French to fight fake news with backing from Google, Facebook

A new project seeks to fact-check the French presidential election

News organizations operating in France will open up a new fact-checking service, CrossCheck, at the end of this month. Their initial focus will be on covering the forthcoming French elections, but with a number of international organizations participating, the project's reach could grow.

CrossCheck's focus will be on identifying and debunking misleading news sites, photographs, videos, memes or comment threads.

The service is backed by First Draft News, an organization that offers guidance on how to find, verify and publish content from the social web, with support from Google (through Google News Lab), Facebook and news organizations including BuzzFeed News, Agence France-Presse (AFP), and a host of national and regional French newspapers.

The news organizations involved will help debunk false information, and use that work to improve the accuracy of their own reporting, First Draft said Monday.

But at the News Impact Summit in Paris on Monday, some speakers doubted whether readers appreciate such fact-checking initiatives in the coverage of politics.

Journalists tend to believe that candidates for office should not tell lies, and assume that readers share that opinion, said Yoni Appelbaum, Washington bureau chief for The Atlantic. "The audience may not share that opinion of what's qualifying or disqualifying in politics," he said. "One of the things the media gets in trouble with is bludgeoning its audience over the head with facts rather than telling stories."

Matthew Ingram, a senior writer for Fortune, summarized that: "The more you argue, the less they trust you. The more you fact-check, the less they believe you."

One reason for that, said Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew Research Center, is, "There are so many different definitions of what's fake news, it's so hard to agree on the basic facts, even when it's data."

That won't stop CrossCheck and its contributors. These include French newspaper Le Monde, which has built a database of more than 600 news sites, Le Décodex, identifying them as "satire," "real," "fake," and so on.

Facebook, one of the vectors for the kinds of information CrossCheck seeks to debunk, will also support the project, providing dedicated tools, explaining the verification process to its users, and keeping them up to date with confirmed and disputed information relating to the election.

It's impossible to fact-check every piece of information published in the press or circulating on the internet, so CrossCheck will be picking its battles. It will use CrowdTangle to discover social media content relevant to the election, and Spike a tool developed by NewsWhip to predict which posts will go viral.

It's not just about France: Bellingcat, one of the CrossCheck partners, will map patterns in misinformation as part of a wider project to map European elections.

And First Draft and Google News Lab have been involved in election coverage before, through the Electionland initiative to report on voter suppression in the November 2016 U.S. presidential election.

News of the project will be published on the @crosscheck Twitter account.

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