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The New Arab

Arabic fact-checking site goes online to counter spread of fake news

Fake news has increasingly become a problem in the Arab world [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 February, 2020

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Misbar.com, a new Arabic fact-checking website dedicated to exposing fake news and raising awareness of the problem, has gone online in a highly polarised media environment.
A new Arabic-language website dedicated to exposing fake news has gone online in a bid to counter the spread of misinformation.

Misbar.com, which has been checking the claims made in Arab media and social media since January, describes itself as an "Arab platform for checking facts and exposing falsehood in the public arena".

While there are many fact-checking platforms, such as Snopes, Full Fact, and Verify-Sy online, there is a big gap in the market as far as the Arab world is concerned.

"There are many fact-checking platforms and initiatives in the Arab World, but we consider ourselves the first platform working round the clock to check news, fight fake news, and also raise awareness among the public about the media," Mohammed Al-Sheikh, the managing editor of Misbar, told The New Arab.

"We don't just do day-to-day fact checking, we’ve also opened channels for the public to send us news which they want to verify, or which they've checked themselves and found evidence of falsehood," he said.

The site uses intensive Internet research and picture and video verification techniques in order to verify information from media and social media sources. It also contacts local authorities to check rumours and contacts people and organizations that public statements are attributed to in order to check their veracity.

On every news item it checks and reports on, Misbar.com lists the sites which originally reported on it and the sites it used to check the news.

For example, on 26 February, various news sites and Facebook pages, including US-based Arabic-language Al-Hurra News carried news that a television presenter from Egypt's Nile TV had slipped up and said "the funeral of [current Egyptian] President Abdel Fattah [al-Sisi]" when talking about the funeral of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The news was accompanied by a video of the alleged incident which caused much merriment among anti-Sisi social media users. There were also screenshots circulating on social media purporting to show footage from another Egyptian TV station, eXtra News, showing a headline that read: "The Funeral of Former President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi".

However, going back the original footage broadcast by both TV stations, Misbar found that both the Nile TV video and the eXtra News screenshot had been doctored.

Al-Sheikh told The New Arab that the challenge of exposing fake news was greater in the Arab World than elsewhere. "In the Arab world, there is little discussion of the problem of fake news and the general public is not very aware of it," he said.

One factor which may contribute to the problem, he said, was that some Arab media organisations systematically published fake or misleading news.

For example, Misbar.com recently reported that several popular Egyptian news sites, including Youm7 and Sada al-Balad, published articles saying that the international press had released laudatory obituaries of former President Mubarak, praising him as a great national leader and peacemaker. 

In fact, the obituaries quoted by the Egyptian news sites had largely been negative, focusing on the late president's authoritarianism.

"In the Arab World, there aren't enough initiatives to raise awareness and knowledge of the media which could help the public tell apart what's fake and what's real and what's opinion and what's fact. Fact-checking platforms are new in the Arab World and might not be understood enough for the public to interact with them," Al-Shaikh said

For this reason, he emphasised that Misbar.com was more than just a fact-checking service. "We also publish materials which raise awareness of fake news and everything related to it – studies, guidelines, advice, and tools which help people check facts."

The Arab world is currently a highly polarised media environment, where there is a lack of media freedom and enormous pressure on news organisations to conform to the dictates of authoritarian regimes.

This environment is very favourable to the spread of Internet rumours, as well as fake and distorted news. Websites like Misbar promise to help remedy the situation, even if the task seems very daunting.

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