Irish tech firm aims to spike fake news with software initiative

Newswhip’s Spike tool rolled out in verifying coverage of French presidential election

Dublin-based NewsWhip has teamed up with First Draft News to support publishers in France to help debunk hoaxes and dispel rumours.

Dublin-based NewsWhip has teamed up with First Draft News to support publishers in France to help debunk hoaxes and dispel rumours.

 

When Donald Trump swept to victory in the US election, there was a sense of disbelief from some quarters. Few had expected the billionaire businessman to take the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency. But win it he had, and now he was headed to the White House.

Before long, the blame was being laid squarely at one door: social media and the role it played in the spread of fake news.

An entire industry had sprung up in Macedonia and other countries, making money from pumping out fake news links and cashing in on the advertising that the millions of clicks the article brought. In the meantime, stories such as the Pope and Denzel Washington backing Trump for president spread around the internet as if they were fact.

Resistance

At first, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg resisted the implication that the social network had influenced the outcome of the election.

“Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 per cent of what people see is authentic,” he wrote in a post on November 13th. “Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.”

But it wasn’t long before he was forced to speak again. Six days later, he addressed the subject once more.

“The bottom line is: we take misinformation seriously. Our goal is to connect people with the stories they find most meaningful, and we know people want accurate information,” he said.

“We’ve been working on this problem for a long time and we take this responsibility seriously. We’ve made significant progress, but there is more work to be done.”

Now, France and Germany are facing elections, with the possibility of a similar upset looming over the electorate’s heads. But this time, Facebook is somewhat more prepared. The company has teamed up with Google to help fight the spread of fake news on its network, and the effort is getting help from an Irish firm too.

Based in Dublin, NewsWhip offers technology that will help media, marketing, and public relations sectors to predict trends, spot influencers and develop editorial strategy.

Founded in 2011 by Andrew Mullaney and Paul Quigley, the company has gone from strength to strength in recent years, signing up major customers such as the BBC, the Washington Post, Edelman and MasterCard. It recently announced it had raised $6.4 million in a series A funding round, and it has a couple of new products in the works.

Spike

One of its more recent additions, Spike, will have a central role in the fight against fake news.

For CrossCheck, the company has teamed up with First Draft News to support publishers in France to help debunk hoaxes, dispel rumours and generally deal with the misinformation that comes with elections. They’ll do this by seeking out and verifying content – photos, videos, news stories, even memes – that are doing the rounds online. Among the newsrooms that have signed up to take part are Le Monde, Libération, Agence France Presse and BuzzFeed News.

NewsWhip will provide Spike to journalists to help them pinpoint stories gathering pace and popularity, spotting news not based on fact and identifying the accounts sharing it, says Quigley.

The NewsWhip team has itself been using Spike to track fake stories, creating a list of websites responsible for previously spreading fictional stories. Journalists can then use that information to watch for stories getting traction on social networks that they may otherwise have missed, and to separate fact from fiction.

The fightback has already begun. CrossCheck sprang into action on February 27th, and Facebook has already started flagging questionable news stories with a “disputed” tag. That means its fact-checking partners – Snopes and Politifact, for the most part – have disputed the story and it might not be the most reliable of news items.

Will it be enough to stem the tide of fake news? It’s not yet clear. But at the very least, it will help steer people in the right direction.