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European countries address spread of fake news and disinformation

16 February 2018
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The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism factsheet analysis “Measuring the reach of fake news and online disinformation in Europe” examines the cases of France and Italy, two particularly important examples, as “both are widely seen as facing serious issues with for-profit and ideologically/politically motivated online disinformation”. The results of the research have shown that compared to the average monthly reach of prominent national news platforms, the most popular ‘false’ news sites have a considerably lower reach - less than 1% of the online population in both France and Italy. The total time spent with false news websites each month, in Italy and France, is again lower than the time spent with national news platforms. It is fair to say that overall, many of the known ‘false’ news websites in these countries, are far less popular than major established news sites.

Despite clear differences in terms of website access, the level of Facebook interactions (defined as the total number of comments, shares, and reactions) generated by a small number of false news outlets matched or exceeded that produced by the most popular news brands. "In France, one false news outlet generated an average of over 11 million interactions per month—five times greater than more established news brands." Scrutinising and tackling the spread of false stories and disinformation campaigns has been particularly hard on social networks due to lack of access and in-depth knowledge about underlining issues.

The political and media context plays an important role in the development of a favourable ground for the spread of fake news, finds the project of the International Press Institute “Necessity to address disinformation and build trust in fact-based journalism”, profiling initiatives undertaken by European countries such as Finland, Czech Republic, Austria, Poland and Spain.

In Austria for example, since the far-right narrative on the refugee crisis has gain ground and multiple stories related to the Balkan route have started circulating, the Austrian confidence in media reporting has deteriorated to the point that today is important not only to “point out what is false”-“ but also to provide additional facts and data. News platform Addendum is the Austrian response to the spread of false stories and to the drop of trust in the traditional media. Similar to Addendum is the Czech Hate Free Culture, platform that has debunked since the start of the refugee crisis in 2016, nearly 150 hoaxes.

Even in Finland, a country that is seen as one of the freest media environments in the world, problems related to fake news are on the agenda.  The project called Faktana, Kiitos! (Facts, please!) was launched with the aim to bring together journalists throughout the country and send them to schools to share their expertise on journalistic practices and social responsibility in order to remind the people the vital importance of professional journalism for the society. In Poland, the OKO press, a non-profit, fact-checking and investigative journalism outlet, has succeeded in reaching a monthly readership of more than one million, a surprising result for a small independent outlet. It is indeed even more important during political crisis such as the Spanish one, to keep the journalistic standard as close to facts as possible and Público’s Transparent Journalism Tool, is the Spanish response to the flaw of false stories which have been shared and have damaged the citizen’s critical thinking about various social and political issues.