How a pop-up newsroom fought fake news during Sweden’s election

OPINION: International journalists, fact-checkers and experts collaborated to fight fake news during Sweden's election. Two members of the team explain how they did it, and why it was a crucial job.

How a pop-up newsroom fought fake news during Sweden's election
A pop-up newsroom debunking facts and proposing real time fact-checking can change how media publish stories during specific events such as elections. Photo: stefan stefancik/Unsplash

A group of Swedish journalism students, Finnish fact-checkers, British and US media entrepreneurs, Swedish and Indian media scholars and journalism teachers gathered in a co-working space recently in the old dockyard of Hammarby in central Stockholm.

This diverse group’s mission, funded by Google News Lab, was to monitor the spread of mis-information and dis-information during the Swedish national elections. The concept has travelled from the elections in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Mexico to the Nordic country.

Understanding misinformation, falsehood, and the willful peddling of lies has become an endeavour spilling across disciplines.

“In the Swedish election mis-information is something that can lead to dis-information if there is something completely false going on and it spins in the direction that is harmful for the public”, says Mikko Salo from Faktabaari, a Finnish fact-checker. Launched during the European election debate in 2014, Faktabaari corrects the factual mistakes to support a fact-based and informed public debate. It runs by the Open Society association in Finland.

The Swedish elections of 2018 were exceedingly important not only within the country but across Europe and the world.

Mikko Salo from the Faktabaari initiative. Photo: Faktabaari

Elections: a tussle for Sweden’s image

In Sweden, these elections were perceived as a tussle to retain the country’s character, and image, as an open society For Europe, the results could influence the nature and direction of the intensive debate across the continent on immigration. And globally, the interest stems from Sweden being widely seen as one of the last bastions of social welfare in an era of aggressive neo-liberalism.

All through the focus of attention hovered around the Sweden Democrats, with roots in the country’s Far-Right and Neo-Nazi movement. The existence of a polarized political landscape of Sweden surprises many all around the globe.

False content

Since the last US election, there has been a growing worry worldwide about mis/dis information, trolls and bots. This concern has travelled across and up the Atlantic to Sweden. Recent research shows Sweden leads Europe in the sharing of misleading and false news on social media. This trend has particularly risen in the run-up toward the 2018 national elections with thanks to websites which intentionally create and actively circulate such false content. Emma Nilsson, journalism student at Lund University and a second time voter, felt “extremism is growing because we have the ability to hide behind our screens”.

Journalistic endeavours have strived for ways to monitor unverified and fake reportage, as also more general trends of mis- and dis- information online. This is most commonly seen in the rapid emergence of fact-checking websites, such as Politifact in the US, Faktiskt in Sweden, Faktabaari in neighbouring Finland, or Altnews and Fact Checker in distant India.

Their monitoring of news outlets and social media have served as a public barometer, and external corrector, on the fast expanding market of false news.

Screenshot from Alt news debunking what goes viral on Indian (and international) social network. Alt News

Real-time fact-checking

The significant innovation, however, is in ensuring fact-checking becomes real-time. This could impart the much needed contra-circulation, so as to safeguard the market for truth in the digital world. A real-time fact-checking endeavour would effectively become a newsroom.

During the Swedish elections an international initiative set out to do exactly this: create a “pop-up’ newsroom to track the sources of mis and dis-information outside the mainstream media, and publish a daily newsletter addressed to Swedish and international news organisations.

The workflows and processes (monitoring, investigation, and publishing) in this pop-up newsroom were designed by the participants who were, most significantly, students from journalism programmes at three prestigious Swedish universities, Södertörn University, Stockholm University and Lund University.

Learning to use generic and customised digital tools such as Check, a collaborative verification platform, Krzana a real-time search engine, Slack and TweetDeck, they became the engine of the pop-up newsroom. Combining their professional aspirations, news values, and digital capabilities these students found pathways to productively deal with journalistic challenges in a real-time environment at an important political moment in Sweden.

This initiative represents an innovation simultaneously in media literacy and journalism pedagogy. Their successful debunking of social media rumours could get amplified by partnering large, trusted news outlets. “I see that we maybe could approach smaller and more local media outlets who are not working with these kinds of tools. There is probably room for collaborations”, says Linus Svensson, journalism student at Södertörn University, and also a second time voter.

At the same time, a more rounded approach to media governance could be achieved by additionally monitoring mis- and dis- information by mainstream news outlets. Big-ticket elections next year in the European Union and India offer a fertile terrain to hone such innovations.

Andreas Mattsson, Lecturer in Journalism, Lund University and Vibodh Parthasarathi, Associate Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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What’s the Swedish Christian Democrats’ abortion contract all about?

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden's Christian Democrats on Monday presented an "abortion contract", which she wants all of Sweden's party leaders to sign. What's going on?

What's the Swedish Christian Democrats' abortion contract all about?

What’s happened? 

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden’s Christian Democrat party, called a press conference on Monday in which she presented a document that she called “an abortion contract”, which was essentially a pledge to safeguard the right of women in Sweden to have an abortion.  

“There is room for signatures from all eight party leaders,” she said. “I have already signed on behalf of the Christian Democrats.” 

What does the so-called “abortion contract” say? 

The document itself is fairly uncontroversial.

It states simply that Sweden’s law on abortion dates back to 1974, and that it grants women the right to an abortion up until the 18th week of pregnancy, with women seeking abortions later in their pregnancy required to get permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare. 

“Those of us who have signed this document support Sweden’s abortion legislation and promise to defend it if it comes under attack from forces both within our country and from outside,” the document reads.  

Why have the Christian Democrats produced it? 

The decision of the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade, and so allow US states to ban abortion has aroused strong feelings in Sweden, as elsewhere, and Busch is seeking to send a strong signal to distance her own Christian party from the US religious right. 

Abortion has been a recurring issue within the Christian Democrats with several politicians and party members critical of abortion. 

Lars Adaktusson, a Christian Democrat MP, was found by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper to have voted against abortion 22 times when he was a member of the European parliament. 

The party has also in the past campaigned for the right of midwives and other medical professionals who are ethically opposed to abortion not to have to take part in the procedure. 

So why aren’t all the other party leaders signing the document? 

Sweden’s governing Social Democrats, and their Green Party allies, dismissed the contract as a political gimmick designed to help the Christian Democrats distance themselves from elements of their own party critical of abortion. 

“It would perhaps be good if Ebba Busch did some homework within her own party to check that there’s 100 percent support for Sweden’s abortion legislation,” Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister, said. “That feels like a more important measure than writing contracts between party leaders and trying to solve it that way.”  

In a debate on Swedish television, Green Party leader Märta Stenevi argued that it would be much more significant if Busch’s own MPs and MEPs all signed the document. 

It wasn’t other party leaders who needed to show commitment to abortion legislation, but “her own MPs, MEPs, and not least her proposed government partners in the Sweden Democrats and even some within the Moderate Party”. 

She said it made her “very very worried” to see that the Christian Democrats needed such a contract. “That’s why I see all this more as a clear sign that we need to move forward with protecting the right to abortion in the constitution,” she said. 

How have the other right-wing parties reacted? 

The other right-wing parties have largely backed Busch, although it’s unclear if any other party leaders are willing to actually sign the document. 

Tobias Billström, the Moderates’ group parliamentary leader, retweeted a tweet from Johan Paccamonti, a Stockholm regional politician with the Moderate Party, which criticised the Social Democrats for not signing it, however. 

“It seems to be more important to blow up a pretend conflict than to sign the Christian Democrats’ contract or look at the issue of [including abortion rights in] the constitution, like the Moderates, Liberals and Centre Party want to,” Paccamonti wrote. 

The Liberal Party on Sunday proposed protecting abortion rights in the Swedish constitution, a proposal which has since been backed by the Moderate party and the Centre Party