The dissemination of fake news has been widely blamed for its impact on the 2016 US presidential election, and concerns that such disinformation will also play a role in this year's French presidential election are being taken very seriously, by both media outlets and candidates’ campaign staff.
To combat this problem, many initiatives have sprung up to help the general public distinguish between verified information and the propaganda being used to damage reputations.
One such initiative is Décodex — an online tool designed to help users sort websites by their level of reliability — which a team of fact checkers at the Le Monde newspaper created and made available to the public on February 1, 2017. This tool acts like a search engine or plug-in found on browsers such as Chrome or Firefox.
Samuel Laurent, who manages the fact-checking team, explains the methodology behind this tool:
Nous avons recensés 600 sites, majoritairement français mais aussi anglais et américains et quelques allemands, avec 5 niveaux de fiabilité, repérés par cinq couleurs. Nous distinguons en gris les sites collectifs, donc non classés, comme Wikipedia, en bleu les sites parodiques, comme Le Gorafi ou NordPresse, en rouge les sites pas du tout fiables, complotistes ou trompeurs, comme le portail IVG.net qui, sous couvert d’informations, veut manipuler les femmes pour les décourager d’avorter, en orange les sites peu fiables ou très orientés, type FdeSouche, ou les attrape-clics qui republient des informations non recoupées, et enfin en vert les sites très fiables.
We have inventoried 600 sites, most of which are French, but some of which are English, American and German. There are five colours representing five levels of reliability. We use grey for sites that anyone can edit, such as Wikipedia. Blue is for satirical sites*, such as Le Gorafi or NordPresse. Red is used for sources that are completely unreliable, endorse conspiracy theories or are misleading, such as IVG.net, which presents itself as an information site but tries to manipulate women by discouraging them from having abortions. Orange is for sites of questionable reliability or sites that are very ideologically oriented**, such as FdeSouche, or clickbaits that re-post unverified news. Lastly, we use green for very reliable sources.
There have been other initiatives in the English-speaking world in recent years to identify false information on the Internet, such as Snopes. Besides, there are new tools for verifying assertions made by public figures, such as Fact Check, Politifact or Africa Check. Plugins such as B.S. Detector and Kchehck are also available on Chome and Firefox.
Given that distinguishing between what is true and what is false is not an easy task, there are many articles and guides to help Internet users do just that. Below are just a few of the guides available:
- Breaking News Consumer's Handbook: Fake News Edition
- How to Spot and Debunk Fake News
- Fake or Real? How to Self-Check the News and Get the Facts
The challenge for these initiatives is to be able to make these fact checks in real time, to allow journalists to confirm or invalidate politicians’ assertions on the spot. To meet this need, The Washington Post set out to develop Truth Teller, an entirely automated tool that would verify the truthfulness of a speech. Cory Haik, The Washington Post's Executive Producer for Digital News, explains the concept:
Le défi de ce détecteur de mensonges c'est de faire un Shazam de la vérité. Comment vérifier en temps réel les déclarations et discours des politiques? Un logiciel détecteur de mensonges, qui transcrit quasiment en temps réel les discours politiques et les compare automatiquement avec un stock de vérifications déjà effectuées par les journalistes de la rédaction.
I was thinking of Shazam and thinking of how Shazam does what it does […] but a Shazam for truth.[…] Our algorithm goes through the transcript to find claims. Then, whatever claims it sees in the text, it touches our database and says, ‘OK, these claims match these facts,’ and this says it’s true or it’s false.
Unfortunately, the Truth Teller project was too ambitious and has been put on hold.