The battle against "fake news" is heating up this week with the announcement of CrossCheck, a verification system designed to crack down on dubious online information concerning the upcoming national elections in France. Google and Facebook are among several major media companies backing the initiative, which will combine high technology with old-fashioned, two-fisted investigative journalism.
The ultimate aim is to help the general public discern between confirmed and disputed news stories and, most importantly, to identify deliberate misinformation campaigns.
Fake news has become the emerging designation for false claims, hoaxes and deliberately misleading "news" items that can travel quickly through the Internet - in particular, through social media. The worrisome phenomenon is widely believed to have influenced recent elections and referendums in the U.S. and Great Britain.
"CrossCheck is a collaborative journalism verification project that aims to help the public make sense of what and who to trust in their social media feeds, web searches and general online news consumption in the coming months," according to the official launch announcement.
The project is led by First Draft News, a French nonprofit dedicated to ethical practices in the sourcing, verification and reporting of online news. Google News Lab also helped with initial development, and CrossCheck is now working directly with dozens of local, national and international media companies operating in France. Among the first wave of companies to sign on: AFP (Agence France-Presse), BuzzFeed News, France Télévisions and the venerable Parisian newspaper Le Monde.
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Facebook will also support CrossCheck through a new set of dedicated user tools and media literacy efforts. Perhaps most importantly, the social media heavyweight will be directly promoting CrossCheck to readers as a way to effectively vet what they're reading.
So how will it work, exactly? The first phase of the project will focus specifically on the upcoming French elections. The CrossCheck website will provide a 24/7 forum in which journalists can work together to fact-check online content in heavy circulation, news stories, photographs, statistics, memes, and even heavily-forwarded comment threads.
The public is also encouraged to participate by submitting questions and links to disputed online content. Investigative journalists will be active on the forums around the clock, with participating newsrooms coordinating their efforts to enhance the speed and accuracy of replies.
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CrossCheck will also be using a variety of cutting-edge data mining tools to track trends and viral patterns as information moves around online. For instance, Google Trends will track aggregate online searches in real time, while Le Monde will lend its own database of news sites that have been investigated and classified as legitimate, or not, or satire.
The CrossCheck project will be tracking meta information as well, mapping "patterns and behaviors within the misinformation ecosystem" as part of a wider effort to combat fake news.
CrossCheck will go live on Monday, February 27, according to officials. Meanwhile, they're looking for help. Newsrooms and journalism students who are interested in participating can email email@example.com for more information.
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