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

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.


Lebanese news agency boycotts politicians’ press conferences, including Hezbollah’s Nasrallah

Updated 07 August 2020

Lebanese news agency boycotts politicians’ press conferences, including Hezbollah’s Nasrallah

  • The Lebanese news agency LBCI has said it will no longer provide coverage of any politician’s press conference, including Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah
  • “Let your accomplishments speak for you and don’t distract people with storytelling,” an LBCI presenter said

LONDON: The Lebanese news agency LBCI has said it will no longer provide coverage of any politician’s press conference, including Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, following Tuesday’s massive explosions.

“The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International decided that what comes after Aug. 4 is not like what came before,” a presenter announced on live television on Friday.

“Because after the earthquake is not the same as before, because your (Lebanese government) neglect and failure is one of the main reasons for what we have come to ... because after Aug. 4, we need actions and not words, achievements and not speeches.

“Let your accomplishments speak for you and don’t distract people with storytelling,” she said.

“Finally, we tell people: While you are waiting for the speeches of your leaders, there are mothers who are waiting for the return of their children from the rubble — the priority is for them, not for you.”

Many Lebanese welcomed LBCI’s announcement, with several taking to social media to praise the move — especially given that Nasrallah spoke at a press conference at 5:30 p.m. local time, his first address since the blasts.

“Not only Nasrallah, but all speeches, by all parties. They are nothing more than propaganda. They own their own propaganda bullhorns, so let them use those to address their sheep, rather than block the airwaves for the rest of us,” Raghda Azad, a policy adviser, told Arab News.

“Not that LBC is a model or anything, but all television outlets should stop unquestioning and uncritical reports of so-called leaders,” she added.

However, some doubt the move will not be followed by other stations.

“I think it would be great if they all do. But I think because many people care what he says, stations feel like they should oblige,” Aya Chamseddine, a Beirut-based researcher, told Arab News.

“Generally, people tend to — even if they loathe him — root themselves in front of TVs to watch and listen. His speeches are theatrics above all,” she said. “His narrative will be predictable. He will say they know more than anyone what it means to lose people. He’ll be insulting.”

A Lebanese media expert, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, disagrees with the move.

“CNN, even when it hates (US President) Trump, carries his speeches. Nasrallah is the biggest political player in the region; when he speaks people would want to listen because of his effect on politics and our daily lives,” he said.

“The issue is analyzing what he says later, and tearing it apart when it is false or stupid, like CNN does after every Trump speech or statement.”

The boycott comes three days after Beirut was rocked by two blasts when 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate confiscated six years ago and left in a port storage hangar exploded.

The massive explosions left at least 140 people dead, over 5,000 injured and more than 300,000 homeless. Many say that government corruption and negligence are behind the explosion.