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Fact-checking has long been a significant element of the journalistic pursuit. It accompanies “speaking truth to power” by ferreting out misstatements, distortions, lies and other forms of BS. The digital age has made this task most difficult; BS floats on a sea of polluted websites, some after click money, some revolution and disruption, some an ego boost.
The stench is unmistakable but with so much of it wafting through the free-flow of ideas clearing a space for facts is an arduous, daunting task. The redesigned Google News website offers fact-checking in the right-hand column supplied by Politifact, Snopes and factcheck.org. Right on cue, fake news purveyors (alternative facts?) are apoplectic.
Undeterred, fact and reality-based news organizations have organized to, at the very least, call out the BS. Attending this years Global Fact conference in Madrid (July 5-7) were 190 groups from around the world comparing notes and methods for sorting out the wheat from the chaff, so
to speak. Seven new attendees included FactCheck Initiative Japan, Seoul (South Korea) National University’s Fact Check Center, the renowned German non-profit Correctiv, Austrian group Fakt ist Fakt, Turkish Teyit, Scottish Ferret Fact Service and Norwegian faktisk.no.
Investigative portal Correctiv gained notice for detailed reports on organized crime, football doping and several involving Russian
institutions, notably the shoot-down of Malaysian MH17 over Ukraine by Russian forces. Facebook outsourced fact-checking to Correctiv (and
others) seeking to avoid impending penalties. That didn’t work out so well as the German parliament recently passed legislation imposing mortifying fines for failing to swiftly remove hate speech and such.
Faktisk is new, just launched this past week (July 5). It is a joint venture of public broadcaster NRK, commercial broadcaster TV2 and the two Norwegian daily newspapers Dagbladet and Verdens Gang (VG). “We have much to learn about what to fact-check, consistency in judgments and how to be as transparent as possible in our journalism,” said VGTV chief executive Helje Solberg, who chairs the joint venture, quoted by poynter.org (July 6). Norwegians will vote in parliamentary elections this September, the approach of which in many countries spurs interest in fact-checking.
Millennials are subjects of constant interest for their preferences in everything, anything. Their habits have long been under the microscope. The central theme is self-absorbed digital natives.
But there’s more than noses constantly riveted to their smartphones. A new study of French 18 to 30 year olds for Paris communications agency Le Chose looked into various attitudes, concluding that these Millennials are the “anti-sixties to eighties” generation, reported Les Echos (July 3). Finding less rebellion and more conservative values was “disheartening,” said the report. (See more about media in France here)
French Millennials, according to the study, value independence (94%), marriage (91%) and money (74%). Nearly two in five (37%) are “anxious” about the planet. They self-describe negatively (85%), mostly as lazy or selfish.
Their media habits are revealed as quite traditional, almost twice as likely to read newspapers than get news from social media. French Millennials are not particularly attached to brands, only 58%, and most to big names; Google (84%), mobile search/chat app Tinder (83%), audio brand Bose (82%) and classified ad comparison shopping website Leboncoin (82%). In short, this picture of Millennials is rather monotone.
Those despondent from hate speech and fake news endlessly bubbling up on social media will be heartened by a regulation passed last week by the German Bundestag. When it comes into effect in October, constitutional appeals notwithstanding, big social media providers can face fines up to €50 million for failing to quickly - within 24 hours - scrub their digitalsurfaces of nasty content, “obviously criminal offenses.” Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are certainly the targets as the law is limited to websites with two million or more users. Lessor hate trollers get a free pass. (See more about social media here)
The Network Enforcement Law (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz) effectively adds internet platforms to strict German hate crime laws. “History has shown that large platforms will not meet their obligations without pressure,” said Justice Minister Heiko Maas, quoted by Der Spiegel (June 30). Drafts of the law have swirled over the last few months with supporters and critics digging in. (See more about fake news here)
Violations will be brought to the attention of the web platforms by an independent agency, yet to be created, under the Federal Office of Justice (Bundesamt für Justiz). In “complicated cases” the social media providers can have a week to remove the offending material. The law also requires foreign providers to have an “authorized representative” in Germany. (See more about media in Germany here)
Supporters of the law have one, simple claim: something must be done about hate speech and fake news in social media. They also note a certain lax behavior of big online platforms regarding things like taxation. Critics have a list: freedom of expression must be protected, self-regulation is better, define boundaries between satire and prohibited speech, no “Ministry of Truth.” And, too, sceptics fear the possibility - highly likely - of online providers erring on the side of safety to avoid punishment, deleting far more content than necessary.