Status report: How European countries are fighting fake news

With a number of elections looming across Europe this year, the EU has recently stepped up resources to combat false claims amid growing fears that Russia will spread propaganda targeting Western leaders.

The fake-news firehose is still flowing, and there are as many different types of of fake news  — from partisan-driven stories, entirely fictional accounts and those with some element of truth — as there are ways of dealing with the phenomenon.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the ways that four countries are tackling fake news.

This week a group of U.K. MPs has launched an inquiry into fake news, led by the head of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins. The purpose of the investigation is to hammer out an industry-standard definition of fake news, work out how much of a responsibility platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter need to take, and how the growth of programmatically traded ads has encouraged the spread of fake news.

“Consumers should also be given new tools to help them assess the origin and likely veracity of news stories they read online,” said Collins.

To that end, there are already a number of fact-checking organizations in the U.K. like charity Full Fact, which has raised €50,000 ($52,000) from Google’s Digital News Initiative to come up with in new methods of automating fact checking, like apps that will automatically check stats while at events.

Beyond that, broadcasters are also getting involved. This month, the BBC said it is extending Reality Check, the fact-checking service it launched during the EU referendum, and putting a dedicated team behind it.

“We are working with Facebook, in particular, to see how we can be most effective,” news chief James Harding announced earlier this month. “Where we see deliberately misleading stories masquerading as news, we’ll publish a Reality Check that says so,” he said, adding that it aims to do this online, on TV and on the radio.

Both Facebook and the BBC, along with 300 other organizations, are signed up to the First Draft Partner Network, a coalition of platforms and publishers that launched in September and work together to provide guidance in how to verify content sourced from social media.

“The French election provides a perfect case study that will allow First Draft to combine training, research and collaboration,” the organization writes on its website, adding that partners are already working on ways to collaborate around the real-time verification of articles, images and videos.

With a volatile political climate in the run-up to April’s election, France’s top media organizations are keen to collaborate.

One way of tackling the issue is by using First Draft’s platform called Check, a live, open-source site where organizations can add any disputed content, whether it’s a video, image or fake-news site, and the members will assign a verifiable status.

Separately, publishers like Le Monde are pushing against the tide in their own way. The paper is launching “Decodex”: three fact-checking products powered by a database of 600 websites deemed unreliable as compiled by Le Monde’s fact-checking unit, Les Décodeurs over the last year. The French newspaper will also release Chrome and Firefox plugins, which will serve popups against dubious stories, as well as a chatbot in February.

French newspaper Libération has also built up its fact-checking team from one person to four since 2008. The team, named Desintox, works across the paper and TV channel Arte. This year the Desintox team became a partner for Facebook’s fake-news program.

Germany was the second region outside the U.S. where Facebook has tested its fact-checking tools. A n upcoming election in September and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal stance toward refugees have invigorated those who have a political ax to grind.

In Germany, the social network has partnered with Correctiv, a group of investigative journalists who will act as the network’s third-party fact-checker to verify and label fake news. (Outside of Germany, Facebook has partnered with equivalent companies like Snopes, Politifact and Associated Press, with plans to roll out these tools more widely).

Dubious stories are then demoted in the news feed. Facebook is also disrupting financial incentives for fake-news spammers by “eliminating the ability for them to spoof well-known news websites and enforcing our existing policies on a more proactive basis,” the company wrote in a blog post.

Germany’s government ministers have spoken about possible fines for Facebook for not acting quickly enough, and jail time for those caught responsible in creating fake news.

According to Brandwatch data, Switzerland has had the fourth-highest number of headlines relating to fake news since October, putting it behind the U.K., the Netherlands and Canada, respectively.

“The problem of false information is important to monitor in Switzerland because of the direct democracy system — citizens get to decide on critical issues several times a year, and campaigners have been known to make outlandish claims (as in the current voting campaign) to get votes,” said Geraldine Wong Sak Hoi, project coordinator for Pheme at Swiss publisher “Some media outlets, including, now do fact checks of these declarations.”

Pheme (after the Greek goddess of fame and rumors) is a joint partnership with researchers at Sheffield University and has been building a tool for journalists to speed up verification of stories spread online. By using machine learning, it automatically pulls up questionable claims on social platforms like Twitter and gives them an estimate of their how true they are.

Still, Swiss and U.K. researchers warn that teaching algorithms to detect false claims is not an easy task, and having only been live for three years, the project is still in the early stages.

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