Trusted News Initiative (TNI) steps up global fight against disinformation with new focus on US presidential election

Disinformation is one of today’s great harms. It can undermine democracy, create division, and distort public debate. Tackling it is a pressing priority.Tony Hall, Director-General
Date: 13.07.2020     Last updated: 13.07.2020 at 09.58
Category: News
  • International partnership of major news and tech organisations will build on successful co-operation to date and share alerts over dangerous disinformation during the US election
  • TNI also announces plans to engage with ‘Project Origin’ verification technology which will tag content in order to identify when it has been manipulated
  • New organisations joining TNI for the US Election: The Associated Press, The Washington Post
  • The Trusted News Initiative (TNI) is extending the scope and ambition of its groundbreaking collaboration to tackle the most dangerous disinformation worldwide

At a recent summit chaired by the BBC’s Director-General, Tony Hall, the TNI agreed to a shared early warning system of rapid alerts to combat the spread of disinformation during the US presidential election.

The TNI is an industry collaboration of major news and global tech organisations working together to stop the spread of disinformation where it poses risk of real-world harm.

In the month leading to polling day, partners will alert each other to disinformation which poses an immediate threat to life or to the integrity of the election so that content can be reviewed promptly by platforms, whilst publishers ensure they don’t unwittingly republish dangerous falsehoods.

Alerts will also flag up content that undermines trust in partner news providers by identifying imposter or manipulated content which claims to come from trusted news brands.

This new expansion to the US follows the TNI’s success in tackling disinformation during the UK 2019 General Election, the Taiwan 2020 General Election and more recently, harmful coronavirus disinformation, including a claim that the UK Prime Minister had died whilst in hospital with Covid-19.

The TNI is also expanding its global network. New organisations joining the TNI for the US Election include The Associated Press and The Washington Post.

Project Origin

At the summit, the TNI also agreed to engage with new verification technology, called Project Origin, led by a coalition of the BBC, CBC/Radio-Canada, Microsoft and The New York Times.

Project Origin is a new approach to combating disinformation by detecting the manipulation of content and authenticating the content source.

Whilst brand marks, styles, and other traditional indicators of trust continue to be critical, they are no longer enough to ensure content legitimacy. Altered or synthetic material can at times appear to come from reputable journalistic sources and this can make false or misleading material look credible.

Project Origin attaches a digital watermark to media originating from an authentic content creator, a watermark that degrades when content has been manipulated. When fielded, audiences will see an indicator of authenticity, along with a message on the content or in the browser. This is to ensure audiences know the content, such as video, was actually produced by its purported source, and has not been manipulated for other purposes.

This technological approach can provide an automated signal warning of manipulated or fake media if it is widely adopted. The TNI will engage with the prototype, open standards and specification when they are published.

Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC, says: “Disinformation is one of today’s great harms. It can undermine democracy, create division and distort public debate. Tackling it is a pressing priority.

“That’s why it is so vital that TNI is successful. It has had a remarkable start and I’m pleased more organisations are joining the fight against disinformation. In a world of increasing division, working together is the best way to deliver results.

“Some people have tried to turn the term 'mainstream media' into a form of abuse to undermine credibility, but we are on the public’s side and will fight tirelessly to get high-quality journalism to as many people as possible.”

Speaking about Project Origin, Eric Horvitz, Chief Scientific Officer for Microsoft, says: “We’ve forged a close relationship with the BBC and other partners on Project Origin, aimed at methods and standards for end-to-end authentication of news and information.

“We’re enthusiastic about Project Origin and the potential for it to help publishers and technology companies deliver people greater assurance that the content they’re consuming is authentic.

“We look forward to continuing work on the coalition and exploring ways to move Project Origin forward.”

The partners currently within the TNI are: AFP; BBC, CBC/Radio-Canada, European Broadcasting Union (EBU),Facebook, Financial Times, First Draft, Google/YouTube, The Hindu, Microsoft , Reuters, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Twitter, The Wall Street Journal.

The TNI cooperative framework has been jointly developed amongst partners, and relates to only the most serious disinformation, which threatens life or the integrity of the electoral process. This is entirely separate from and does not in any way affect the editorial stance of any partner organisation.

Notes to Editors

The Trusted News Initiative (TNI) was set up last year to protect audiences and users from disinformation, particularly around moments of jeopardy, such as elections. The TNI complements existing programmes partners have in place.

In summer 2019 the BBC convened a Trusted News Summit, bringing together senior figures from major global technology firms and publishing.

The TNI agreed to work collectively, where appropriate, to agree collaborative actions on various initiatives. Initiatives include:

  • Early Warning System: creating a system so organisations can alert each other rapidly when they discover disinformation which threatens human life or disrupts democracy during elections. The emphasis will be on moving quickly and collectively to undermine disinformation before it can take hold.
  • Media Education: a joint online media education campaign to support and promote media education messages
  • Voter Information: co-operation on civic information around elections, so there is a common way to explain how and where to vote
  • Shared learning: particularly around high-profile elections

PS