NewsGuard drops its paywall to combat coronavirus misinformation

In an escalation of fighting against COVID-19 fake and misleading news, the internet watchdog for news content has decided to offer its service for free until July.

Facebook's and Twitter's built-in capabilities for recognizing fake and inaccurate content are limited. Additionally, outside of the social networks, when viewing a website directly, there hasn't been an easy way to see if a particular news source is credible, or transparent. Fortunately, we now have NewsGuard.

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To stamp out coronavirus misinformation on social media sites like Facebook, NewsGuard is now offering its services for free from March 24 for all users until July 1. The extension flags websites that have published COVID-19 hoaxes and other dangerous misinformation. It normally costs $2.99 a month.

Earlier this month, NewsGuard started a Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center and determined that fake news about COVID-19 was being shared over 140 times more than official reports from valid sources, such as the CDC and the WHO.

In recent weeks, NewsGuard's team of analysts began noticing many websites spreading false information about COVID-19, including stories that went viral on social media platforms. NewsGuard so far has flagged 132 sites publishing misinformation about the illness. These falsehoods include claims that the virus can be prevented by swallowing bleach or colloidal silver, both of which can be fatal.

The New York City-based company is run by trained journalists who come from a diverse set of backgrounds and (according to the company) are committed to presenting unbiased news reporting. 

"Misinformation about COVID-19 is spreading quickly across the internet and endangering lives," said NewsGuard co-CEO Steven Brill. "We're enlisting a wide range of companies and organizations to help address this with an urgent but simple public service campaign to help fight back."

NewsGuard is installable as a desktop Chrome extension (and on the new Chromium-based Edge) that was previously available by subscription but can now be used for free on all platforms. If you are a Microsoft Edge user on iOS or Android, the service is built-in and can also be enabled for free. A separate mobile app for iOS and Android devices will be available -- also for free -- in approximately three weeks.

Thousands of sites that are rated in NewsGuard's database are evaluated on a multi-point system for both credibility and transparency. Websites that are considered to be reliable sources of information are labeled with green checks. These clickable green checkmarks appear in the browser near the URL field and are also displayed in-line with web content, such as within Facebook, and even on Google News and other major news aggregators.

Rated NewsGuard content shown on Google News is displayed as follows:

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NewsGuard's badging is embedded in news aggregators when the extension is enabled.

ZDNet

Similarly, it is shown on Bing with easily recognizable badging:

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NewsGuard ratings as displayed on Bing News

ZDNet

On a desktop browser, the extended information about a NewsGuard "all-green" content source, such as The Washington Post, displays as follows: 

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The Washington Post extended website information when viewed using the NewsGuard extension.

ZDNet

In this example, The Washington Post also has a full "nutrition label" hosted at NewsGuard, which has additional information about the company and links to information about the journalists who authored and edited the entry.

While many sites may pass a complete health check, it is also possible for a website to check out as "green'' overall but may have specific issues that the NewsGuard team find of concern. For example, Fox News, which checks out as a green, scores 69.5 out of 100 on NewsGuard's scale. It has specific issues noted for credibility but thoroughly checks out on transparency.

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The extended website information for Fox News when viewed in the NewsGuard extension.

ZDNet

However, many sites are posing as legitimate news sources and are spreading misinformation with low credibility and transparency scorings. An example of one of these is shown below, with the NewsGuard extension enabled:

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A site flagged as "red" by NewsGuard that is engaging in misleading and false information about COVID-19.

ZDNet

NewsGuard will also function within the desktop version of Facebook, as follows:

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NewsGuard ratings as displayed in Facebook

ZDNet

It will also function on Twitter, also in the web browser view:

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NewsGuard rating as displayed on Twitter.

ZDNet

Currently, NewsGuard badges will not appear in the mobile/app versions of Facebook or Twitter. However, if you use Microsoft Edge as your mobile browser, you can open any article from these apps directly in Edge to view its NewsGuard rating.

To enable the service in the Microsoft Edge mobile browser, open up Settings, choose News Rating and then enable the "Display rating on the address bar"

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NewsGuard configuration for Microsoft Edge for Mobile (iOS and Android)

Jason Perlow

Once enabled in the mobile version of Edge, you will be able to see the ratings for the website that you are currently viewing:

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ZDNet as viewed in the NewsGuard extension in Microsoft Edge for iOS

Jason Perlow

Readers who have come across a potentially false story about the COVID-19 novel coronavirus can use this page to submit a site for review by NewsGuard's staff, or by clicking on "Submit this site for review by NewsGuard" within the browser extension.