Facebook’s Top Fact Checker Tied to US State Department ‘Disinformation’ Fighting Program

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Lead Stories co-founder Maarten Schenk, a Belgian national, is a “trainer” for the Department of State’s “TechCamp,” a group that purportedly fights against disinformation, or fake news, in Europe.

After the 2016 election results were widely blamed on fake news, Facebook partnered with a number of fact checking organizations to fight the spread of fake news, and eventually used Lead Stories as its primary partner.

Lead Stories was co-founded by Alan Duke, a retired CNN journalist, Perry Sanders, a prominent Colorado lawyer, and Schenk, who created the “Trendolizer” tool used to find and source the origin point of fake news.

Schenk, who has a Belgian address and phone number listed on his Lead Stories profile, participates in the TechCamp program initiated by the United States Department of State, currently led by Secretary Mike Pompeo.

According to the TechCamp website:

TechCamps are a public diplomacy program hosted in the Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the U.S. Department of State.

TechCamps are hands-on, participant-driven workshops that connect private sector technology experts with key populations — journalists, non-governmental organizations, civil society advocates, and more — to explore and apply innovative tech solutions to global issues. TechCamps are focused on results, with participants identifying real-world challenges and working in partnership with trainers to apply technology solutions to these challenges. Each TechCamp also includes ongoing impact-oriented programs and efforts to help participants implement their projects post-workshop and stay connected and engaged with each other, their trainers, and U.S. State Department staff.

Schenk specifically attended the September, 2017 “TechCamp Reconnect Warsaw” as a “trainer.”

According to the event’s description, “The U.S. Department of State, in partnership with the Information Society Development Foundation (FRSI) and Digital Communications Network (DigiComNet), hosted a first-ever TechCamp Reconnect event at the Brain Embassy in Warsaw, Poland.”

The event started with a meeting discussing “Digital Communication Network (DigiComNet) Meetup: New Media Startups & Combating Disinformation.”

Additionally, the description would seem to indicate Schenk has participated in multiple TechCamp events, as the Warsaw event was specifically designed to “engage alumni of previous TechCamps and to connect them with additional training, mentorship, and support to amplify the impact of the initial workshops.”

Schenk hosted a talk on “Techniques in Fake News/Online Fact Checking,” according to the event’s agenda.

On his TechCamp bio, the website notes that “During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election campaign, he discovered that Trendolizer also works quite well to monitor fake news websites and, as a result,” it continues, “[Schenk] shifted the focus of Lead Stories almost exclusively to debunking emerging fake news stories just as they are going viral.”

Started in 2010 “at the U.S. State Department,” the group has seemingly accelerated its operation under Pompeo, with the website noting that “In May 2019, the TechCamp program transitioned into the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA),” a part of the U.S. State Department.