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Reality Check: BBC journalists enable young people to tell the difference between real and fake news

James Harding

Director of News and Current Affairs

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James Harding introduces a new initiative helping young people identify real news – giving them the tools to filter our fake and false information. The new service is open to all secondary schools and sixth forms across the UK and is targeted at 11-18 year olds. A series of events, roadshows and online resources will be rolled out from March 2018 - sign up here for more information.

Fake news has always been with us.  Propaganda, disinformation, exaggeration, elision or suppression of facts, the list goes on and on. But now we have a name to cover all of it.

The distribution of news, real and fake, has accelerated with the times; the traditional media – newspapers, television, radio, have been engulfed by new forms, chief among them social media. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram carry information directly to countless millions every second of every day.

But this information is frequently, perhaps mostly, unmediated – there is no one checking that it is true, or fair, or even legal.

Evan Spiegel, co-founder and CEO of Snap, wrote in a piece in Axios “content designed to be shared by friends is not necessarily content designed to deliver accurate information. After all, how many times have you shared something you've never bothered to read?”

And of course it might be worse than that. As Danny Finkelstein wrote recently in The Times, fake news can be “a deliberate act of forgery. It presents as fact, as news, something that has not happened at all. It uses all the tools at the forger’s disposal to present as true something that is utterly false…The motive to fabricate such news varies. It can be the work of foreign powers hoping to destabilise liberal democracies, but is more likely just to be someone trying to make advertising revenue out of the traffic or hoping to advance a cause. And some people, of course, will do it just because they enjoy making mischief.”

Here at the BBC we have established and reinforced our Reality Check service to address the issues of trust and fake news. Reality Check subjects the claims of politicians and others to rigorous factual checking and presents the results in an impartial and, we hope, unambiguous way.

Today, I’m proud to say, we are taking another step that will enable young people to tell the difference between what is real and what is fake, what is true and what is false.

We are offering as many as a thousand schools mentoring in person, online, or at group events from BBC journalists – including some familiar faces like Huw Edwards, Tina Daheley, Nikki Fox, Kamal Ahmed and Amol Rajan.

All schools will have free access to online materials including: classroom activities; video tutorials; and an interactive game developed by the Aardman studios where the player gets the chance to find out what it is like being a BBC journalist in the heart of a bustling newsroom.

A Reality Check Roadshow will tour the country and local schools will be able to nominate their own Reality Checker pupils to attend one of a dozen regional events. Some will be invited to present on BBC’s School Report News Day in March 2018.

Truth matters. Nothing is more important for our young audiences than teaching them how to find it.

James Harding is Director of News and Current Affairs.

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