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The Trouble with 'F*** News'

The second morning keynote at Future of Journalism 2017 is by Claire Wardle, in a pre-taped keynote (thanks to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security). She begins by introducing the First Draft project, which takes a similar approach to news fact-checking organisations, but instead focusses on claims and visual content circulated by unofficial sources prior to publication in the news. (The overlap between these approaches is also of great interest.)

How can computational techniques help with this; how can unofficial material be effectively verified; how can this be treated by law and regulation; and how does this address the current state of information disorder in a massively multi-channel media environment? The project takes an explorative approach, and importantly also translates its findings into educational resources for journalists and journalism students. It has focussed especially on recent elections in the U.S., France, Britain, and the upcoming German federal election, as well as on humanitarian crises.

But Claire's core focus here is on 'fake news', or, as she puts it, 'f*** news' – a difficult and disputed term that is being weaponised against the news proper, and whose news in journalism itself is thus deeply problematic. There is now a great deal of hand-wringing, and many initiatives aimed at combatting 'fake news', yet much of the debate remains confused, atheoretical, and disjointed.

Claire suggests that there are now at least seven types of what are commonly described as 'fake news', which will be outlined in a a report for the Council of Europe to be published next months. (She's asking us not to tweet them yet, so I won't be blogging them here either - sorry. A good structured model for categorising 'fake news', though!)

One of the more interesting developments in recent times is the emergence of legislative and regulatory approaches to 'fake news', too – as in the case of the recent law enforcing the deletion of proven 'fake news' by carriage services that was passed in Germany. This proceeds from a necessarily incomplete definition of 'fake news', and will be problematic, but this is also because there is insufficient engagement between lawmakers and scholars, just as there is insufficient engagement between scholars and practitioners.