News Media Canada launches new tool to help people SPOT fake news

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OTTAWA – Anyone who uses social media has likely fallen victim to some item of misinformation. It’s part of human nature to more readily accept those things we see and hear that fit in with our preconceived notions, and we are much more likely to pass on something that fits with our world view than something that runs totally counter to our core beliefs. The examples of so-called fake news are legion, and you might think it is difficult to know which way to turn—but social media misinformation isn’t really all that hard to identify when you choose to SPOT it.

News Media Canada, the national voice of print media in Canada, has launched SPOT, a nationwide simple tool to assist both members of the public and news media (journalists are people, too) to sort fact from fiction.

“I think everyone knows that fake news has become an issue,” said John Hinds, News Media Canada executive director. “We know that so-called fake news, and the spread of disinformation online, are very real concerns for Canadians.” He points out that an IPSOS-Reid study indicated that 63 percent of Canadians have trouble distinguishing between legitimate news websites and fake news stories.

“The one thing we wanted to do was to first of all raise awareness of the issue and to provide tools to help to identify fake news. SPOT is a quick and easy to remember tool that people can use to look at a story and determine whether that story holds up.”

SPOT is an acronym that acts as a simple way to remember the four principles of identifying misinformation. It works like this:

S: Is this a credible source? Check the source of the article—and be skeptical.

P: Is the perspective biased? Think critically and look for varying viewpoints on an issue.

O: Are other sources reporting the same story? Be your own fact-checker and verify the validity of the story.

T: Is the story timely? Check the date the story was published—sometimes, stories use old information to take advantage of a timely occurrence.

Mr. Hinds noted that his organization sensed a strong desire for such a tool in the general public, but also added that journalists must also take care when it comes to checking and verifying sources.

“I think there is a sense that people don’t want to be duped,” he said. “You want to be able to trust the news. In most cases, it’s actually not that hard to determine ‘is this misinformation or is it fact?’”

The decision to launch the campaign during the election cycle may have been influenced by the virtual feeding frenzy of misinformation launched into the ether during election campaign cycles, but the incidences of misinformation tend to be with us year round.

“You can’t just do it, put it out there and forget about it,” said Mr. Hinds, “so this will be a 20-week campaign, maybe more. Elections are an important time, but this is something we are going to keep on.”

The key brand that newspapers and other news media sources have going for them is credibility, noted Mr. Hinds. “It is truly the number one thing we have, that brand identity of credibility.”

Media professionals spend a great deal of their time verifying and fact checking the information they receive, and a fair bit of time digging up the facts behind the story, curating the news and acting as gatekeepers to sort and winnow out the truth from the chaff.

The Expositor is a member of News Media Canada. The organization was created in late 2016 as a product of the agreement by its members to merge the Canadian Newspaper Association (CNA, dailies) and the Canadian Community Newspaper Association (CCNA, weeklies). News Media Canada represents hundreds of trusted titles in every province and territory. Prior to this change, the organization was known as Newspapers Canada.

A video on the SPOT campaign can be found online at nmc-mic.ca/featured/have-you-seen-our-spot-fake-news-campaign-video.