Unveiled at the end of last week at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, the guide presents a set of innovative digital methods and empirical approaches to help understand the spread of ‘fake news’ online and the challenges it presents to society. It is aimed at media organisations, researchers, civil society groups, public institutions as well as students.

Designed to enrich and stimulate public debate and responses to online ‘fake news’, the publication highlights different ways to trace the production, circulation and reception of misinformation across the web and digital platforms. The first part is freely available online

This marks the first project of the Public Data Lab network which was set up to facilitate research, public engagement and debate around the future of the data society. A Field Guide to Fake News has been undertaken in collaboration with First Draft, a non-profit initiative dedicated to improving skills and standards in the reporting and sharing of information that emerges online.

Dr Jonathan Gray explained: “Five months after fake news rose to prominence around last year’s US elections, the issue remains high on media, political and public agendas. Just last week saw moves towards new rules in Germany that could see social media companies facing multi-million euro fines for failing to remove hate inciting fake news from their platforms; as well as new initiatives from Google, Facebook and the founder of eBay.

"Through the field guide we’d like to contribute towards richer public debate and democratic deliberation about what fake news is and how to address it. In particular we’d like to facilitate exploration of not just the content and claims of fake news items, but a better understanding of how they circulate and what they mean to different publics.”

The new guide includes sections on mapping fake news hotspots on Facebook; tracing the circulation of fake news on the web; and mapping the technical and commercial underpinnings of fake news websites through analysing their source code. Forthcoming chapters will look at memes, bots, trolls, propaganda and fact-checking initiatives.

A number of journalists and media organisations are already testing, using and exploring the approaches outlined in the guide. Last week BuzzFeed News drew on several of the methods and datasets in the guide in order to investigate the advertising trackers used on fake news websites.

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