Fighting misinformation and disinformation online is on the agenda for many organisations around the world, taking centre stage in countries with upcoming elections.
At Le Monde, the newsroom has been gearing up for the French presidential election for over a year, and three fact-checking and hoax-busting initiatives have been developed to help fight the spread of fake or misleading information online.
The projects do not focus only on debunking political stories, but also on assessing what type of approach has the most potential for impact, Nabil Wakim, director of editorial innovation at Le Monde, told Journalism.co.uk.
"It may look like it's not related to the presidential election but it is, because a lot of fake stories that we have are related to politics, a lot of them are related to the far right," explained Wakim.
Functioning as a browser extension as well as a search engine, the tool has around 700 websites in its database, but the team behind it, les Décodeurs, has received thousands of suggestions of new questionable sites from readers to check and index.
Partnership with Facebook
Le Monde is also one of the eight French news outlets who have partnered with Facebook to help the social network flag disputed stories that appear in users’ news feeds. Similar partnerships have been set up in the US and Germany, but the French initiative has only been active from the middle of March.
Facebook has not revealed the full process of how stories that are flagged as fake reach publishers, said Wakim. But once a particular story has been flagged as false by two participating newsrooms, it then gets penalised by the algorithm and it should no longer be shared as widely in the newsfeed.
Stories flagged as fake by news outlets in France are marked in a similar way to stories in the US and labelled "disputed", although the French translation used at the moment is not as strong as the English version, explained Wakim.
"We think disputed is not a good word, we don't dispute this content, we just think it's fake, so it's not a conversation about it. The way it is translated in French it's really soft."
Le Monde has signed up to take part in this initiative for two months, and while the potential for impact is clear, the team is waiting to see whether Facebook plans to continue the initiative after this period of time and what shape it might take in the future.
"We said yes because it's important to have Facebook taking responsibility for the content that’s being published on the platform but we don't want to be naive about it. We want to be in a partnership with them and not just clean their mess," he added.
Many of the French newsrooms that have partnered up with Facebook are also taking part in the CrossCheck initiative by First Draft, backed by Google News Lab.
Seventeen newsrooms including AFP, Les Echos, Liberation and the Décodeurs team from Le Monde are collaborating with journalism students to fact-check and add context to various claims, which are then published on the CrossCheck website.
The project is inspired by a US-based partnership around the presidential elections in November monitoring practical issues at the polls during voting day, in which First Draft also took an active role. The public can also ask questions about any claims they think should be verified on the CrossCheck website.
For Le Monde, covering the presidential elections is an opportunity to expand the newsroom's approach to political reporting. As well as being involved with fact-checking initiatives, Le Monde has journalists reporting from around 80 cities across France, connecting with people who are not directly involved in the campaign, "to try to understand how people feel about this election at a time when there is not a lot of faith in political leaders and political organisations", Wakim said.
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