler looks into the alleged history of a legendary local restaurant. And the Weather Network fact-checks some stories about weather-predicting groundhogs.

10 quick fact-checking links
(1) Ojo Publico is holding a fact-checking workshop in Lima on Feb. 11. (2) A former White House fact-checker gives us a look behind the scenes. (3) Lack of loyalty to facts was a theme in latest Intelligence² debate, “Give Trump a Chance.” Watch here. (4) An appeal to abandon the term “fake news,” this time from France. (5) In London, Parliament is investigating Facebook’s role in spreading fake news. (6) Lying vs. “bullshitting“: Which is worse?  (7) The Fake News Challenge has released its training dataset. Registration closes May 1. (8) Decodex is up and running. Check it out. (9) The President of RAI announced vague plans to institute “fact-checking groups” at the Italian state broadcaster. (10) Atlanta television anchor Ben Swann’s “Truth in Media” website disappears.


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