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June 2, 2017, 9 a.m.
Audience & Social

Fake news might be the next issue for activist tech-company investors

Plus: Make your own fake Facebook story, “giant man-bats that spent their days collecting fruit and holding animated conversations,” and the AP’s guidelines on fake news.

The growing stream of reporting on and data about fake news, misinformation, partisan content, and news literacy is hard to keep up with. This weekly roundup offers the highlights of what you might have missed.

Fake news becomes an investor issue. Impact investors and Facebook shareholders Arjuna Capital and Baldwin Brothers want the company to do more about fake news and raised the issue at the annual meeting Thursday. (They’ll bring up the same with Google next week.) “Both [Facebook and Google] prefer to see themselves as neutral technology platforms but they have been transformed into media platforms — that is why we are so concerned,” Arjuna’s Natasha Lamb told the Financial Times’ Hannah Kuchler. The FT story also mentions a research report on fake news from the investor firm Sustainalytics; the full report is here and claims that “only 16 percent of researched media firms, including Sky, ITV, Vivendi, Thomson Reuters and RTL Group, are well-prepared to manage relevant content governance risks,” i.e. “measures to ensure the integrity of information created or distributed by media companies.”

“You’ve Been Pranked! Now Create A Story & Trick Your Friends!”
BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman and Sara Spary investigate U.S.-based sites that invite readers to create their own fake news stories and share them on Facebook.

Using domain registration records, BuzzFeed News identified two separate networks that together own at least 30 nearly identical “prank” news sites and that published more than 3,000 fake articles in six languages over the past 12 months. They’re also generating significant engagement on Facebook: The sites collectively earned more than 13 million shares, reactions, and comments on the social network in the last 12 months.

Some of the sites’ biggest viral hits of the past year in English include fake stories about a Popeyes manager being arrested for “dipping chicken in cocaine-based flour to increase business” (over 429,000 Facebook engagements), Beyoncé giving birth to twin boys (141,000 engagements), the FBI announcing it found evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia (38,000 engagements), two great white sharks being found near St. Louis (201,000 engagements), and President Obama passing a law that requires grandparents to care for their grandchildren each weekend (515,000 engagements).

“The Mosses don’t think anyone in their community would fall for the imposter site.” The 105-year-old weekly Normangee Star, run out of Normangee, Texas, can be found at normangeestar.com. Make sure you don’t go to normangeestar.net, a fake news site run out of Ukraine. The Star’s real-life owners told The Dallas Morning News’ Charles Scudder that they aren’t particularly concerned about the imposter site (though one of its stories did result in them having to deal with the Canadian embassy’s request for a correction): “The readers of the real Normangee Star know the paper doesn’t cover national or international news digitally.”

“If fake news is used in a quote, ask for details.” The 2017 edition of the AP Stylebook, released in print this week, includes information on fake news and fact checks.

Someone isn’t following these guidelines.

“Twitter often acts as the small bowel of digital news.” The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo looks at the role of Twitter — specifically, bots — in spreading misinformation. “The more I spoke to experts, the more convinced I became that propaganda bots on Twitter might be a growing and terrifying scourge on democracy.

Bat-men on the moon. I’m not a huge fan of the “there’s always been fake news” stories (and similarly dislike “the biggest disruptor of all time was the printing press!”) but I do very much like the 1835 art in this Economist column. “Giant man-bats that spent their days collecting fruit and holding animated conversations; goat-like creatures with blue skin; a temple made of polished sapphire.”

Illustration from L.M. Glackens’ The Yellow Press (1910) via The Public Domain Review.

POSTED     June 2, 2017, 9 a.m.
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