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Fighting falsehoods around the world: A dispatch on the growing global fact-checking movement

About 190 fact-checkers from 54 countries attended the fourth annual Global Fact-Checking Summit, July 5-7, 2017. (Photo by Mario Garcia)

This is a report on the fourth Global Fact-Checking Summit, which Michelle Ye Hee Lee of The Fact Checker attended.

MADRID — “Nos encanta la verdad.” We love the truth.

Political fact-checking has existed in the United States for many years. was established in 2003, and The Washington Post Fact Checker and PolitiFact were launched in 2007.

In recent years, this movement representing a new form of accountability journalism has exploded around the globe. Now, there are 126 fact-checking organizations in 49 countries. Clearly, voters in many countries care about and want to know the truth.

About 190 fact-checkers from 54 countries attended the fourth annual Global Fact-Checking Summit, July 5-7, 2017. The International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter Institute hosted the summit. The first meeting of fact-checkers from around the world took place in 2014, with 50 fact-checkers. Now the community has grown so much that we needed a “speed meeting” session for introductions.

The summit celebrated the rapid growth in fact-checking and truth-sleuthing worldwide. Fact-checking has received a lot of attention after recent national elections and political scandals in many countries. Readers and viewers are hungry for fact checks and debunking of fake news, and demand is higher than ever.

Attendees also tackled the difficult questions about our work: How do we reach audiences that are skeptical of fact-checking? How do we measure our impact?

There can be wide differences among fact-checking organizations, in their cultural, national and organizational distinctions. After last year’s conference, a committee of fact-checkers under the auspices of the International Fact-Checking Network developed a code of principles to ensure quality, consistency and transparency among independent fact-checking organizations. The Washington Post Fact Checker was an inaugural signatory to this code of principles.

Fact-checkers are coordinating with the technology industry to expand the reach of our work. Thanks to Share the Facts, an initiative by the Duke Reporters’ Lab and Google Jigsaw, our fact-checks are now featured prominently in search results. Google News recently added a Fact Check section to highlight fact-checks from independent, verified fact-checkers. (Readers may have seen the Share the Facts cards at the end of our columns.)

Many countries now have more than one fact-checking organization. In some of these countries, competing media outlets are collaborating on fact-checking to broaden their reach and build credibility collectively.

Through CrossCheck, an initiative by First Draft News, 19 local and national outlets in France fact-checked fake news, hoaxes and rumors around the French election. Experienced fact-checkers were able to advise the new fact-checkers, and new newsrooms started fact-checking as a result of the project. In South Korea, the Seoul National University began SNU FactCheck in conjunction with 16 mainstream media outlets. (Fact-checking grew quickly there during the recent political scandal involving the South Korean president, who was impeached and removed from office.) Faktisk (Norwegian for “actual”) was launched this month as an independent organization that started with funding from four competing Norwegian media organizations.

There are many interesting and unique fact-checking initiatives using new and traditional formats of storytelling and news delivery.

The Colombian news site La Silla Vacía is using WhatsApp, a popular global messaging app, to disseminate fact-checks and spot misinformation being spread among WhatsApp users. The public submits fact-check suggestions via WhatsApp to La Silla Vacía. The team then fact-checks the content and messages it back. The goal is to get that user to send the fact-checked content back to friends and relatives who saw the misleading or false content.

In France, Julien Pain of France Info is taking fact-checking to the streets. Frustrated that he couldn’t reach audiences that are stuck in their own bubbles, Pain started “Instant Détox.” He uses Facebook Live to talk to pedestrians to correct their misconceptions. Facebook Live allows him to use an unedited, real-time format that adds transparency to the process and is available for replay on Facebook.

When politicians use false talking points on talk shows that air on RAI, the public broadcast service in Italy, they get fact-checked on air. It’s a recorded segment, and the hosts and politicians debate the data. Politicians frequently revise their talking points when confronted with the facts during  interviews.

The international fact-checking network has grown substantially in recent years to include fact-checkers from across the globe. (Video: Courtesy of RAI, Photo: Courtesy of RAI/Courtesy of RAI)

“El Objetivo de Ana Pastor,” a Spanish TV news show, draws a large audience through its Sunday evening fact-checking segment. Host Ana Pastor discusses inaccurate statements from the week’s political coverage. The program uses sleek graphics and visualization to engage viewers. It also creates mobile-friendly animated explainer videos for digital audiences through a series called “El Objetivo Xtra.” Pastor concludes every segment by encouraging viewers to be critical of the facts, in a phrase that translates to: “Here are the data. The conclusion is up to you.”

The international fact-checking network has grown substantially in recent years to include fact-checkers from across the globe. (Video: Courtesy of El Objetivo)

In Britain, Full Fact is using automation to identify claims that can be fact-checked and then distributes the fact-checked information to the public. Of course, fact-checking will always require careful analysis by humans, but some organizations are experimenting with ways to automate some of the legwork.

The spread of fake news and manipulated images and video is a global problem. Many of the newer fact-checking groups are dedicated to debunking manipulated images and video, often using sophisticated forensic tools to spot suspicious content that turns out to be fake. (Some of the manipulation technology is becoming quite sophisticated.)

Spain’s Maldito Bulo (“damn hoax”) was launched in January to debunk hoaxes and fake news and to call out media outlets that fall for them. The group superimposes corrections over images that can be shared and downloaded, and it uses Twitter (@malditobulo) to leverage online “trolls” who want to help debunk false information and spread the corrected versions.

In the United States, PolitiFact and Univision launched projects aimed at new audiences to fight misinformation and build trust. Immigration Lab is a media literacy project by Univision News that aims to create a reliable source of information for undocumented immigrants, starting with Gainesville, Ga. PolitiFact’s project, Facts Matter, aims to engage conservative voters and study how language used in fact-checks affect their perceptions of trustworthiness.

As fact checking grows around the world, the International Fact-Checking Network’s work also will expand. Thanks to $1.3 million in grants from the Omidyar Network and Open Society Foundations, the network will support initiatives coming from this growing community of fact-checkers. The grants will support initiatives in technology and in tracking the impact of fact-checking, and will provide financial support through grants and crowdfunding matches.

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Related posts about the global fact checking community: 

Fact-checking organizations around the globe embrace code of principles

The global boom in political fact checking

Fact checking of political statements expands dramatically overseas

Global Factcheckathon: G-20 summit fact-checked by 12 fact-checking organizations