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July 7, 2017, 8:30 a.m.
Audience & Social

Fake news bots are so economical, you can use them over and over

Plus: New Omidyar/Soros money for factchecking, changing your mind but not your vote, and lessons from Wikipedia.

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.

Changing your mind, but not your vote. People may change their minds after seeing fact checks, but in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign it didn’t change who they voted for — that’s the main finding from a new paper, “Taking corrections literally but not seriously? The effects of information on factual beliefs and candidate favorability,” by Brendan Nyhan, Ethan Porter, Jason Reifler, and Thomas Wood. (Nyhan and Reifler in particular have been doing research on misinformation for a while.) During the campaign, they conducted two experiments to correct misleading claims that Donald Trump made during his convention speech and in the first general election debate (one claim was about crime levels, the other about employment rates). They found that “corrections decreased misperceptions for supporters of both major party candidates” — but attitudes toward Trump weren’t affected. “Individuals may be willing to change their minds about the facts, but we do not observe changes in the candidate whom they support.”

$$$ for factchecking. Full Fact, the U.K.’s independent factchecking organization, got $500,000 from the Omidyar Network and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations to develop new automated factchecking tools, “Live” and “Trends.” (Disclosure: OSF is also a funder of Nieman Lab.)

By monitoring TV subtitles or other real time sources, Live flags when anyone repeats a claim that has already been checked and takes you straight to the most recent factcheck.

Live will also spot claims that haven’t been factchecked before — but reliable data does exist for — and creates a snap factcheck on the spot using that data.

Trends records every repetition of a claim we know is wrong and where it comes from so we can keep track of who, or what, is persistently pushing misleading claims out into the world.

Live and Trends will be going into newsrooms and factchecking offices in a closed beta by the end of this year. Live and Trends are planned to be more generally available in 2018.

Live is “about asking the more important questions and trying to cut down the time between somebody putting out a claim that isn’t true or fair, and getting people to instantly rebut that,” Mevan Babakar, Full Fact’s digital product and supporter communications manager at Full Fact, said in a recent episode of’s podcast. The ultimate goal is that it could work in real time, allowing journalists to respond quickly: “Journalists would have that transcript in real time and they would be able to say, for example, ‘I can see here that you’ve said poverty is down, but actually there are two measures of poverty — one is going up and one is going down, so why did you choose to pick that one?'”

“A black market for reusable political disinformation bots.” Here’s a study of the #MacronLeaks hashtag during the French presidential election campaign. Emilio Ferrara (University of Southern California) found that “the users who engaged with MacronLeaks [were] mostly foreigners with preexisting interest in alt-right topics.” Also, bots that had gone dormant after Trump’s election reemerged with the French election: “Our work is the first to identify the presence of bots that existed during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election campaign period to support alt-right narratives, went dark after November 8, 2016, and came back into use in the run up days to the 2017 French presidential election.”

How does factchecking solve problems? What can factchecking initiatives learn from Wikipedia’s success? Katherine Maher, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, spoke to Rebecca Iannucci for Poynter ahead of her keynote at the Global Fact 4 factchecking conference in Madrid this week. “I’d be looking for how factchecking can situate itself not as an end, but a means. What is the value that it brings to people’s lives, in practicable ways? How does it help solve their problems and empower them to make decisions?” (Also, here are some new global factchecking organizations representing at Global Fact 4.)

But wait, there’s more…

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

POSTED     July 7, 2017, 8:30 a.m.
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