Meet the Montreal-based journalist fact-checking false news on Facebook

When Canadians take advantage of Facebook’s new option to report fake news, it's sent to Louis Baudoin-Laarman, a fact-checking journalist who works for the international news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Political news, clickbait most often up for debunking, says AFP's Louis Baudoin-Laarman

Louis Baudoin-Laarman, a fact-checking journalist at Agence France-Presse (AFP) based in Montreal, stopped by CBC Montreal to explain how his job works. (CBC)

Under increasing pressure to stop the spread of so-called fake news, Facebook has hired regional fact-checkers, and the person designated to sort out truth from fiction in Canada is based in Montreal.

When Canadian Facebook users report fake news, it's sent to Louis Baudoin-Laarman, a fact-checking journalist who works for the international news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP).

An estimated 300 to 2,000 posts are flagged in Canada each day, Baudoin-Laarman told CBC Montreal's Daybreak Wednesday.

He doesn't have to look at them all, however, filtering out content such as ads or opinion pieces.

Sometimes, he said, he's sent legitimate news articles that someone simply doesn't like.

"There might be between five and ten a day that might be interesting," said Baudoin-Laarman.

He looks at how many times an article has been shared, how it relates to Canada and "how outrageous" the content appears before he dives into debunking it.

Determining if a post deserves debunking

Investigations are generally launched if a post has 1,000 shares or more, but if he suspects an article has the potential to go viral, he may start fact-checking it before it has a chance to take off.

"If it is justified to do a debunk, then I will just start investigating," he said.

"The first thing is to make sure it is false. Just by looking at it, I can usually tell if it's going to be true or false or not. But I still have to make sure it is false, because I don't want to start debunking things that are actually true."

Under increasing pressure to dampen the flow of fake news, Facebook has hired fact-checkers to review flagged posts and debunk content before it goes viral. (Alastair Grant/The Associated Press)

After that, it is just like any other kind of verification work: he contacts people who know more about a given topic to confirm or disprove the information contained in the article.

Sometimes he has to chase down the origin of a photograph or other content that can take him back 10 or 15 years.

"Following any information upstream, in a way on the internet, it is always fun to see how it has been altered along the way. It's a bit saddening often, as well. It's kind of a game."

When an article is debunked

If something is determined to be false, a debunking article is written, and Facebook is notified.

From there, whenever somebody tries to share a link to an article, Facebook will automatically let them know that the news has been debunked by Agence France-Presse and invite them to learn more through AFP's debunked piece.

The content's host will also earn a bad rating on Facebook, hurting traffic flow to the host's site.

There are three types of fake news he comes across most often, Baudoin-Laarman said:

  • Political news about religion, immigration or the current government in power.
  • Visually appealing clickbait articles of the sort that were once found in grocery-store tabloids. 
  • Fake medical information about anything from cancer cures to new diets.

How to spot fake news

For the average Facebook user, Baudoin-Laarman recommends people read an article all the way through because, quite often, the headline will be false or misleading but the content more accurate.

He said it is also a good idea to look closely at the post: bad grammar, poor syntax, emotional language and sentences composed of all capital letters can also be signs of misleading content.

An estimated 300 to 2,000 posts are flagged in Canada each day, Baudoin-Laarman told CBC Montreal's Daybreak. (CBC)

If people stumble onto a suspicious article, Baudoin-Laarman said they can look up AFP's fact-checking page and use the tools there to verify content.

"What we have going on, between the third-party checkers and Facebook, seems to be working," said Baudoin-Laarman. 

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak