Lessons from The New York Times Super Tuesday hoax: Five ways to spot fake news

Fake articles mostly go under the radar, but have the potential to cause lasting damage. Here are some red flags to help spot them

(This article was originally published by the First Draft News Coalition. Check out their site for guides, tips and tools for debunking misinformation online.)

On the eve of Super Tuesday, a New York Times article made the rounds on social media reporting that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren had endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president. The only problem: It was fake.

The New York Times released a statement and others debunked the fake on Tuesday, as people were headed to the polls, but by that point the fake article “had been viewed more than 50,000 times, with 15,000 shares on Facebook,” the Times reported.

This is just the most recent in a long line of fake news reports which have swept through social media in recent years. Last year Twitter’s share price spiked after a fake Bloomberg article claimed that Google was considering buying the social media platform. In 2012, Wikileaks created a fake New York Times op-ed from then-Times-editor Bill Keller defending Wikileaks in what appeared to be a change of position from his earlier statements about the group. The fake was so convincing that even New York Times journalists were sharing it on Twitter.

This kind of hoax isn’t limited to the web. Just a few weeks ago a pro-Palestinian grouphanded out fake versions of the New York Times to highlight what it believes is the Time’s bias against Palestinians. In 2008 the Yes Men distributed thousands of copies of a 14-page fake New York Times all over New York City. The paper declared the end of the Iraq war on the front page.

Online it is increasingly simple for activists and pranksters to spoof the look and feel of a major news website and these fakes can have real impacts from Wall Street to the voting booth. However, in each of these past cases there has been some clear giveaways that are instructive for anyone who wants to spot fakes in the future. Continue reading

Why newsrooms should train their communities in verification, news literacy, and eyewitness media

If newsrooms want to help stem the spread of misinformation online and get access to better eyewitness media they should embrace community engagement.

Bringing communities into the news process is a powerful way to spread journalistic values, train residents on reporting processes and foster user generated content that is more useful for newsrooms. Newsrooms are well positioned to become participatory journalism laboratories, helping more people navigate, verify and create powerful stories online and via social media.

Last month after a teen in McKinney, Texas, captured eyewitness video of a police officer pulling a gun on black teens and and pinning a young woman to the ground, On The Media produced the “Breaking News Consumer Handbook: Bearing Witness Edition.” The handbook consisted of a simple image with 11 bullet points on it outlining important legal, safety, ethical and technological advice for people who find themselves recording police activity and breaking news. It does a superb job breaking down these complex issues into something that is approachable and relevant to most people. Continue reading

New Collaboration Focuses on Building Verification Resources for Journalists and Citizens

I’m excited to be joining the First Draft Coalition, which launches today.

The coalition brings together leading organizations and individuals working in verification and eyewitness media to create new tools, resources and trainings for journalists and the public.

Here is a bit more detail from the announcement.

Our founding members, from different organisations and projects, are each dedicated to raising awareness and improving standards around the use of content sourced from the social web. They are BellingcatEyewitness Media HubEmergentMeedanReported.lyStoryful and Verification Junkie. Our aim is to open up the conversation around the use of eyewitness media in news reporting with a strong focus on ethics, verification, copyright and protection, and we want to reach and hear from everyone in the journalism community, including students, lecturers, local reporters and international editors.

The ethics and practices surrounding social media journalism and covering breaking news online are still emerging. As new platforms abound, new forms of eyewitness media emerge, raising novel questions for newsrooms and journalists. In times of crisis our communities are turning to social media for critical and trustworthy information, and increasingly, they want and need ways to assess the validity of what they find there. Continue reading

Hacking Attention: Media, Technology and Crisis

On Monday at 5pm I’ll be moderating a session at SXSW that explores the way journalists, civic hackers, and local communities are using new technology and social networks to respond to crisis and conflict. What follows is a preview of some of the issues we’ll be grappling with.

What is your attention worth? Online publishers, advertisers and social networks are putting a price on your attention every day. The entire web metrics industry is built on the economy of attention – impressions, clicks, visits, time on site, RTs, likes, shares. These are the atomic elements of attention.

But there are also people who are working to hack attention, to use new networks, new connections and new tools to drive our hearts and minds towards the most important stories of our time. The hope is not that we can turn attention into dollars, but that we can turn attention into action.

Today, images of natural disasters, videos from protests, and reports from war zones reach us almost instantaneously. Carried over the air and across the wires, events around the globe are brought directly into our field of view. They show up in our Twitter feed, on our Facebook walls, or in our Tumblr dashboard.

From the heart of conflict and crisis people are taking to social media to bear witness, find information, and seek aid and assistance. Citizen and pro-journalists are reporting from the front lines, activists are pushing out creative media campaigns, crowds are mapping crises in real time, and governments are watching and tracking us online. Continue reading

Verification Handbook Mixes Tools, Tips and Culture for Fact-Checking

Last week Twitter and CNN announced a major partnership with the data analysis startup Dataminr to shift the way journalists use Twitter as an early alert system for breaking news. Dataminr worked with CNN to fine-tune the algorithms they use, to help close the gap “between the eyewitness wanting to be heard and the journalist who wants to listen,” according Twitter’s head of news, Vivian Schiller, in a blog post. That gap is not just one of distance or time, but also one of trust.

Dataminr says its algorithms can not only identify emerging patterns and trends, but also help journalists focus in on the most relevant and reliable information. As an example of this, The Verge’s Ben Popper points out that “Dataminr told its financial clients that the AP tweet about an explosion at the White House was false five minutes before the AP itself corrected the facts.”

This is clearly a promising tool for newsrooms, but in breaking news, it is not just the tools, it is how you use them. It is not enough to have a great verification tool if the culture inside and outside the newsroom doesn’t value accuracy above all. To that end, last week also saw the release of an important new guide to verifying digital content. The Verification Handbook is free online, and was produced by the European Journalism Centre with contributions from an all-star cast of journalists. Continue reading

Breaking Down Breaking News To Its Atomic Elements

Today Circa released version 2.0 of its mobile-native news app. Normally I don’t write about apps, but something about Circa’s new app caught my attention. Not only have they rethought the basics — design, navigation, etc. – they also introduced a new feature focused on rethinking breaking news reporting.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing Farhad Manjoo argued that “Breaking news is broken.” However, most of the hand wringing about breaking news has focused on a rather narrow set of issues related to news accuracy and crowdsourced investigations. Other issues regarding how our communities get access to the news and information they need, and how they understand and act on that information, have received less attention.

How might reporting during breaking news need to change to help add clarity to the flood of updates, provide context, and make news more usable and actionable to people? Circa thinks it has at least part of the answer and it is rooted squarely in the company’s strategy to atomize the news and reconsider the article as the atomic element of journalism.

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We Need a Golden Rule for Breaking News

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing one commenter called it a “watershed moment for social media” – but not in a good way. “Legions of Web sleuths cast suspicion on at least four innocent people, spread innumerable bad tips and heightened the sense of panic and paranoia,” wrote Ken Bensinger and Andrea Chang in the L.A. Times. In a similar post, Alan Mutter quipped that crowd reporting after the Boston Marathon went from critical mass to critical mess.

Recent events like Hurricane Sandy and the Boston marathon bombing have cast a harsh spotlight on the brave new world of breaking news and highlighted the critical need for better tools and techniques for verifying and making sense of the flood of information these events produce. This has all played into the ongoing debate about whether the Internet and new technology erode our standards and our trust in newsgathering.

I created my new site, Verification Junkie, because I believe the web can be a powerful tool in creating more trustworthy journalism. Continue reading