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BBC deletes ‘fake news’ research, amends, uploads, deletes again

This was not merely a report. This was an over 100 pages worth of research which is not meant to be altered willy-nilly. If it is, it proves that the research is terribly unreliable and shoddy. Will the BBC apologise?

BBC had recently published a ‘research’ paper on fake news which had created quite the brouhaha. The research was conducted based on shoddy methodology, based on questionable sources and had been comprehensively debunked by OpIndia.com.

After massive uproar against the report where they willy-nilly concluded that Nationalism drives fake news, the BBC responded to The Better India’s email that raised an objection against their name being included in the pro-BJP fake news purveyors list. The BBC then acknowledged that they had made an error in including their name. They had asserted that the website’s name had been removed from the ‘research’ and attributed it to ‘human error’.

Early morning today, we noticed that the BBC research paper had been pulled down as the website displayed a 404 error.

As can be seen from the screenshot, the research was pulled down and a 404 error was displayed at around 8:40 AM on 19th November 2018.

Shortly after the report was pulled down, at about 9:15 AM, the research paper came back up online with a set of explanations attached. A screenshot of the amended report that we managed to take is as follows:

Among other things, the addendum corrected the mistake they had made in interpreting the word “diwaliya” as “diwali” and reiterated that they were not branding any handle of publication as a “fake news source” but had only shared sources that had “shared fake news even once”.

Even the explanation comes with its own set of problems. If they had stuck to that criteria, they should have ideally included their sources like Altnews.in and IndiaSpend. In fact, they should have added BBC itself to the list of fake news purveyors if sharing “even one” fake news was a criterion.

In fact, even their amendment was laughable since misinterpreting “Diwaliya” as “Diwali” was least of the problems that plagued the fake news research. In the segment where they had included this misinterpretation, they had actually included a real news as fake news. The addendum did not rectify or acknowledge this error. The other errors were also not corrected.

The Better India had also raised an objection to the fact that BBC had maligned the website’s reputation publicly but failed to acknowledge its mistake in public. Rather, they only emailed the clarification. In the amended report that went up briefly, they had not acknowledged their error in including The Better India either.

They also went to great lengths to explain why their sample set – since part of qualitative research – was justified. In the amended report, however, they didn’t answer why they used qualitative research methods to draw generalised conclusions (which is not the aim of any qualitative research). They also didn’t explain how a long deleted website formed a part of their data set and whether they relied on secondary sources and not primary sources.

However, just as we were delving into the addendum, we realised that the report had been pulled down again.

At around 10:43 AM, when we checked again, the report was gone and the website displayed a 404 error again.

This begs several important questions:

  1. Will the report be uploaded again?
  2. If their research employed reliable methods and algorithms, why did they feel the need to pull down the research not once, but twice.
  3. If they have had to pull down the research twice, how reliable was it to begin with.
  4. If the research was based on algorithms and analysis, how can they possibly selectively alter it now
  5. This was not merely a report. This was an over 100 pages worth of research which is not meant to be altered willy-nilly. If it is, it proves that the research is terribly unreliable and shoddy. Will the BBC apologise?

Note: The BBC research paper on fake news was not uploaded to its website till the time this report was published. We are given to understand that the document will be uploaded… again. When it is, we will publish our comments accordingly.

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

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