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July 13, 2020updated 14 Jul 2020 1:56pm

Publishers and tech giants get ready to fight US election disinformation

By Charlotte Tobitt

A group of major news publishers and tech giants are preparing to collaborate in the fight against disinformation ahead of the US election.

The Trusted News Initiative launched last year and has recently been focusing on countering false claims about coronavirus after similar work on the 2019 UK general election and the presidential poll in Taiwan in January.

The BBC, Financial Times, Reuters, AFP, Wall Street Journal and India-based English-language newspaper The Hindu are among the publishers involved alongside Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter.

The Associated Press and Washington Post are now joining ahead of the US presidential election, which will see Donald Trump bid for four more years in office.

They will alert each other to disinformation deemed to pose an immediate threat to life or to the integrity of the election in the month leading up to November’s polling day so platforms can quickly review content and publishers can avoid republishing falsehoods.

Imposter or manipulated content that falsely claims to come from trusted news brands will also be flagged up.

BBC director general Tony Hall (pictured), who has repeatedly spoken out on the need to tackle “fake news” to avoid trust being undermined, chaired a recent summit of the partners.

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He said: “Disinformation is one of today’s great harms. It can undermine democracy, create division, and distort public debate. Tackling it is a pressing priority.

“That’s why it is so vital that TNI is successful.  It has had a remarkable start and I’m pleased more organisations are joining the fight against disinformation. In a world of increasing division, working together is the best way to deliver results.

“Some people have tried to turn the term ‘mainstream media’ into a form of abuse to undermine credibility, but we are on the public’s side and will fight tirelessly to get high quality journalism to as many people as possible.”

Since March, harmful Covid-19 disinformation being tackled by the publishers has included a claim that Prime Minister Boris Johnson died while in intensive care with the virus.

At the recent summit the publishers and platforms agreed to try out new verification technology by the name Project Origin that uses a digital watermark on authenticated source material that degrades when the content is manipulated.

The initiative said this approach “can provide an automated signal warning of manipulated or fake media if it is widely adopted” and that it will engage with the prototype technology.

Microsoft’s chief scientific officer Eric Horvitz said he was enthusiastic about “the potential for it to help publishers and technology companies deliver people greater assurance that the content they’re consuming is authentic”.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Press Gazette has launched a Fight the Infodemic campaign to stop key platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter from promoting misinformation about Covid-19 and instead favour evidence-based journalism from bona fide outlets.

Sarah Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships in Northern Europe, said: “We welcome this collaboration with the TNI partners for the upcoming 2020 US election.

“In the US we’re launching our Voting information Centre on top of people’s Facebook and Instagram feeds to connect them with accurate and authoritative information about voting with the aim of helping 4m people to register to vote.”

Picture: David Parry/PA Wire

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