Moving fake news research out of the lab

“If we want real-world solutions, we need real-world data, however. We need to learn how people actually consume fake news and fact checks when they encounter them in their everyday life, or when they look them up to prove (or disprove) an argument.”

We spent much of 2016 and 2017 fretting about the effects of fake news and other forms of viral misinformation. Some did so by proclaiming the advent of a “post-truth” era.

So many of the pixels we dedicated to this topic, however, were uninformed or ill-informed. Not because of any intention to mislead on the part of the authors (usually), but because we are still woefully ignorant of the real effects of fake news and how to fix it.

Sure, we know anecdotally that misinformation can have real-world effects. “Fake news” led an armed man to “investigate” a pizzeria in D.C., a protester to heckle Emmanuel Macron outside a Whirlpool factory in Amiens, and blasphemy charges to be levelled against an innocent candidate in Jakarta. And we’ve long known that sometimes, just sometimes, politicians will retract or drop a debunked claim.

But there is still so little research that we can apply to everyday fact-checking work. We know quite a lot about the reach of fake news, but not much about its capacity to sway votes or affect decisions. We know at last that fact-checking probably doesn’t backfire in experimental settings, but not whether that is true in real life.

2017 saw a lot of new research in this space, to the point where the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) is launching a research database to catalog the most interesting academic findings. But it’s still not enough to help practitioners do a better job.

I am hopeful that 2018 will be the year that we move research out the lab and make it directly applicable to journalists debunking falsehoods.

If we want real-world solutions, we need real-world data, however. We need to learn how people actually consume fake news and fact checks when they encounter them in their everyday life, or when they look them up to prove (or disprove) an argument. The IFCN is coordinating fact-checkers to gather information about their audiences and we are eager to work with interested academics.

The biggest prize here, of course, would be data from Facebook. It’s been almost a year to the day since the social network launched a fake-news flagging mechanism, leaning on fact-checking organizations that are signatories of the IFCN code of principles. The platform has released extremely general figures about how this program has performed. I understand that the platform is under enormous pressure to make things work and that there are legions of Facebookers who genuinely care about fixing this problem. But more openness — and a willingness from academics and journalists to criticize constructively and not reflexively — has got to be the way forward.

Facebook has 2 billion monthly users worldwide. It drives around a third of all referrals to top publishers in the United States. And it is performing what is probably the largest real-life experiment on combating misinformation with fact-checking. We need to know how it’s going so that we can make better decisions about what fact-checkers should (and shouldn’t) do.

Alexios Mantzarlis is director of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter.

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Errin Haines   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Paul Ford   Go global

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Burt Herman   Things get real

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Richard J. Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Jake Levine   The return to now

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds