Fighting fake news on the front line

StopFake.org co-founder Olga Yurkova poses for a photograph after speaking about fighting fake news in the Ukraine at the TED Conference, April 10, 2018 in Vancouver, Canada. (AFP)
Updated 11 April 2018
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Fighting fake news on the front line

  • The Ukrainian journalist and colleagues weighed into the battle with a StopFake.org website after Russian soldiers entered Crimea under cover
  • Among stories debunked by StopFake.org was a hotly spreading one about a child of a Russia supporter being crucified in a Ukranian city

VANCOUVER: Olga Yurkova has spent years fighting fake news on the front line.

The Ukrainian journalist and colleagues weighed into the battle with a StopFake.org website after Russian soldiers entered Crimea under cover and their country appeared to become a testing lab for using bogus stories to manipulate public opinion.

“We needed to do something to respond to fakes, to explain what is true and what is false,” Yurkova told AFP on Tuesday at the prestigious TED Conference, where she is among the speakers.

“There is this huge propaganda machine on the other side with money, professionals and systems powering it, and volunteers on our side. But, we do what we can do.”

Among stories debunked by StopFake.org was a hotly spreading one about a child of a Russia supporter being crucified in a Ukranian city.

Not only was the inflammatory tale a lie, the square mentioned did not exist.

On Tuesday, the website that Yurkova took part in launching four years ago displayed unmasked bogus tales including a lie about a US senator saying sanctions against Russia don’t work.

StopFake.org boasted 53,400 fans on Facebook; 25,800 followers at Twitter, and more than 51,000 subscribers.

Propaganda

“Propaganda became a huge problem for the Ukraine four years ago,” Yurkova said.

“When we told the world about this, nobody listened to us. Now, the whole world faces this problem.”

She believes fake news tactics refined in the Ukraine have been aimed at the US, Europe and elsewhere.

A longtime journalist, Yurkova was keenly aware of the need to earn people’s trust. With the spread of fake news, she saw people lose faith in media of all kinds, as well as in institutions.

The mission at StopFake.org was simple — take news and check it against the facts.

“With election meddling in the US and Russian troll farms, the world started to realize the scale of the problem,” Yurkova said.

“Do your research, don’t just believe, is the only way to stop this culture of fake news.”

Biases

Yurkova conceded that it may be futile trying to get truth to people seeking stories that confirm their biases, but saw hope in reaching those without entrenched opinions.

“We fight for the people in the middle in a polarized world,” Yurkova said.

“We spread the idea of checking facts.”

Among simple lessons she shared was that, unfortunately, truth tends to be boring while fake news veers toward dramatic and outrageously emotional ‘click-bait.’

Since fake news is manufactured, it can easily be packed with juicy details.

“The propaganda machine spreads trash; we try to wash it away.”

“It is a really huge machine. It is not just Russian state media, it is private Russian media; useful idiots in different countries who spread misinformation, and a lot of politicians.

And, while Facebook is the website’s main source of traffic, it could be time to find a new way for people to communicate given how the social network has been abused by purveyors of fake news, according to Yurkova.

“I can’t fix human nature,” she said. “The best advice I can give is that when you see something interesting, do something to check whether there is proof it is true. It takes just seconds to Google something.”

StopFake.org has at its website tools that can be used for checking the authenticity of headlines, photos, videos and news.

Since starting as an all volunteer operations, StopFake.org has won grants to help support a team of about 30 people.

“I think every country needs their own StopFake,” Yurkova said.


Myanmar evicts family of officer who testified on entrapment

Updated 21 April 2018
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Myanmar evicts family of officer who testified on entrapment

  • Two reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, have been detained since December 12 on charges of violating the Official Secrets Act.
  • Police Capt. Moe Yan Naing told a court that his superior had arranged for two policemen to meet the reporters and hand over documents described as “important secret papers” in order to entrap them.

Yangon: Myanmar police on Saturday evicted the family of a police officer who testified that he and others had been ordered to entrap two reporters working for the Reuters news agency who are facing charges that could get them up to 14 years in prison, the officer’s wife said.
The reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, have been detained since Dec. 12 on charges of violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The two helped cover the crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where a brutal counterinsurgency operation last year drove about 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to neighboring Bangladesh.
Police Capt. Moe Yan Naing told a court Friday that his superior had arranged for two policemen to meet the reporters at a restaurant and hand over documents described as “important secret papers” in order to entrap them.
On Saturday, Moe Yan Naing’s wife, Daw Tuu, said she and her daughter were ordered to move out of their police housing in the capital, Naypyitaw.
“A police officer called us this morning and said we have to move out of the housing immediately and that’s the order from the superior,” Daw Tuu said, sobbing.
Moe Yan Naing said he and other colleagues who had been interviewed earlier by Wa Lone about their activities in Rakhine had been interrogated under the direction of Brig. Gen. Tin Ko Ko of the 8th Security Police Battalion.
The police department’s action against Moe Yan Naing’s family caused an outcry in Myanmar.
“This is an outrageous move,” said Robert Sann Aung, a human rights lawyer. “This is to give an example to other police in the country to keep silent from telling the truth.”
The court in Yangon has been holding hearings since January. The defendants’ lawyers have asked the court to drop the case against the pair, saying prosecutors failed to present enough evidence to support the case, but the judge denied the motion.