Fri, Sep 07, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Right-wing sites swamp Sweden with ‘junk news’

POLARIZING:A study analyzed tweets about Sunday’s election and articles shared from ‘junk news’ sites. The authors said junk news was playing a significant role

Reuters, LONDON and STOCKHOLM

The top three “junk news” sources identified by the study — right-wing Web sites Samhallsnytt, Nyheter Idag and Fria Tider — accounted for more than 85 percent of the “junk news” content.

Samhallsnytt received donations through the personal bank account of a Sweden Democrat member from 2011 to 2013 when it operated under the name Avpixlat.

A former Sweden Democrat member of parliament, who also previously ran the party’s youth wing, is listed on the Samhallsnytt Web sites as a columnist.

Samhallsnytt often publishes articles saying Sweden is under threat from Islam.

For example, in June it said a youth soccer tournament in the second-biggest city had banned pork as haram — or forbidden under Islamic law.

The article is still online with the headline: “Islam is the new foundation of the Gothia Cup — pork proclaimed ‘haram.’”

A tournament organizer told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper that caterers had not served pork for more than 10 years for practical reasons, and there was no ban against eating or selling pork at the event.

Samhallsnytt and Fria Tider did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Commenting before the Oxford study was published, Nyheter Idag founder Chang Frick disputed the “junk news” label and said his Web sites followed ethical journalistic practices, citing its membership of Sweden’s self-regulated Press Council body.

“Yes, we put our editorial perspective on news, of course, like everyone else,” he said. “If you are doing a tabloid you cannot have dry, boring headlines, it should have some punch to it. But we do not lie, we do not make false accusations.”

Social media companies have come under increasing pressure to tackle disinformation on their platforms following accusations that Russia and Iran tried to meddle in domestic politics in the US, Europe and elsewhere. Moscow and Tehran deny the allegations.

A report published last week by the Swedish Defence Research Institute said the number of automated Twitter accounts discussing the upcoming election almost doubled in July from the previous month.

Such so-called “bot” accounts shared articles from Samhallsnytt and Fria Tider more frequently than real people, the report said, and were 40 percent more likely to express support for the Sweden Democrats.

Facebook said its work with Viralgranskaren to fact check content on its sites helped it quickly identify “false news.”

The company declined to give specific figures about the amount or sources of false news it had recorded around the Swedish election, but said any flagged content is given a lower position on its site, a practice known as “downranking,” which it says cuts views by 80 percent.

Users who see disputed articles are also shown other sources of verified information, it said.

In a blog post on its Web sites, Twitter says it “should not be the arbiter of truth.”

However, Tofvesson said there had been a “positive increase” in the work of Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to help safeguard the election, largely via better communication and coordination with local authorities.

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