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Letter sent on Aug 31, 2016

Western Sahara, vicarious trauma and trawling the Russian internet

Hi everyone,

It’s been a couple of weeks since the last newsletter as I was off on annual leave, but that just means a bumper edition of stories and links for you this week.

Here’s what we’ve been up to since last time:

What else was there?

The Engine Room published a new guide to help human rights workers integrate data into their research with some valuable tips for journalists; StopFake published a report on the possibilities of making media literacy a populist pursuit; The New York Times published a new investigation in thecanon of stories on how Russia is spreading misinformation among its political rivals; Iraqi investigators in Berlin found new evidence to support the claim Daesh have destroyed the historic Gate of Nineveh; Craig Silverman exposed the hashtag trolls and racists use to accuse people of looting; and for like-minded pedants out there, you can now join a Facebook group exposing fake or staged wildlife photography.

A new study has shown that “the more partisan your online media diet, the less likely you are to believe fact-checkers”, and taken in conjunction with a sprawling NYT Magazine piece on “Facebook’s (totally insane, unintentionally gigantic, hyperpartisan) political-media machine”, the disconnect between beliefs and reality is becoming increasingly troubling.

Facebook previously has made slow progress in its efforts to battle hoax stories on its network but now it has unwittingly opened the sluice gates on fake news by firing the human editors on its Trending section. Within days, a fake story about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly featured in the “Trending” box on users’ newsfeed. There have likely been others, leading the Guardian to ring the bell on Facebook’s fight against fake news, suggesting a little more human involvement would “keep algorithmic wildfire at bay”.

As a central source of information for millions of people all over the world, here’s hoping the biggest social network in town is just taking a breather.

Until next week, all the best and stay true,

Alastair

Alastair Reid
Managing editor
First Draft
@ajreid

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