An initiative run by the think tank Civic Fab, What The Fake (WTF) aims to fight hate speech and extremism online by undermining the disinformation and conspiracy theories that feed them. WTF is active across multiple platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as a dedicated website. The campaign has been active since 2017 and also benefits from a partnership with content producers and diffusers like Buzzfeed.
Noting how disinformation and conspiracy theories can feed into hateful speech and extremist discourse online, actors from civil society decided to launch the What The Fake campaign. The objective of this campaign is to counter hate, extremism and manipulation online by checking the hateful speech that proliferates on the internet. For this, the campaign has leveraged factual, verifiable and well-sourced information, as well as positive content.
WTF produces two short videos per week, ensuring a regular flow of content for users to engage with. Videos are centred around three main themes: manipulation (including emotional manipulation, fake news and disinformation), extremism (including debunking extremist narratives) and positive initiatives (promoting positive initiatives that represent ideals contrary to extremism). In addition to the videos, short articles are shared intermittently via the website as well as Facebook, falling into the same three broad themes.
An initiative run by the think tank Civic Fab, What The Fake (WTF) fights hate speech and extremism online by undermining the disinformation and conspiracy theories that feed them. The campaign has been active since 2017 and also benefits from a partnership with content producers and diffusers like Buzzfeed.
Challenge: Disinformation and conspiracy theories are rife online and they can feed into hateful speech and extremist discourse online.
Goal: To counter hate, extremism and manipulation online, firstly by exposing disinformation that underpins them through factual, verifiable and well-sourced information, and secondly, by spreading positive, alternative content.
Target Audience: WTF has two primary target audiences:
- Youth (15-30 years old) in France (and other Francophone countries), particularly those that may be exposed to hateful speech, disinformation and extremist narratives online
- All French speakers interested in fake news or conspiracy theories
Message: WTF addresses a number of different topics, ranging from disinformation and critical consumption broadly, to addressing specific narratives and conspiracy theories directly. The campaign produces content according to three main themes:
- Manipulation (including emotional manipulation, fake news, and disinformation)
- Extremism (including debunking extremist narratives)
- Positive initiatives (promoting positive initiatives that represent ideals contrary to extremism)
Despite the campaign’s breadth, however, it presents a coherent message by staying true to its core theme of pluralism and maintaining a coherent ‘voice’ through a clear and informative tone.
Content: WTF’s primary medium is videos, as well as short articles. The campaign typically produces two short, informative videos per week dedicated to a particular topic, intermixed with other posts to ensure a regular flow of content for users to engage with. The audience also has opportunities to get more involved with the campaign, either through discussions and polls on social media, or by submitting their own article through the website.
Platform: WTF is active across multiple platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as a dedicated website.
Impact: WTF succeeded in reaching a broad audience across France.
- 21,001,780 impressions on Facebook
- 9,283,908 individuals reached by promoted campaign materials
- 3,720,366 views of promoted videos
- Across all videos the average user watched 16.4% of the video
- 642,441 engagements with campaign content (3.1% engagement rate)
- 115,537 page likes
The campaign did exceedingly well in reaching its target audience: reach and impressions were both high and the vast majority of viewers were under the age of 34, with approximately half under the age of 24. Most of the videos had a higher than average retention rate for Facebook, which indicates that the content was appropriate for the target audience. Engagement, however, was lower than average, owing in large part to the nature of the content and the breadth of the targeting.
- Audience: WTF is an awareness-raising campaign addressing a social issue that impacts a huge number of people across a population. Therefore, the campaign benefitted from a broad target audience that could help improve its reach and help spread its message further afield. A broad audience can result is more limited engagement, however, since it may be more difficult to connect with an audience through more generalised content that has not been tailored for one specific point of view or experience.
- Tone: WTF adopts a conversational tone that is informative, clear and casual. This tone enables them to engage with a wider audience and helps unify the campaign even as it takes of a wide variety of topics. A conversational tone is useful for informative campaigns geared toward a more general audience, because it prevents the content from becoming overly academic or preachy.
- Message: WTF balances content that draws attention to the challenge and debunks other narratives with positive content that offers an alternative. It is important in all counter-narrative campaigns that you do not focus solely on ‘countering’ without giving the audience an alternative to consider.
 All statistics are reported from January to June 2018.