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How France scored a big win against fake news during its recent elections

Much of the liberal western world breathed a huge sigh of relief when centrist Emmanuel Macron defeated far-right extremist Marine Le Pen to become France’s next president earlier this month.

But there might have been another victory, less heralded, but one worth celebrating.

According to data from NewsWhip, a social news content management platform, it seems the French also struck a blow against the rising tide of so-called “fake news.”

NewsWhip was part of the Cross Check coalition, which included French newsrooms as well as Google and Facebook, that banded together to identify and combat fake news during the election cycle. During the U.S. election last year, fake news that heavily favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton was deemed to be one of the contributing factors to Trump’s victory.

According to NewsWhip’s data, about 40 percent of the most-shared stories in the lead up to the U.S. election came from sources identified as fake. In other words, 72 of the top 200 stories that people were sharing across platforms like Facebook and Twitter were totally bogus.

By comparison, during the French elections, that number fell to 10 percent, or 20 out of the top 200.

“There is a fake news problem without any doubt, but what we like to do is try to quantify how bad that problem is,” said CEO and Co-Founder Paul Quigley, in an interview on Bloomberg TV. “When we looked at data from the last two months in the lead up to the French presidential election, we can see fake news is a problem, but it’s not a huge problem.”

There was still efforts being made, particularly targeted at Macron. But according to NewsWhip, with a heavy focus on watching for fake news, the 37 newsrooms that were part of Cross Check could move pretty quickly.

The groups identified websites that were emerging as sources of fake news during the election. On NewsWhip’s platform, members could see stories that were fast rising in terms of sharing from dubious sources. Journalists from the coalition moved fast to debunk them.

Of course, the fight against fake news will likely never end. But it seems that Cross Check and the French elections offer a model for fighting back. And some reason to be optimistic that the fight is not hopeless.