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Sept. 18, 2020, 12:09 p.m.
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LINK: www.nytimes.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   September 18, 2020

In an effort to cover misinformation responsibly, The New York Times has debuted a new feature that will debunk and contextualize misleading information after it has gone viral or created “offline harms.”

Daily Distortions will appear as a swipeable feature for mobile apps focused on one subject per day and a running blog with a wider selection of the misinformation being tracked by Times journalists. The information will be presented in a “compelling, predictable way” and each edition is designed to be shareable. (A print version of the feature is in the works, too.)

Some recent installments address why isolated ballot errors shouldn’t be conflated with a “rigged election” and the false claim that a Chinese virologist provided “solid scientific evidence” that Covid-19 was man made.

Kevin Roose — who will be contributing along with Davey Alba, Sheera Frenkel, Nick Corasaniti, Linda Qiu, Katie Wu, Tiffany Hsu, and other Times journalists across the newsroom — explained why the series was being launched now:

We’ve heard from readers, and seen in our audience data, that people are hungry for real, factual stories they can share to counter the distortions they see in their feeds and group chats every day. This is an attempt to (carefully, responsibly) provide those.

Historically, responsible news outlets have printed things that are true, and ignored things that are false.

But that approach has led to what researchers call “data voids” — searches for “Pizzagate” or “Save The Children,” for example, that turn up only dubious results.

Some researchers are rightfully concerned about the danger of amplifying fringe ideas. So this feature won’t cover misinformation until it has reached an (admittedly subjective) threshold of virality, or created offline harms (like people refusing to evacuate the fires).

The last thing we (or I) want to do is play mall cop for the entire internet. But we’re in a bad place, information-wise, and this is an attempt to avoid letting the worst, most harmful stuff go unchecked.

In an internal note, editors from The New York Times said that Ben Decker, a misinformation authority, was giving input and reminded journalists that Decker is also available as a resource for stories and ideas.

“There can be nothing closer to our mission than separating fact from fiction for our readers,” the editors added. “We look forward to elevating coverage of this important topic at this pivotal moment.”

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