BBC forms new team to debunk fake news

A supporter uses his smartphone as others leave Democratic US presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's election night rally in New York, US, on Nov 9, 2016.
A supporter uses his smartphone as others leave Democratic US presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's election night rally in New York, US, on Nov 9, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • British news broadcaster BBC has announced plans to stitch together a new team to weed out fake news, whose proliferation has led to a restaurant shooting and arguably cost Mrs Hillary Clinton her shot at the United States presidency.

The BBC's plans will see its fact-checking Reality Check series become permanent, with a team of people trawling social media for widely shared stories to sift out fictitious news that is invented to mislead the public, The Guardian reported.

"The BBC can't edit the Internet, but we won't stand aside either," BBC news chief James Harding said on Thursday. "We are working with Facebook, in particular, to see how we can be most effective. Where we see deliberately misleading stories masquerading as news, we'll publish a Reality Check that says so."

Facebook last month rolled out tools to let users and third-party checkers flag inaccurate articles, following a firestorm around the social network's role in spreading false information.

A Pew Research Centre survey released last month revealed almost one-quarter of Americans believed they shared fake news and a greater percentage were concerned about its consequences.

The sheer quantity of such falsehood is staggering. In the three months before the US presidential election in November last year, the top 20 fake news stories generated more engagement from the American public than the top electoral stories published by The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The phenomenon nearly turned deadly the following month when a rifle-wielding man entered a pizza restaurant in Washington, saying he wanted to investigate a story that wrongly stated the restaurant was a centre for child abduction linked to Mrs Clinton and a top adviser. No one was injured when the gunman fired off a round from his AR-15 rifle.

But the incident led Mrs Clinton to brand fictitious news an epidemic with "real-world consequences" that must be addressed quickly.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2017, with the headline 'BBC forms new team to debunk fake news'. Print Edition | Subscribe