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Fake news: study material for the Public Data Lab

© Inria / Photo C. Morel

How can disinformation - "fake news" - be traced? What are the sources of production? What are the levers of circulation and reception of disinformation on the Web and on digital platforms? This is a study topic for the Public Data Lab, an interdisciplinary network of researchers, which has just published its first results - a guide to disinformation - during the International Journalism Festival, an event that brings together thousands of journalists from Europe and the rest of the world and which took place in Perugia, Italy.

"A Field Guide to Fake News", which has just been published by the Public Data Lab, aims to enrich the public debate and stimulate answers to the phenomenon of fake news online. The Public Data Lab study uses innovative methods and approaches in order to trace the production, circulation and reception of disinformation on the Web and digital platforms.

The first version of the guide contains three methodological techniques to:

  • map the dissemination sites of fake news on Facebook;
  • trace their circulation on the Web;
  • expose the fake news economy through the analysis of ad trackers.

Intended for journalists, researchers, students, civil society organisations and public institutions, the guide adopts a radically empirical approach to mapping fake news by proposing that the interest in fake news be turned into an opportunity to explore the media and digital platform landscape.

Part one of the guide is available for free online.It is the first project by the Public Data Lab, an interdisciplinary network for research and debate on the data society. Tommaso Venturini, researcher with the Dante team, a joint team with the Rhône-Alpes Complex Systems Institute and ENS Lyon, is one of those involved.

Several journalists and media organisations are already testing, using and exploring the approaches described in the guide. BuzzFeed News very recently made good use of the methods and data in the guide in order to investigate ad trackers used on fake news websites.

This project was developed in collaboration with First Draft (, an initiative that aims to improve expertise and standards with regard to the sharing of information online.

Other methods concerning memes, bots, trolls and fact-checking are being studied by the Public Data Lab and will be added to the guide over the coming months.

Keywords: Dante Journalisme Tommaso Venturini INRIA Grenoble - Rhône-Alpes Big data

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