Apr 25, 2017 / by Alexa Hoffman

Information is everywhere. How is the average news consumer supposed to separate fact from fiction?

That’s where the Associated Press steps in.

The AP, as the media cooperative is colloquially known, has been a paragon of neutrality and fact-based content for 171 years, but only recently has it gotten attention specifically for the work it is doing to rid the world of misinformation, one piece of news at a time.

What started as a fact-checking mission to validate information presented by newsmakers, particularly elected officials’ campaign ads, speeches, and debates, has migrated into an organization-wide effort to verify reported or shared news stories that appear to have bad information, according to Eric Carvin, AP’s social media editor.

Carvin is the point person in a partnership that began in December 2016 between the AP and Facebook that illustrates some of the efforts the AP is undertaking to scrub misinformation from readers’ views.

“Fake news is not strictly new,” Carvin said. “There was a time, not long ago, when we would handle these things by ignoring them. If we wrote about false information, we worried we’d help disseminate it. The rise of the social platform has changed the calculus on this. Now, misinformation can spread like wildfire.”

Any solution to stopping the spread of misinformation, he added, would have to involve social platforms, because that’s where much of the false information is gaining traction.

The AP is one of a handful of organizations working to debunk misinformation on Facebook, flagging content they’ve determined is untrue and writing a rebuttal, which then appears with the original, disputed story when people see it on Facebook. In addition to appearing on Facebook, the debunking stories also are distributed to AP’s customers and displayed in the AP Fact Check hub of the AP News site and app.

“We want wide distribution on these items,” Carvin said. “And we feel like our customers are going to want to distribute them to their own audiences.”

Everyone in the newsroom rallies behind this initiative. Journalists and subject matter experts are pulled in to correct the misinformation flagged by Facebook users, just as journalists and subject matter experts are being used to validate the quality of the information published elsewhere.

The AP defines fake news as stories that contain misinformation that is designed to mislead people, stories containing some truth and some falsehoods, and stories that contain information that is not false, but may be misleading, according to Carvin. Facebook focuses on the content that is patently untrue, but the AP is not bound by these limitations in their checks. And yes, that includes parody content from brands.

“Misleading PR fits into misinformation,” Carvin said. “It certainly reinforces the need to communicate with transparent language because everyone’s antenna is up, looking for misinformation.”

In this case, Carvin uses “everyone” to mean both journalists and the public. The AP’s ramped-up fact-checking efforts have gotten good responses from its customers – local and national newspapers, broadcast news stations, and other news organizations alike – who have responded by adding fact-checking tactics into their own day-to-day efforts. And the public wants news it can trust, even if it doesn’t know the source.

“I think that more of the public is becoming aware of the misinformation crisis and are craving the return to facts,” Carvin said. “People don’t have the same level of trust in the media that they used to. People don’t pay as much attention to the source of information that they used to. There are signs that people are returning to traditional news, but I think the trust question is a continuing challenge for our whole industry in making sure that facts win the day.”

As the AP’s first Washington correspondent, Lawrence Gobright, once said, “My business is to communicate facts. … My dispatches are sent to papers of all manners and politics. I therefore confine myself to what I consider legitimate news and try to be truthful and impartial.”

Thank you, AP. We feel the same way.

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About Alexa Hoffman

Author Alexa Hoffman is PR Newswire’s director of US distribution products, which reaches thousands of outlets as part of the broadest group of US-based journalists, consumers, bloggers and investors in the industry. Follow her at @PRNlgbt, where she co-curates PR Newswire’s Twitter channel dedicated to LGBT news and culture, and connect with her on LinkedIn.