There are no simple solutions. As Dana Boyd of the research center Data & Society put it recently
, publicly debunking false news could spark more circulation of false news and even more distrust of the media. Furthermore, whether or not these fringe-opportunistic media are effective in actually manipulating voters has been questioned by recent studies, as reported by the Poynter Institute.
There is a steep learning curve for media and journalism initiatives that reflect reality by verifying facts, contrasting sources and following a set of ethical guidelines. Being at the center stage of the controversy, amidst the current nationalist revolt wherever it is taking place (from the US and Ecuador, to the Philippines and France), not only hurts their credibility, but their legitimacy is also damaged by the fact that editors have to dance to the ultrafast beat of social platforms and search engines. And as most stories reach audiences via social networks, they are often read as disassembled standalone pieces (texts, videos, photos, headlines, links) losing design, context, transparency, and hence, credibility.
The good thing about the “fake news” scandal is that it made evident, for both journalists and global social platforms, that properly answering the public’s need to know what is really going on in their communities takes more than just disseminating journalism under a known brand. Therefore, it is crucial to learn how to narrate reality and be credible in this new complex ecosystem, where quality journalism, as stated by
Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital, is “a thin thread in a vast new global tapestry of conversation and information, but that thread keeps the whole cloth together”. Through this learning process, some of the first interesting collaborative experiments in journalism are being born today.
The exponential growth of fact-checking organizations is a direct attempt to give internet users additional tools for discerning the real from the fake. Increasingly, fact-checkers, now organized in an international network
, are starting to work hand-in-hand with tech giants with this same goal. Google is working with several fact-checking
initiatives around the globe
to probe the veracity of news. Facebook is starting to collaborate with media and fact-checkers
to flag false stories and penalize them in their news feed.
In France, where far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen is leading in some polls and there is an unusual growth of websites aligning in what is called “la fachosphère”
(fascist sphere), journalists are trying in different ways to bring transparency to the electoral debate. One of the projects led by the First Draft News
alliance of media from the US and the UK, together with 17 French media outlets, Google and Facebook, created a platform called CrossCheck,
which launched this February in Paris. On it, specially trained students will flag suspicious stories and “participating newsrooms will then summarize and add content to each claim, creating a live feed of shareable report cards”. Each news media will decide whether to publicly alert readers about fake content or not, but it will make sure that, at the very least, its own journalists will not fall into clickbait traps or fabricated stories.