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Facebook, Google, Twitter and media outlets fight hoaxes with ‘trust indicators’

Facebook illustration (Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Sipa USA)

Facebook, Google, Twitter and several media outlets including The Washington Post plan to begin using “Trust Indicators” to help assure users of the reliability of their content and combat fabricated stories.

These new indicators will appear as symbols in online journalism — attesting how a story was reported, by whom and their credentials, and a media property’s standards — and as pieces of online code to deliver improved search and news results.

The developments come as part of the social media giants and media outlets seek to reverse Americans’ declining trust in news and in stories they see passed along on social media.

“As a news consumer, I want news I can trust. I want to be able to read a piece of news and know who’s behind it, where the information comes from, and the reporting values of the news organization,” said Craiglist founder Craig Newmark, whose philanthropic fund is helping fund this offensive on fake news called The Trust Project.

Based at Santa Clara (Calif.) University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, the project was begun in 2015 by award-winning journalist Sally Lehrman.

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“In today’s digitized and socially networked world, it’s harder than ever to tell what’s accurate reporting, advertising, or even misinformation,” Lehrman said in a statement Thursday. “An increasingly skeptical public wants to know the expertise, enterprise and ethics behind a news story. The Trust Indicators put tools into people’s hands, giving them the means to assess whether news comes from a credible source they can depend on.”

Facebook will add Trust Indicators to its information “button” giving users context about articles in their news feed. “We believe that helping people access this important contextual information can help them evaluate if articles are from a publisher they trust, and if the story itself is credible,” said Facebook product manager Andrew Anker in an post Thursday.

Google plans to look at ways to use the indicators “next to articles that may appear on Google News, Google Search, and other Google products where news can be found,” said Jeff Chang, Google’s group product manager for search, in a post on Google’s blog.

On news sites, the indicators may appear on article pages and on other pages on the site, such as an editorial or corrections page, to attest to outlets’ commitment to truthful reporting. “The public can use them to see who and what is behind the news they are reading, and how the story was built,” Lehrman said in an email interview. “They will help readers see the difference between an opinion, analysis and news article, on the Trust Project launch sites.”

Initial media sites who have begun to start using the indicators beyond The Post include more than 75 news organizations including, The Economist, The Globe and Mail, Trinity Mirror, the Independent Journal Review, German news agency dpa, and Italy’s la Repubblica and La Stampa.

Facebook, Google and Twitter have all been hit with charges that they have abetted the spread of fabricated news stories — including, as addressed in recent Congressional hearings, by allowing Russian troll farms to place faked items and ads and have them go viral online.

“We believe the indicators can help our algorithms better understand authoritative journalism – and help us to better surface it to consumers,” said Richard Gingras, vice president of news products at Google, in a statement. Google is among those helping fund the Trust Project.

“The hope with the Trust Project’s Trust Indicators is to empower news consumers, like me, to make informed decisions about the news we read,” Newmark said. “And it helps news outlets and digital platforms be transparent so that I have the tools to know which information I can trust and which I should be skeptical of.”

Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.


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