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Fake News Via WhatsApp

07/10/2018 - 12h15

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PAULA CESARINO COSTA

In the recent Mexican presidential election, news checking & verification groups registered a constantly increasing circulation of fake news as the country got closer and closer to the election date. If Russian activities were significant in the spreading of fake news in the American election of 2016, the majority of Mexican fake news came from internal political groups who intentionally sought to influence the results of the election by spreading lies, based on what researchers have discovered.

With Brazil's elimination from the World Cup, the country is returning to the presidential succession scenario, with the first round of the election to be contested in three months. Combatting fake news ought to be among the highest priorities of the Brazilian media. In this area, the Folha needs to improve its performance, since the wave of fake news here could be even greater than in Mexico

Data from the Reuters Institute reveals that after years of growth, the use of social media as a source of news is falling all over the world. But people are increasingly using messaging applications to share information - and many of them pass it along even when they doubt that it is true, knowing, in fact, that it could be untrue.

The main press agencies here in Brazil and throughout the world offer services combatting fake news, functioning mainly through blogs, which select the cases deemed most important and most rumored, checking their veracity. The magazine Veja (Lie to me and I'll post it - the truth behind the fake headlines that spread across the internet) and the newspapers Estado de S. Paulo [State of S. Paulo] (Big State verifies - Checking data and uncovering rumors), O Globo [The Globe] (Is this really right?) and Extra (#Éboato [it's a rumor] or #Éverdade [It's the truth] - verification blogs) are some examples.

On the 25th of June Folha announced that it would start receiving messages that could be characterized as fake news via WhatsApp - audio, video, images or text - from readers, and would check them for verification.

Readers have been complaining to the Ombudsman that they received no response after sending such messages to the newspaper.

As of Friday (the 6th), Folha didn't have any space on its site concentrating and summarizing these checks, facilitating the lives of readers interested in informing themselves regarding fake news circulating on social networks. Apparently, it has been ignoring the very contributions that it had requested, evidence of a lack of attention being given to what is the essence of being a newspaper.

The Assistant Editing Chief, Giuliana Vallone, informed me that going forward, "information checked will be published in texts put up online on the site and in the print edition, under the identifying name Folha Informações (Folha Information) and summarized at this link.

She said that Text Editing would be working to publish the selected messages - utilizing journalistic criteria - "within a reasonable timeframe".

This week the creation of Comprova (Prove it), a platform intended to check for fake news, forged content and manipulation on social networks, messaging sites and applications, all related to the 2018 elections, was officialized. It counts participation from 23 media organizations, including Folha. This is truly good (and real) news.

There is no lacking in examples of the imperious necessity for the press to dissipate rumors that circulate on social networks.

Folha recently published a good case demonstrating the disproving of fake information. It had to do with the supposed news that the Americans had obtained a patent on the elemental components of Jambu (Paracress plant) and due to this, scientists from the Amazon Federal University would be prohibited from conducting research related to the plant. Originally published in 2013 on the Amazonian site Portal do Holanda (Portal of Holand), the fake news had begun to be republished on many blogs.

The clear and precise reporting by Folha showed the reports to be mistaken.

Another related issue that needs to be addressed here has to do with the screening of what information circulating on social networks should be treated as news and published by newspapers.

Is the fact that a particular post has been seen or shared by a vast number of users sufficient? I was impressed by the case of a Russian fan who became a media personality by appearing for a few seconds during the transmission of the Brazil X Mexico match. He was quickly nicknamed the "six-time champion wizard", making him instantly famous and a theme of many news reports. It's hard to see any journalistic relevance in this case, but the media in general rode the wave created on social networks. Situations like this aren't uncommon.

One positive development - and something that newspapers should give more weight to - was the occurrence of very real collaborative investigations on social networks where secret trips by authorities to Russia to see the games were uncovered. A sign that all is not lost.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

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