A new credibility feature in Microsoft’s native web browser is labelling British tabloid the Daily Mail as fake news and warning users to stray away.
When you visit the publication’s website using Microsoft Edge, you will be greeted with a striking warning: “This website generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability” and “has been forced to pay damages in numerous high-profile cases”.
The feature, called NewsGuard, is a plugin designed to fight fake news. Run by news industry veterans, it rates sites according to nine journalistic criteria to warn visitors away from outlets that have “a hidden agenda or knowingly publishes falsehoods or propaganda”.
NewsGuard qualifies websites not with automated software but with a staff of human analysts, and has already completed human-generated verdicts for the top 2000 news outlets in the US. The startup, which receives funding from the advertising group Publicis, has the short term goal of expanding to the UK and producing ratings for the top 150 news sites in the country.
“A SWAT team of NewsGuard analysts operates 24/7 to identify suddenly trending purveyors of unreliable news among sites that NewsGuard has not yet rated and warn internet users about them in real time,” reads the company’s website.
The service has been available as a plug-in for all major browsers – Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari – since last August, but Microsoft now pre-installs it on all mobile editions of its Edge browser, ready for use if the user wants to activate it.
For the sake of transparency, NewsGuard makes all of its judgments public and invites the outlets to answer to the their ratings. They claim they contacted the Daily Mail and received a less than encouraging response.
“We spell out fairly clearly in the label exactly how many times we have attempted to contact them,” NewsGuard co-founder Steve Brill told The Guardian.
“The analyst that wrote this writeup got someone on the phone who, as soon he heard who she was and where she was calling from, hung up. We would love to hear if they have a complaint or if they change anything.”
After NewsGuard’s rating of the Daily Mail website gained media coverage, a spokesman for the MailOnline – the tabloid’s digital arm – issued a short statement.
“We have only very recently become aware of the NewsGuard start-up and are in discussions with them to have this egregiously erroneous classification resolved as soon as possible.”
NewsGuard gives the Daily Mail website a score of one out of five, the same as right-wing conspiracy site InfoWars, Russian government news agency Sputnik, Kremlin-backed news service RT and left-wing political site Daily Kos.
The plugin is not the only independent service to label the site as an unreliable source. Popular site mediabiasfactcheck.com also describes the the Daily Mail as “a questionable source” that “exhibits one or more of the following: extreme bias, consistent promotion of propaganda/conspiracies, poor or no sourcing to credible information, a complete lack of transparency and/or is fake news.”
The site’s verdict continues: “In review, the Daily Mail tends to publish stories utilizing sensationalized headlines with emotionally loaded wordings such as “Woman, 63, ‘becomes PREGNANT in the mouth’ with baby squid after eating calamari”, adding, “When it comes to sourcing information they use minimal hyperlinked sourcing as well as sourcing to themselves. A factual search reveals that the Daily Mail has a poor track record with fact checkers.”