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.


Facebook donates $2.1 million to support Lebanon

Updated 12 August 2020

Facebook donates $2.1 million to support Lebanon

  • Managing Director Facebook MENA Ramez Shehadi: We are donating more than $2.1 million to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs
  • Ramez Shehadi: We’re working with hospitals and local partners to launch local access to our blood donation tool — allowing donors to find nearby blood donation centers in need of support

DUBAI: Facebook is giving millions to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs in Lebanon to support relief and recovery efforts in Beirut following the devastating blast there.

“In support of the vital work that organizations and individuals are doing on the ground in Beirut, we are donating more than $2.1 million to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs to support relief and recovery efforts, $1 million of which has been matched by our community as part of a Facebook fundraiser,” said Ramez Shehadi, managing director, Facebook Middle East and North Africa.

“Moreover, we’re working with hospitals and local partners to launch local access to our blood donation tool — which allows blood donors to find nearby blood donation centers in need of support — and supporting local newsrooms impacted. We will continue to work with different organizations that are making a real difference at this critical time,” Shehadi said.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, said in a post: “Facebook is doing what we can to help those struggling in the aftermath. Our safety check tool was activated soon after the explosion, with tens of thousands of people using it to let their friends and loved ones know they were OK. Hundreds of thousands of people visited our crisis page to get accurate information and request help, and we have seen our community come together to search for the missing and offer places to sleep to those who have lost homes. And we are launching our blood donation tool in Lebanon in partnership with local hospitals and others to point local blood donors to nearby blood donation centers.”

Additionally, the Facebook Community activated the safety check feature; and the crisis page is a resource for all those looking for help and support, from searching for missing loves ones to providing services such as blood donations.