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Students help Facebook in battle against fake news

Leiden master's students of Journalism and New Media are going to help Facebook bar fake news from the social medium.

Fake news

News regularly appears on Facebook that is later shown to be untrue. A few months ago, for example, a message appeared on line that the Pope supposedly expressed support for American presidential candidate Donald Trump, a claim that was untrue. It's a problem, not least because these days more and more people get their news from social media. 

Fact-checking

Facebook is now going to do battle with this kind of fake news, by making it easier to report suspect content. Facebook partners in the Newscheckers project will then assess the items reported. Students of the Leiden master's programme in Journalism and New Media are among these partners. NU.nl has now also joined the initiative.

In doubt

If several of Facebook's partners share doubts about a news source, the article will be indicated as 'questionable content' and the fact-checkers will give their reasons for doubting the content. These items will then appear lower in the newsfeed of a Facebook user. 

Share but not promote

The items over which doubt has been cast can still be shared, but when users share the post, they will see a warning that independent fact-checkers have expressed doubts about the item. It will no longer be possible to promote the article in question. 

Part of study programme

‘Fact-checking is an important part of our Journalism and New Media programme,' says Peter Burger, Assistant Professor at Leiden University. 'We want our students to be experts at checking facts, which is after all, the basis of journalism. Newscheckers has been running since 2009 and it's a valuable challenge for our students to check out fake news on Facebook.'

Sander Dekker's reaction

Sander Dekker, State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science, is responsible for media policy: 'There has been a lot of discussion recently about fake news. Spreading fabricated news articles can have far-reaching consequences, particularly at election time. I absolutely welcome this initiative by Facebook, NU.nl and Leiden University to help Facebook users sort the wheat from the chaff.'  

Newscheckers: a thorn in the side

With the elections on the horizon, politicians frequently make bold statements to gain the support of voters. Leiden students of journalism are checking the truth of these statements. Read the interview with lecturer Alexander Pleijter.