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Feb. 9, 2018, 9:30 a.m.
Audience & Social

The far-right sharing fake news — or conservatives sharing conservative journalism?

Plus: The Brits come to the U.S. to grill tech execs, and spammers come to Instant Articles.

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.

Who shares the most “junk news”? (But “junk news” ≠ fake news.) Trump supporters and the far right: That’s according to a report out this week from the Computational Propaganda Project at the University of Oxford. But be careful of definitions here!

Over three months leading up to Trump’s State of the Union Address this past January, Oxford researchers looked at “the distribution of posts and comments on public pages that contain links to junk news sources, across the political spectrum in the U.S. We then map the influence of central sources of junk political news and information that regularly publish content on hot-button issues in the U.S.”

Note the use of the term “junk news.” The paper’s definition of it includes a wide variety of sites and sources — yes, many what would broadly be considered “fake news,” but also partisan sites, especially conservative ones like Breitbart, the Drudge Report, the Daily Caller, and NewsMax (plus liberal ones like Crooks and Liars and Occupy Democrats). And it also includes some real headscratchers: the National Review, the New York Daily News, Mediaite, the polling site Rasmussen Reports, and the conservative nonprofit Judicial Watch.

You may disagree with some or all of those sites from day to day, but it’s an odd choice to lump them all together with “‘Spirit cooking’: Clinton campaign chairman practices bizarre occult ritual” and “Breaking: FBI confirms evidence of huge underground Clinton sex network,” as the paper does.

(“Junk news” publishers “deliberately publish misleading, deceptive or incorrect information purporting to be real news about politics, economics or culture,” according to the authors. “This content includes various forms of propaganda and ideologically extreme, hyper-partisan, or conspiratorial news and information.” The paper outlines a multilayered test to determine a publisher’s junkiness; among the criteria are “emotionally driven language with emotive expressions,” “misleading headlines,” and “excessive capitalization.”)

Looking at nearly 48,000 public Facebook pages and tweets from 14,000 users, the researchers found that a network of Trump supporters on Twitter “shares the widest range of known junk news sources and circulates more junk news than all the other groups together,” while on Facebook, far-right pages shared and circulated it the most. The Financial Times’ David Blood and John Burn-Murdoch made the Oxford data into a handy graphic:

“These are the sites that anybody in their right mind would qualify as extremist, sensationalist, conspiratorial,” lead researcher Philip Howard told McClatchy’s Greg Gordon. “They use swear words in the headlines…or all capital letters. It’s stuff you might call commentary masking as news, if you were being generous.” (Again with the capitalization!)

What it’s not is straight “fake news” — no matter how you see it covered by outlets like The Guardian (“Fake news sharing in US is a rightwing thing, says study”), Mother Jones (“Trump Supporters Spread the Majority of Phony News on Social Media”), or Newsweek (“LIBERALS DON’T SHARE OR BELIEVE FAKE NEWS AS MUCH AS RIGHT-WINGERS, STUDY FINDS”). Misleading headlines and excessive capitalization — don’t let Oxford catch you, Newsweek!

The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple writes:

Banging out a news taxonomy is a towering challenge. There’s just way too much news, way too many sources, and way too many tweets and Facebook postings out there. Given that ocean, the Oxford folks devised a sensible plan: Reach judgments about news sources, and then examine how stories from those sources get passed around. Yet the apparent overclassification of some right-wing sites raises the possibility that the study, at least in part, merely caught conservatives sharing conservative journalism.

Facebook met with its fact-checking partners. “My general takeaway is that Facebook is stepping up its commitment to this partnership by investing a lot more internal resources in the third-party fact-checking product,” writes Poynter/ICFN’s Alexios Mantzarlis, who was at the meeting. It also sounds as if more data will be released soon. Poynter’s Daniel Funke had written about what fact checkers were hoping for from the meeting.

The U.K. Parliament held a hearing on misinformation in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. Members of Parliament questioned reps from Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter; Parsons professor of media design David Carroll livetweeted it and spoke as an expert witness, along with First Draft’s Claire Wardle, The New York Times’ Kinsey Wilson, and others. It was the “first time a House of Commons committee [broadcast] a public hearing live from outside the United Kingdom,” Hamza Shaban noted in The Washington Post; he also livetweeted the hearing (some excerpts below). You can watch it here if you’d like, and a wrap-up by Bloomberg’s Adam Satariano and Ben Brody is here.

As legit publishers abandon Instant Articles, here come the spammers. BuzzFeed News “found 29 Facebook pages, and associated websites, that are using Instant Articles to help their completely false stories load faster on Facebook,” Jane Lytvynenko writes. “At least 24 of these pages are also signed up with Facebook Audience Network, meaning Facebook itself earns a share of revenue from the fake news being read on its platform.”

How to fact-check in 30 seconds: Video. Here is a video and accompanying post from Digital Polarization Initiative‘s Mike Caulfield. “There may be good excuses for not doing this, but time is not one of them.”

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

POSTED     Feb. 9, 2018, 9:30 a.m.
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