Debunking the Rumours

Columbia University’s Tow Center for digital journalism have published a report entitled ‘Lies, Damn Lies, and Viral Content: How News Websites Spread (and Debunk) Online Rumors, Unverified, Claims, and Misinformation’.

Author Craig Silverman looks into how bad practice in newsrooms bent on maximising traffic, leads to the reinforcing of questionable claims. He finds that when news is passed on without adding value it can bypass methods of verification. Whilst subtleties like ‘reportedly’, ‘claims’ etc might be employed they are usually lost on the reader, whilst some news organisations actively pass on hearsay in order to add bias to an argument. Additionally, Silverman argues that newsrooms who do fact check don’t actively participate in stopping false claims and that a lack of rigour makes all journalists a target for Hoaxers or those who seek to gain credibility for false claims.

‘Journalists today have an imperative—and an opportunity—to sift through the mass of content being created and shared in order to separate true from false, and to help the truth to spread. This report includes a set of specific and, where possible, data driven recommendations for how this anti-viral viral strategy can be executed’.