Daphne Bramham: Misleading Conservative ads fan fears in Chinese community

Chinese Canadians were among the most opposed to cannabis legalization which continues to be covered in Chinese language media. This fake news exploits this opposition:

The close-up image of lines of white powder, a razor blade and thick, white fingers is startling enough for most Facebook users. But it’s the words in the Conservative Party of Canada’s Facebook ad — in Chinese characters — that are more attention grabbing.

“(Liberal Leader Justin) Trudeau has already legalized marijuana, he now plans to legalize hard drugs! If you want to get the latest in Chinese, please press Like in our Facebook page.”

Alarming? Yes, it is. It’s also not true.

The message is repeated in a bilingual (Chinese/English) post dated Oct. 5 on the Conservative Party’s Chinese-language Facebook page. “Do you want Justin Trudeau to legalize hard drugs in your community?” reads the headline. “Justin Trudeau has a plan to legalize hard drugs!”

No similar posting was made on the party’s main English-language Facebook page.

The Conservatives base the fake claim on an exchange between Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and Trudeau during a recent leaders’ debate. In French, Scheer accuses the Liberals of having a “secret agenda to legalize or decriminalize hard drugs.”

But Liberal spokesman Guy Gallant said Wednesday, “That (legalization) is not in our plans.”

What the Liberals’ platform says is that the “default option for first-time, non-violent offenders” would require going to drug court where they would get “quick access to treatment,” which in turn would “prevent more serious crimes.”

To make it work, the Liberals promise more community-based services, more residential treatment beds as well as a scaling up of the most effective harm-reduction services such as supervised consumption sites.

Although it lacks many details, it sounds similar to what Portugal did in 2001 in response to its opioid addiction crisis.

There, all street drugs (including marijuana) are illegal. But anyone found with drugs within the set limits for personal use is sent to the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, where counsellors and therapists come up with a plan to direct the user to whatever services are needed to help them quit taking drugs.

Anyone found with larger amounts is charged with trafficking, goes through the criminal justice system, and can be sent to jail for up to 12 years.

Drug use in Portugal, once the highest in Europe, is now amongst the lowest, especially among youth, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction’s 2019 report.

While Portugal had only 30 overdose deaths in 2016, the year quoted in the report, 4,588 Canadians died from overdoses in 2018, and another 1,082 died in the first three months this year.

“If Justin Trudeau tells us precisely when he is going to legalize dangerous drugs, we will amend our ads to reflect the new information,” Conservative spokesman Simon Jefferies said Wednesday in an email.

All but one of the links provided by Conservatives to “prove” that Liberals would legalize illicit drugs — the French-language debate clip, a Trudeau interview with Global TV, news stories about individual Liberal candidates, and a YouTube videofrom the 2018 Liberal convention — all refer not to legalization, but to decriminalization. Some even include specific references to the Portuguese model.

The exception was a 2014 tweet from Michael Den Tandt, the Liberal candidate in the Ontario riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. At the time, he was a National Post reporter and his tweet urged legalization and control of recreational drugs and prostitution, along with an end to supply management and lower taxes. None of those are Liberal party policies.

Conservatives deny a deliberate attempt to confuse voters by using “decriminalization” and “legalization” interchangeably.

The Conservatives have yet to release their full platform, but last week Scheer promised to “tackle drug addiction” in an announcement that focused on guns, gangs and sentencing.

A background paper released at the same time said Conservatives would invest in treatment and recovery centres, including recovery high schools, have a national campaign warning children and youth about the dangers of drug use, and partner with municipalities and schools to clean up used needles.

Illicit drugs are anathema for many new Canadians from Asia and for those who recall China’s opium wars. In Hong Kong, for example, penalties for possession of illicit drugs can be up to seven years in jail and a fine of C$170,000. In China, drug trafficking can bring the death penalty, as two Canadians found out earlier this year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand also have a death penalty for trafficking.

As was apparent when Trudeau’s government legalized marijuana, changing drug laws is much less acceptable to many Asian voters than to other Canadians. And it just so happens that Chinese-speaking voters account for a significant percentage in some of the most heavily contested ridings — including Richmond Centre, Steveston-Richmond East, and Vancouver Kingsway.

Deliberately creating confusion and misunderstanding has, unfortunately, proven to be a far too effective strategy south of the border, and it seems to have made its way north.

Bad at any time, it’s worse when it targets voters whose first language isn’t English, and especially confuses an issue that affects thousands of Canadians with addictions whose lives are at stake every day.

Yet, that’s what Conservatives are willing to risk in this ugly, too-close-to-call election.

Source: Daphne Bramham: Misleading Conservative ads fan fears in Chinese community

Canada banning Christian demonstrations? How a private member’s bill sprouted fake news

Interesting account of the social media trail and actors:

Imagine scrolling through Facebook when you come across this headline: “Canada Moves to Ban Christians from Demonstrating in Public Under New Anti-Hate Proposal.” If you think it reads too shocking and absurd to be true, that’s because it is.

But this exact headline appeared atop a story that was shared more than 16,000 times online since it was published in May, according to social media tool CrowdTangle. The federal government and Justin Trudeau, who is pictured in the story, are not seeking to ban Christians from demonstrating. In fact, the bill the story is based on was introduced in the Ontario legislature, by a Conservative MPP, and never made it past a second reading.

Incorrect and misleading content is common on social media, but it’s not always obvious where it originates. To learn more, CBC News tracked this particular example back through time on social media to uncover where it came from and how it evolved over time.

March 20: Private member’s bill introduced in Ontario

In this case, it all started with a bill. In March, Roman Baber, a freshman member of the Ontario provincial legislature introduced his very first private member’s bill. Had he known how badly the bill would be misconstrued online, he might have chosen something else, he later told CBC News.

“I expected that people would understand what prompted the bill, as a proud member of the Jewish community who’s been subjected to repeated demonstrations at Queen’s Park by certain groups that were clearly promoting hate,” said Baber, Progressive Conservative member for York Centre.

The bill was simple. It sought to ban any demonstrations on the grounds of Queen’s Park, where Ontario’s provincial legislature is located, that promote hate speech or incite violence. Baber said the bill was prompted by previous demonstrations that occurred at the legislature grounds.

“In 2017, we saw a demonstration that called for the shooting of Israelis. We saw a demonstration that called for a bus bombing and murder of innocent civilians,” he said.

The bill went through two readings at Queen’s Park and was punted to the standing committee on justice, where it’s languished since.

March 27: Canadian Jewish News covers story

At first, the bill garnered modest attention online. The Canadian Jewish News ran a straight-forward report on the bill that included an interview with Baber shortly after he first introduced it. It was shared only a handful of times.

But a few weeks after the second reading, the bill drew the attention of LifeSiteNews, a socially-conservative website. The story was shared 212 times, according to CrowdTangle, including to the Yellow Vests Canada Facebook group.

In its story, LifeSiteNews suggested that a bill banning hate speech might be interpreted to include demonstrations like those that opposed updates to the province’s sex education curriculum.

Baber said this isn’t the case, because hate speech is already defined and interpreted by legal precedent.

“The words ‘hate’ and ‘hate-promoting’ have been defined by the courts repeatedly through common law and is enforced in courts routinely,” Baber said. “So it would be a mistake to suggest that the bill expands the realm of hate speech.”

April 24: The Post Millennial invokes ‘free speech’ argument 

But the idea stuck around. A few weeks later, on April 24, the Post Millennial posted a story labelled as news that argued the bill could infringe on free speech. The story was, however, clear that the bill was only in Ontario and had not yet moved beyond a second reading. It was shared over 200 times and drew nearly 400 interactions — likes, shares, comments and reactions — on social media, according to CrowdTangle.

May 6: Powerful emotions evoke response on social media 

On May 6, a socially conservative women’s group called Real Women of Canada published a news release on the bill calling it “an attack on free speech.” In the release, the group argues that hate speech isn’t clearly defined in Canadian law, and draws on unrelated examples to claim that Christian demonstrations, in particular, could be targeted.

For example, the group pointed to the case of British Columbia’s Trinity Western University, a Christian post-secondary institution that used to require all students sign a covenant that prohibited sex outside of heterosexual marriage. A legal challenge around the covenant and a potential law school at Trinity Western occurred last year, but it had nothing to do with hate speech.

May 9: LifeSiteNews republishes news release

Though this news release itself was not widely shared, three days later it was republished by LifeSiteNews as an opinion piece. That post did better, drawing 5,500 shares and over 8,000 interactions, according to CrowdTangle It also embellished the release with a dramatic image and sensational headline: “Ontario Bill Threatens to Criminalize Christian Speech as ‘Hate.'”

LifeSiteNews published the news release as an opinion piece, drawing 5,500 shares and over 8,000 interactions. (Screengrab/LifeSiteNews)

At this point, the nugget of truth has been nearly entirely obscured by several layers of opinion and misrepresentation. For example, the bill doesn’t specifically cite Christian speech, but this headline suggests it does.

These tactics are used to elicit a strong response from readers and encourage them to share, according to Samantha Bradshaw, a researcher on the Computational Propaganda project at Oxford University.

“People like to consume this kind of content because it’s very emotional, and it gets us feeling certain things: anger, frustration, anxiety, fear,” Bradshaw said. “These are all very powerful emotions that get people sharing and consuming content.”

May 11: Big League Politics publishes sensational inaccuracies 

That framing on LifeSiteNews caught the attention of a major U.S. publication known for spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation: Big League Politics. On May 11, the site published a story that cited the LifeSiteNews story heavily.

The headline and image make it seem like Trudeau’s government has introduced legislation that would specifically prohibit Christians from demonstrating anywhere in the country, a far cry from the truth.

While the story provides a few facts, like the fact the bill was introduced in Ontario, much of it is incorrect. For example, in the lead sentence, the writer claimed the bill would “criminalize public displays by Christians deemed hateful to Muslims, the LGBT community and other victim groups designated by the left.”

The disinformation and alarmist headline proved successful: the Big League Politics version of the story was shared more than 16,000 times, drew more than 26,000 interactions and continued to circulate online for over two weeks.

This evolution is a common occurrence. Disinformation is often based on a nugget of truth that gets buried under layers of emotionally-charged language and opinion. Here, that nugget of truth was a private member’s bill introduced in the Ontario legislature. But that fact was gradually churned through an online network of spin until it was unrecognizable in the final product.

At the end of the day, democracy is really hard work. It’s up to us to put in that time and effort to fact check our information, to look at other sources, to look at the other side of the argument and to weigh and debate and discuss.– Samantha Bradshaw, researcher at Oxford University

“That is definitely something that we see often: taking little truths and stretching them, misreporting them or implementing commentary and treating someone’s opinion about what happened as news,” Bradshaw said. “The incremental changes that we see in these stories and these narratives is something very typical of normal disinformation campaigns.”

Bradshaw said even though disinformation is only a small portion of the content online, it can have an outsized impact on our attention. With that in mind, she said it’s partly up to readers to think critically about what they’re reading and sharing online.

“At the end of the day, democracy is really hard work,” Bradshaw said. “It’s up to us to put in that time and effort to fact check our information, to look at other sources, to look at the other side of the argument and to weigh and debate and discuss.”

Source: Canada banning Christian demonstrations? How a private member’s bill sprouted fake news

The language gives it away: How an algorithm can help us detect fake news


Have you ever read something online and shared it among your networks, only to find out it was false?

As a software engineer and computational linguist who spends most of her work and even leisure hours in front of a computer screen, I am concerned about what I read online. In the age of social media, many of us consume unreliable news sources. We’re exposed to a wild flow of information in our social networks — especially if we spend a lot of time scanning our friends’ random posts on Twitter and Facebook.

My colleagues and I at the Discourse Processing Lab at Simon Fraser University have conducted research on the linguistic characteristics of fake news.

The effects of fake news

A study in the United Kingdom found that about two-thirds of the adults surveyed regularly read news on Facebook, and that half of those had the experience of initially believing a fake news story. Another study, conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, focused on the cognitive aspects of exposure to fake news and found that, on average, newsreaders believe a false news headline at least 20 percent of the time.

False stories are now spreading 10 times faster than real news and the problem of fake news seriously threatens our society.

For example, during the 2016 election in the United States, an astounding number of U.S. citizens believed and shared a patently false conspiracy claiming that Hilary Clinton was connected to a human trafficking ring run out of a pizza restaurant. The owner of the restaurant received death threats, and one believer showed up in the restaurant with a gun. This — and a number of other fake news stories distributed during the election season — had an undeniable impact on people’s votes.


It’s often difficult to find the origin of a story after partisan groups, social media bots and friends of friends have shared it thousands of times. Fact-checking websites such as Snopes and Buzzfeed can only address a small portion of the most popular rumors.

The technology behind the internet and social media has enabled this spread of misinformation; maybe it’s time to ask what this technology has to offer in addressing the problem.

In an interview, Hilary Clinton discusses ‘Pizzagate’ and the problem of fake news online.

Giveaways in writing style

Recent advances in machine learning have made it possible for computers to instantaneously complete tasks that would have taken humans much longer. For example, there are computer programs that help police identify criminal faces in a matter of seconds. This kind of artificial intelligence trains algorithms to classify, detect and make decisions.

When machine learning is applied to natural language processing, it is possible to build text classification systems that recognize one type of text from another.

During the past few years, natural language processing scientists have become more active in building algorithms to detect misinformation; this helps us to understand the characteristics of fake news and develop technology to help readers.

One approach finds relevant sources of information, assigns each source a credibility score and then integrates them to confirm or debunk a given claim. This approach is heavily dependent on tracking down the original source of news and scoring its credibility based on a variety of factors.

A second approach examines the writing style of a news article rather than its origin. The linguistic characteristics of a written piece can tell us a lot about the authors and their motives. For example, specific words and phrases tend to occur more frequently in a deceptive text compared to one written honestly.

Spotting fake news

Our research identifies linguistic characteristics to detect fake news using machine learning and natural language processing technology. Our analysis of a large collection of fact-checked news articles on a variety of topics shows that, on average, fake news articles use more expressions that are common in hate speech, as well as words related to sex, death and anxiety. Genuine news, on the other hand, contains a larger proportion of words related to work (business) and money (economy).

This suggests that a stylistic approach combined with machine learning might be useful in detecting suspicious news.

Our fake news detector is built based on linguistic characteristics extracted from a large body of news articles. It takes a piece of text and shows how similar it is to the fake news and real news items that it has seen before. (Try it out!)

The main challenge, however, is to build a system that can handle the vast variety of news topics and the quick change of headlines online, because computer algorithms learn from samples and if these samples are not sufficiently representative of online news, the model’s predictions would not be reliable.

One option is to have human experts collect and label a large quantity of fake and real news articles. This data enables a machine-learning algorithm to find common features that keep occurring in each collection regardless of other varieties. Ultimately, the algorithm will be able to distinguish with confidence between previously unseen real or fake news articles.

Source: The language gives it away: How an algorithm can help us detect fake news

Fake online stories claim Trudeau begged foreign leaders ‘to send him a million immigrants’


Canada’s Prime Minister begs Nigeria President for one million immigrants,” reads the headline on an article published in April on the website CBTV.

The article claims that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had announced the creation of a new employment and migration program for immigrants.

But the program doesn’t exist. Trudeau never had any such discussions with the president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.

The fabricated story has been shared about 2,600 times and drew negative reactions from the Yellow Vests Canada Facebook group, which is attached to the Canadian arm of the Yellow Vests, a mass movement of protests in France against taxation and high gas prices.

The article also circulated on social media, including WhatsApp groups in Nigeria. It’s impossible to determine how many times it was shared on WhatsApp because the messaging app is encrypted and the conversations aren’t public. But AFP Fact Check — a service of the international news wire service that debunks online hoaxes — and the High Commission of Canada to Nigeria both felt compelled to deny the story.

The High Commission of Canada in Nigeria had to debunk false news about immigration circulating there. This tweet uses a Nigerian expression, “Shine your eyes,” which means ‘be careful’ or ‘be vigilant’. (Twitter)

Nigeria isn’t the only country that’s been targeted by the fake story. Identical articles were published on the CBTV site mentioning the Philippines, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Pakistan, Ghana and Uganda. In each instance the story text is identical — only the name of the country and the head of state who supposedly spoke to Trudeau were changed.

This image shows how the same false immigration story was re-purposed to target multiple countries, including the Philippines, Liberia, Zimbabwe and Kenya. (Screengrabs from CBTV/Array by Radio-Canada)

Another site called City News — which imitates a local Canadian news site — also published several of these articles. The site seems to be managed by the same person or people who run CBTV; a Radio-Canada analysis determined both sites share the same Google Analytics ID.

Tactics to confuse readers

These sites use the same visual codes as news media and sometimes even publish real news on their sties. According to Herman Wasserman, a media studies professor at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, this serves to confuse the reader.

It’s a popular tactic with the people who run fake news sites. In 2017, Radio Canada discovered imposter websites that looked like Quebec media sites but were actually based in Ukraine, and those sites used the same tactic.

A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) confirmed that the ministry is aware of the story.

“IRCC regularly surveys online disinformation. When false information is distributed, like in this case, we try to act quickly to provide the facts,” said Rémi Larivière. He said that the ministry published a tweet and posted on Facebook to counteract the story.

Where the one million figure originated

Even though the story is false, the one million immigrants figure does has some basis in reality. The federal government announced in 2017 that it wanted to welcome more immigrants over the next three years. The government planned to admit 310,000 immigrants in 2018, 330,000 in 2019 and 340,000 in 2020, for a total of 980,000 immigrants over three years.

That number includes the total number of immigrants Canada wanted to receive from all countries — not one country in particular.

Another false article on the CBTV website claimed that Trudeau “ordered “Parliament to approve visa-free entry” for visitors from certain foreign countries.

Another false story claimed that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had ordered “Parliament” to approve visa-free entry for visitors from Fiji. The rest of the text of the article is similar to other false stories about Trudeau begging foreign leaders for immigrants. (Screengrab from CBTV)

Again, the site published the same article repeatedly, changing only the name of the country and the head of state. Fiji, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Gambia were all targeted by the false story. In Sri Lanka, the article was even translated into Tamil.

If you write stories about immigration, it’s something that lots of Africans think about: immigration, becoming more mobile, having a better life. So this type of story is immediately attractive.– Herman Wasserman, media studies professor, University of Cape Town

Herman Wasserman, a media studies professor at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, said it’s not surprising that Canada is the focus of articles that cater to an African audience, because many Africans aspire to immigrate here.

“If you write stories about immigration, it’s something that lots of Africans think about — immigration, becoming more mobile, having a better life. So this type of story is immediately attractive,” he said.

Wasserman said Canada also has a reputation of being more welcoming to immigrants than the United States, which makes these false stories more credible.

“Trudeau has a more positive and friendly image in the media than (U.S. President Donald) Trump. It’s well known that Trump is anti-immigration, that he wants to build a wall and that the United States is a hostile environment to foreigners,” he said.

Wasserman said he believes that false news stories about Canada are easier for a foreign audience to believe.

“Canada is less well-known,” he said. “In Africa there’s less news about Canada than about the United States.

“If you say that someone has died in Montreal or Toronto, it’s not easy (for a reader abroad) to verify. But if you say someone has died in New York, people will say, ‘If it’s true, it would be all over CNN and we would’ve heard about it, so it’s not true.'”

Who is behind the site?

It’s not possible to determine the identity of the person who runs CBTV and City News because both sites were registered anonymously. They were created several days apart in April this year, and almost immediately started publishing fake stories.

IRCC also doesn’t know the identity of the people who are spreading the fake stories, according to Larivière.

The purpose of the sites could be financial, because they contain ads. The platform that places the ads that appear on CBTV, MGID, didn’t respond to questions from Radio-Canada about whether the company was aware its ads fund sites that spread disinformation.

In 2017, Google announced it would ban fake news sites from its ad platform, Google AdSense. Since then, many false news sites have turned to other sources of revenue.

The strategy of creating repetitive fake articles targeting specific communities to attract clicks and and shares on social media isn’t new. In March of 2016, a site created hundreds of articles about celebrities moving to small towns across North America.

One of the stories, shared numerous times on Facebook in Quebec, said that actor Leonardo DiCaprio had bought a house in Baie-Saint-Paul, in the Charlevoix.

Source: Fake online stories claim Trudeau begged foreign leaders ‘to send him a million immigrants’

Exclusive: Right-wing sites swamp Sweden with ‘junk news’ in tight election race

Possible factor contributing to the shift in Swedish politics (scheduled before results known):

One in three news articles shared online about the upcoming Swedish election come from websites publishing deliberately misleading information, most with a right-wing focus on immigration and Islam, Oxford University researchers say.

Their study, published on Thursday, points to widespread online disinformation in the final stages of a tightly-contested campaign which could mark a lurch to the right in one of Europe’s most prominent liberal democracies.

The authors, from the Oxford Internet Institute, labeled certain websites “junk news”, based on a range of detailed criteria. Reuters found the three most popular sites they identified have employed former members of the Sweden Democrats party; one has a former MP listed among its staff.

It was not clear whether the sharing of “junk news” had affected voting intentions in Sweden, but the study helps show the impact platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have on elections, and how domestic or foreign groups can use them to exacerbate sensitive social and political issues.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, whose center-left Social Democrats have dominated politics since 1914 but are now unlikely to secure a ruling majority, told Reuters the spread of false or distorted information online risked shaking “the foundations of democracy” if left unchecked.

The Institute, a department of Oxford University, analyzed 275,000 tweets about the Swedish election from a 10-day period in August. It counted articles shared from websites it identified as “junk news” sources, defined as outlets which “deliberately publish misleading, deceptive or incorrect information purporting to be real news”.

“Roughly speaking, for every two professional content articles shared, one junk news article was shared. Junk news therefore constituted a significant part of the conversation around the Swedish general election,” it said.

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment on the results of the study.

Facebook, where interactions between users are harder to track, said it was working with Swedish officials to help voters spot disinformation. It has also partnered with Viralgranskaren – an arm of Sweden’s Metro newspaper – to identify, demote and counterbalance “false news” on its site.

Joakim Wallerstein, head of communications for the Sweden Democrats, said he had no knowledge of or interest in the party sympathies of media outlets. Asked to comment on his party’s relationship with the sites identified by the study, he said he had been interviewed by one of them once.

“I think it is strange that a foreign institute is trying to label various news outlets in Sweden as ‘junk news’ and release such a report in connection to an election,” he said.


Swedish security officials say there is currently no evidence of a coordinated online attempt by foreign powers to sway the Sept. 9 vote, despite repeated government warnings about the threat.

But Mikael Tofvesson, head of the counter influence team at the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), a government agency tasked with safeguarding the election, said the widespread sharing of false or distorted information makes countries more vulnerable to hostile influence operations.

“Incorrect and biased reporting promotes a harder, harsher tone in the debate, which makes it easier to throw in disinformation and other deceptive tools,” he said.

Lisa-Maria Neudert, a researcher from the Oxford Internet Institute’s Project on Computational Propaganda, said most of the “junk news” in Sweden supported right-wing policies, and was largely focused on issues around immigration and Islam.

The top three “junk news” sources identified by the study – right-wing websites Samhallsnytt, Nyheter Idag and Fria Tider – accounted for more than 85 percent of the “junk news” content.

Samhallsnytt received donations through the personal bank account of a Sweden Democrat member between 2011-2013 when it operated under the name Avpixlat. A former Sweden Democrat member of parliament, who also previously ran the party’s youth wing, is listed on the Samhallsnytt website as a columnist.

Samhallsnytt often publishes articles saying Sweden is under threat from Islam. In June, for example, it said a youth soccer tournament in the second-biggest city had banned pork as “haram” – or forbidden under Islamic law. The article is still online with the headline: “Islam is the new foundation of the Gothia Cup – pork proclaimed ‘haram’”.

A tournament organizer told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper that caterers had not served pork for more than 10 years for practical reasons, and there was no ban against eating or selling pork at the event.

Samhallsnytt and Fria Tider did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Commenting before the Oxford study was published, Nyheter Idag founder Chang Frick disputed the “junk news” label and said his website followed ethical journalistic practices, citing its membership of Sweden’s self-regulated Press Council body.

“Yes, we put our editorial perspective on news, of course, like everyone else,” he said. “If you are doing a tabloid you cannot have dry, boring headlines, it should have some punch to it. But we do not lie, we do not make false accusations.”


Social media companies have come under increasing pressure to tackle disinformation on their platforms following accusations that Russia and Iran tried to meddle in domestic politics in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Moscow and Tehran deny the allegations.A report by the Swedish Defence Research Institute last week said the number of automated Twitter accounts discussing the upcoming election almost doubled in July from the previous month. Such so-called “bot” accounts shared articles from Samhallsnytt and Fria Tider more frequently than real people, the report said, and were 40 percent more likely to express support for the Sweden Democrats.

Facebook said its work with Viralgranskaren to fact check content on its sites helped it quickly identify “false news.”

The company declined to give specific figures about the amount or sources of false news it had recorded around the Swedish election, but said any flagged content is given a lower position on its site, a practice known as “downranking” which it says cuts views by 80 percent. Users who see disputed articles are also shown other sources of verified information, it said.

In a blog post on its website, Twitter says it “should not be the arbiter of truth”.

But the MSB’s counter influence team’s head Tofvesson said there had been a “positive increase” in the work of Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to help safeguard the election, largely via better communication and coordination with local authorities.

Source: Right-wing sites swamp Sweden with “junk news” in tight election race

Pope Francis vs Donald Trump: Each one has a guide to fake news — and they couldn’t be more different

Pope Francis captures the essence of fake news:

So finally, here is the pope’s solution. “We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits,” he wrote, “whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results.”

Full text below:

A writer in the New York Times once called Pope Francis “the anti-Trump,” which we guess would make President Donald Trump something like the antipope.

The essay’s premise was that the two often agreed on the same world problems but proposed antithetical solutions. Example: “Both pope and president are critics of a neoliberal globalism” – but while Francis wants people to help desperate migrants who are the victims of capitalist greed, Trump wants to wall out immigrants so Americans can get richer.

But that’s the New York Times, which Trump has accused of peddling “fake news.” Actually he’s applied that label to almost all mainstream outlets by now, and went so far as to rank them according to fakeness.

Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Francis released a papal message titled “Fake news and journalism for peace.” And while, like Trump, he think it’s a big problem, his take on it could hardly be more different.

Whereas the president would tell you what is fake news (CNN is, he says; Fox News is not), the pope would rather you figure it out. In fact, his message is more or less a how-to guide.

Francis gives only one example of fake news in his treatise. He is the pope, so no surprise, it’s from the Bible.

“This was the strategy employed by the ‘crafty serpent’ in the Book of Genesis, who, at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news,” Francis wrote. He means the serpent in the Garden of Eden, who tricked Eve and Adam into eating forbidden fruit by making up a story about how great it would turn out.

“The tempter approaches the woman by pretending to be her friend, concerned only for her welfare, and begins by saying something only partly true,” Francis wrote. ” ‘Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’ ”

False premise. “In fact,” Francis wrote, “God never told Adam not to eat from any tree, but only from the one tree.”

Eve tries to correct the serpent, and in doing so, falls for his trap. It’s a bit like when you argue with a Facebook troll and get sucked into a long comment thread, eventually saying things you never meant to.

“Of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it nor touch it, under pain of death,’ ” Eve tells the serpent, very specifically.

“Her answer is couched in legalistic and negative terms,” Francis wrote, “After listening to the deceiver and letting herself be taken in by his version of the facts, the woman is misled. So she heeds his words of reassurance: ‘You will not die!’ ”

And then, like with a chain email, Eve shares the serpent’s news with Adam, who turns out to be just as gullible. And while they don’t die when they eat the fruit, they do get the human race kicked out of paradise forever.

That’s how fake news worked back in Genesis, Francis wrote, and it’s not much different and no less dangerous in the internet age.

So, he asked, “How can we recognize fake news?”

He listed a few characteristics of the genre: Fake news is malicious. It plays off rash emotions like anger and anxiety. “It grasps people’s attention by appealing to stereotypes and common social prejudices,” Francis wrote.

But in most respects, fake mimics truth. On the surface, they can be hard to tell apart. For example Trump once retweeted a video titled “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” The video was real, but police said the attacker wasn’t even a migrant.

So finally, here is the pope’s solution. “We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits,” he wrote, “whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results.”

Fake news is as fake news does, in other words. It “leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred,” Francis wrote.

So if you’re feeling those things while browsing Facebook, or find yourself in a flame war, be especially wary of what you just read. Ask yourself if there might be another side. Listen to those who disagree with you, instead of yelling at them.

“The best antidotes to falsehoods are not strategies, but people,” the pope wrote. “People who are not greedy but ready to listen, people who make the effort to engage in sincere dialogue so that the truth can emerge; people who are attracted by goodness and take responsibility for how they use language.”

If you’re wondering, no, the pope does not mention Trump in this message. Not that Francis mentioned him by name either during the 2016 campaign, when he told reporters, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

But the contrast between these two men’s notions of fake news is glaring. If Trump’s appeals, you can find it on his Twitter account. If what Francis wrote makes sense to you, you might try it out the next time your scroll through Twitter.

Ask yourself if what you read makes you feel hateful, or like quarreling. Ask if the pope might find it fake.

And you could ask the same of everything you read, including this article, which brought Trump into the pope’s message, even though the pope did not.

Indeed, Francis wrote toward the end of his essay, “If responsibility is the answer to the spread of fake news, then a weighty responsibility rests on the shoulders of those whose job is to provide information, namely, journalists, the protectors of news.”

Just as everyone should check their emotions against the news, he wrote, the news should avoid inciting them.

Source: Pope Francis vs Donald Trump: Each one has a guide to fake news — and they couldn’t be more different

Toronto imam who was face of ‘completely false’ Harvey story calls out ‘industry of hate’

Good case study on fake news and some of the motives behind it:

Toronto imam Ibrahim Hindy set out to perform the hajj pilgrimage in Mecca in Saudi Arabia this week knowing it would be one of the most memorable experiences of his life, but he had no idea when he was away that he would become the face of a disturbing online story that would be shared thousands of times.

On Saturday, Hindy said he awoke to the sound of his phone buzzing incessantly and learned someone had put a photo of him front and centre in a story claiming that a mosque outside flood-ravaged Houston had refused help to hundreds displaced by tropical storm Harvey.

Screenshots of his face under the article titled “Hurricane victims storm and occupy Texas mosque who refused To help Christians” filled his social media feed. The problem, said Hindy, was he had never heard of the mosque or even been to Texas.

‘The whole thing was kind of surreal’

“The whole thing was kind of surreal,” Hindy told CBC News. “I’m in the middle of a desert, just minding my own business, and somehow I get dragged into this thing out of nowhere.”

At first, Hindy decided to ignore the article. It was so outlandish, he said, there’s no way anyone would believe it.

“But as I thought about it more, I thought this is the kind of thing that can actually be dangerous,” he said. “It’s going out there, it’s inflaming emotions, it’s getting people riled up on the basis of things that are completely false and completely made up. And frankly, someone could see my image there and think that I’m this terrible person and come after me.”

The article was posted on TheLastLineOfDefense.org, whose about section reads: “While everything on this site is a satirical work of fiction, we are proud to present it to those who will have called it real anyway.”

If the numbers are any indication, they did. By Sunday, the article had been shared over 1,800 times and picked up by at least two other sites, where it gained more than 2,500 more shares.

Staying power due to ’emotional content’

The story is a followup to one posted a day earlier claiming the “Ramashan Mosque” turned away hundreds of Harvey victims “because it’s against their religion.” A search on Google Maps turns up no such building.

TheLastLineofDefense told CBC News on Monday they sometime use “random images” that may be recognized. They say they won’t stop writing fake articles but are “taking even more steps to label it exactly as what it is.”

“We also file DMCA notices to the hosting companies of any sites that steal our material,” they wrote in an email.

The site say they’ve removed Hindy’s image as a courtesy and issued a personal apology to the imam.

But Hindy says he’s received no apology.

TheLastLineofDefense issued an article early Monday morning acknowledging the story was fake and accusing Canadian media of having inflated it into a bigger one.

“The site is fictitious and run by liberal trolls, who turn around and expose the people who respond as racists after they share the post,” it claimed, adding “the imam from Toronto is a fine man.”

“His religion is one of peace; his brothers and sisters opened their holy places and their homes before the storm,” the response said.

But real or not, Hindy said, the episode highlights how anti-Muslim sentiment, and hate in general, sells.

“People will read them and they’ll buy it because it exploits their fear of Muslims, it exploits their prejudice and so they’ll click their links and they’ll go to their websites and these people will make money off them — but in doing so, they’re really sowing discord,” he said. “This really shows you this industry of hatred and the way that it operates.”

Source: Toronto imam who was face of ‘completely false’ Harvey story calls out ‘industry of hate’ – Toronto – CBC News

Apple CEO Tim Cook says fake news is ‘killing people’s minds’ and tech needs to launch a counterattack – Recode

Will be interesting to see what comes to pass but tech does have a role in flagging and addressing fake news:

Although the election is over, the problem of fake news isn’t. Apple CEO Tim Cook said it’s time to do something about it.

“All of us technology companies need to create some tools that help diminish the volume of fake news,” Cook said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph on Friday.

“There has to be a massive campaign. We have to think through every demographic,” Cook said.

While most of the discussion around fake news has centered on fabricated stories and headlines that surface on websites and spread like wildfire through Facebook, earlier this month it was Trump’s own not-official spokesperson Kellyanne Conway who shared news of a “Bowling Green massacre” that never happened.

Conway said the made-up event was orchestrated by two Iraqi refugees, as she attempted to defend Trump’s immigration and refugee travel ban on individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Even though Conway’s false narrative was quickly debunked on Twitter, a recent poll from Public Policy Polling showed that 23 percent of Americans believed the made-up story enough to think it justified Trump’s travel ban. Twenty percent were unsure if the fake news was justification enough for the immigration executive order.

Tim Cook says that the proliferation of fake news is “killing people’s minds.”

Differentiating between fact-checked news and stories that are written to deceive has proven difficult for online readers.

Remember Pizzagate? It was a completely false story that went viral on Facebook late last year that linked Hillary Clinton to a child sex ring run out of pizzeria in Washington D.C. Another poll by PPP at that time showed nearly half of Trump voters thought Pizzagate was true, or at least could be true.

“We are going through this period of time right here where unfortunately some of the people that are winning are the people that spend their time trying to get the most clicks, not tell the most truth,” Cook said in the interview.

Or in the case of Kellyanne Conway, straight-up spouting falsehoods on national news.

Much of the fake news controversy has focused on Facebook, where in recent months fabricated stories have become wildly popular. In January, the social media giant rolled out new filtering tools in Germany for users to flag stories that are potentially fake to be reviewed by fact-checkers.

But Cook called for even wider action. “Too many of us are just in the complain category right now and haven’t figured out what to do,” he said. “We need the modern version of a public-service announcement campaign. It can be done quickly if there is a will.”

Source: Apple CEO Tim Cook says fake news is ‘killing people’s minds’ and tech needs to launch a counterattack – Recode

Google offers a glimpse into its fight against fake news

Challenge to know how much the issue is being addressed without any independent watchdogs:

In the waning months of 2016, two of the world’s biggest tech companies decided they would do their part to curb the spread of hoaxes and misinformation on their platforms — by this point, widely referred to under the umbrella of “fake news.”

Facebook and Google announced they would explicitly ban fake news publishers from using their advertising networks to make money, while Facebook later announced additional efforts to flag and fact-check suspicious news stories in users’ feeds.

How successful have these efforts been? Neither company will say much — but Google, at least, has offered a glimpse.

In a report released today, Google says that its advertising team reviewed 550 sites it suspected of serving misleading content from November to December last year.

Of those 550 sites, Google took action against 340 of them for violating its advertising policies.

“When we say ‘take action’ that basically means, this is a site that historically was working with Google and our Adsense products to show ads, and now we’re no longer allowing our ad systems to support that content,” said Scott Spencer, Google’s director of product management for sustainable ads in an interview.

Nearly 200 publishers — that is, the site operators themselves — were also removed from Google’s AdSense network permanently, the company said.

Not all of the offenders were caught violating the company’s new policy specifically addressing misrepresentation; some may have run afoul of other existing policies.

In total, Google says, it took down 1.7 billion ads in violation of its policies in 2016.

Questions remain

No additional information is contained within the report — an annual review of bad advertising practices that Google dealt with last year.

In both an interview and a followup email, Google declined to name any of the publishers that had violated its policies or been permanently removed from its network. Nor could Google say how much money it had withheld from publishers of fake news, or how much money some of its highest-grossing offenders made.

Some fake news site operators have boasted of making thousands of dollars a month in revenue from advertising displayed on their sites.

‘I always say the bad guys with algorithms are going to be one step ahead of the good guys with algorithms.’– Susan Bidel, senior analyst at Forrester Research

The sites reviewed by Google also represent a very brief snapshot in time — the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election — and Spencer was unable to say how previous months in the year might have compared.

“There’s no way to know. We take action against sites when they’re identified and they violate our policies,” Spencer said. “It’s not like I can really extrapolate the number.”

A bigger issue

Companies such as Google are only part of the picture.

“It’s the advertisers’ dollars. It’s their responsibility to spend it wisely,” said Susan Bidel, a senior analyst at Forrester Research who recently co-wrote a report on fake news for marketers and advertisers.

That, however, is easier said than done. Often, advertisers don’t know all of the sites on which their ads run — making it difficult to weed out sites designed to serve misinformation. And even if they are able to maintain a partial list of offending sites, “there’s no blacklist that’s going to be able to keep up with fake news,” Bidel said, when publishers can quickly create new sites.

Source: Google offers a glimpse into its fight against fake news – Technology & Science – CBC News