< Finding Fake News

# Nusefile

This site gathers links and commentary on what I think are useful news items that match my interests as a development journalist and communications researcher.

Where to find fake news

Long before you start educating yourself about the fake news netsphere, you will find it useful to check out what the Internet already has to offer.

The Guardian

It's not enough to simply go to sources you trust. For instance, The Guardian newspaper in the U.K., which I once worked for and still subscribe to, has been apparently caught out pushing biased stories about Julian Assange of Wikileaks.

That's not the only problem with The Guardian. Its story claiming in the headline that EU citizens want to abolish daylight savings in summer ("Consultation finds more than 80% of EU citizens against biannual time changes") was taken to task by Wikitribune for a misleading title, since less than one per cent of the EU took part and 70% of the online survey participants came from Germany.

Nevertheless, the European Commission President announced on 31 August that he would ask the Commission to pass a recommendation that states abandon daylight saving. His statement quoted by The Guardian was equally misleading.

The Washington Post

Similarly, The Washington Post has a fact checking column. But it tripped up in January 2019 with a critical piece against leftish Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, correcting her for things she was right about. civicskunk hung the WP out to dry with an article entitled "Who Fact-Checks the Fact-Checkers?"

Google News Fact Check

The easiest way to do your fake news monitoring is through Google News’s Fact Check column on the right of results. It reproduces some of the major news checkers (FactCheck.org, Snopes.com and PolitiFact, for example). They are part of a 43-member consortium, the International Fact-Checking Network, organized by the Poynter Institute.

The summertime story showed some of Google Search's deficiencies, however. It repeats headlines that may have been changed to be more accurate.

Google’s fact checking facility has come under attack by Internet watchers. "Transparency is a problem for Google’s reviewed claims widget," said Gizmodo commentator Rhett Jones on 16 January 2018. "Google never likes talking about the way its algorithms make decisions, and a spokesperson for the company declined to comment when asked how the decision is made to display the panel on some outlets’ knowledge panels and not others."

The Question Bait

Fact-checkers also make a habit of titling their work with questions, e.g. "Have Two McDonald’s-Containing Countries Ever Been at War with Each Other?".

The presumption is No. It wasn't true in 1996 when Nobel economist Thomas Friedman came up with the half-joking "Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention" declaring that people in countries with the burger chain "don't like to fight wars. They like to wait in line for burgers".

Nevertheless, Snopes did not come outright in the headline and declare "It is not true that countries with McDonalds don't fight".

This is clickbait but disguises the truth to increase hits (and the site's attraction to advertisers).

Other fact checkers

Other fact checkers include:

AP Fact Check

AP Fact Check. It includes NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week, such as the faked news that "Three Muslim congresswomen just refused” to sign the oath of office to uphold the U.S. Constitution" (there only two and both says reports are "categorically false").

However, the site does not link to the sources for its statements.

Even more disturbing, it's a sign of the times that news outlets have to post their fact-checking separately rather than challenge authorities to their face in interviews.

Fullfact.org
Fullfact.org is an independent British charity, whose efforts have proved particularly useful during the Brexit debate. It, too, is addicted to the obfuscating question: e.g. "Has there been a 'Brexodus' of EU citizens since the referendum?" "There’s little evidence yet [of a] changed trend since the referendum vote in 2016. EU net migration to the UK has fallen since the vote, but is still positive — more EU citizens are entering than leaving."

The problem, as Fullfact indicates, is how the figures are put together.

FactCheck.org

FactCheck.org is "A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center", now 15 years old. Its headlines routinely make positive assertions rather than using questions to report on its fact-checking.

SciCheck

FactCheck.org’s SciCheck feature focuses exclusively on false and misleading scientific claims that are made by partisans to influence public policy. It was launched in January 2015 with a grant from the Stanton Foundation. The foundation was founded by the late Frank Stanton, president of CBS for 25 years.

I did catch it in a question title for 24 September 2018: How Potent Is Methane?. It pointed out that the different opinions are accurate but correspond to differing timeframes - "a detail that often goes unmentioned".

One of my favourite FactCheck.org sections is entitled:

The Whoppers of 2018

Once again, Trump steals the show, it notes.

Washington Post Pinocchios

The U.S. newspaper has awarded its biggest Pinocchios for public fibbers in 2018. "In the seven weeks leading up the midterm elections, the president made 1,419 false or misleading claims — an average of 30 a day," the paper's Glenn Kessler noted on 14 December.

"We also created the Bottomless Pinocchio, to document false claims repeated over and over again," he added. "In two cases we combined a series of Trump statements into two all-around categories, 'flights of fantasy' and 'caravan of claims'."

The Post's fact-checking goes mainly on U.S. stories There's plenty to work with. But it does reduce its value to international fake news hounds.

Trump's 15 fakes a day

On December 30 Kessler reported President Trump was "averaging more than 15 erroneous claims a day during 2018, almost triple the rate from the year before".

...'but 70% don't believe him'

Most interesting, a Fact Checker poll in late November-early December found: "Fewer than 3 in 10 Americans — including fewer than 4 in 10 Republicans — believe [the] claims by the president."

My "scare quotes" around the title are because the poll surveyed only 1000 people.

One adult in three is Foxed
"Among adults who say Fox News is one of their top two sources for political news, 33 percent believe in Trump’s false claims tested in the poll, on average, compared with 21 percent of those who say Fox is not a main news source." The poll sampled 1025 adults. Its margin for error was 4.5 percentage points either way.

Two potential opponents of the president in 2020 — Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — appeared in the Pinocchio's list. Senator Harris distorted Brett Kavanaugh's views during the confirmation hearing. Sen. Sanders repeated figures from two decades before in claiming 40% of guns in the U.S. are sold without background checks. "New research shows that 22 per cent of gun owners reported obtaining a firearm without background checks," and only half of those were purchases (as distinct from gifts rather than inheritance).

Democrat claims believed more
"False claims commonly made by Democrats are more widely believed than those made by the president. For instance, 46 percent of adults incorrectly believe there are more people in prison for selling or possessing marijuana than for all violent crimes, an assertion made by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in June. That compares with 22 percent who correctly said violent criminals were more common in prison," the Post reported.

Another useful site is:

Snopes

Founded in 1994 it can claim, and does, to be "the oldest and largest fact-checking site online".

It has 12 ratings for stories, from true to legend. Some of its most useful are "Outdated" ("2018 will see the first Christmas full moon since 1977") and "Mostly False" ("Did a Trump Campaign Advisor Demand Sen. John McCain ‘Answer Questions’ — Four Months After His Death?".

However, it is a question begger as these headlines show.

WikiTribune

This newish site from the wikipedia founder attempts to apply the wikipedia formula for creating content to news. For example, try "The problem with milk cartons". The edits and re-edits are visible at the side.

The trouble is you have no way of checking onsite whether the assertions are accurate and the lack of journalistic treatment (wandering texts and unordered statements) is obvious.

But WikiTribune does give you a guide on how to create a new fact-checking report on its site.

News Sniffer

News Sniffer records the versions of a story that might appear on one major U.K. and U.S. news source. Apart from The Guardian, New Sniffer tracks The Independent and The Intercept, BBC News, The New York Times and Washington Post, and as of 2016 the RT News site. But its last blog posting was that year. Nevertheless its home page says it is "currently monitoring 1,451,386 news articles with 3,012,429 different versions".

MediaBias/FactCheck

A side column on its site enables you to list left to right biased stories in its current news collection.

There's even a Least selection, but you might find these too minor or remote from your interests. The top story on 25 December was "Congo opposition cry foul over web-enabled voting machines".

MediaBias/FactCheck has a daily Source Bias Check. On 25 December this featured the U.S. Media Equalizer, which scored to the right of Right for its wording and story selection, with poor sourcing and lack of ownership details.

On Christmas Eve it rated "NowThisNews" as a longway left of Left whose stories "routinely denigrate the right". It has "failed a few fact checks" (at least three).

"They may utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage liberal causes," MediaBias/FactCheck observed.