How to Responsibly Report on Hacks and Disinformation

10 Guidelines and a Template for Every Newsroom

The run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election illustrated how vulnerable our most venerated journalistic outlets are to a new kind of information warfare. Reporters are a targeted adversary of foreign and domestic actors who want to harm our democracy. And to cope with this threat, especially in an election year, news organizations need to prepare for another wave of false, misleading, and hacked information. Often, the information will be newsworthy. Expecting reporters to refrain from covering news goes against core principles of American journalism and the practical business drivers that shape the intensely competitive media marketplace. In these cases, the question is not whether to report but how to do so most responsibly. Our goal is to give journalists actionable guidance.

Specifically, we recommend that news organizations:

— Adopt a playbook—we present one below—of core principles and standards for reporting on newsworthy events involving false, misleading, and hacked information;

— Establish a repeatable, enterprise-wide process for implementing the playbook;

— Commit their senior leaders to ensuring the success of these initiatives across vast newsrooms siloed into distinct areas of responsibility—from political coverage to national security reporting to social media teams.

Authors

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Janine Zacharia

Carlos Kelly McClatchy Lecturer in Stanford’s Department of Communication
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Janine Zacharia

Carlos Kelly McClatchy Lecturer in Stanford’s Department of Communication
Janine Zacharia is the Carlos Kelly McClatchy Lecturer in Stanford’s Department of Communication. In addition to teaching journalism courses at Stanford, she researches and writes on the intersection between technology and national security, media trends and foreign policy. Earlier in her career, she reported extensively on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy including stints as Jerusalem Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, State Department Correspondent for Bloomberg News, Washington Bureau Chief for the Jerusalem Post, and Jerusalem Correspondent for Reuters.
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Andrew Grotto

Director, Program on Geopolitics, Technology, and Governance
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Andrew Grotto

Director, Program on Geopolitics, Technology, and Governance
Andrew Grotto is director of the Program on Geopolitics, Technology and Governance and William J. Perry International Security Fellow at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center and teaches the gateway course for graduate students specializing in cyber policy in Stanford’s Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy program. He is also a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He served as Senior Director for Cyber Policy on the National Security Council in both the Obama and the Trump White House.