Fact-checking journalism is on the rise. The number of fact-checking websites has been growing for over a decade now. A recent study from the Duke University Reporters’ Lab has identified almost 60 fact-checking groups globally, with a quarter of them based in the US. Some pop up as part of media organisations like the Washington Post’s Fact Checker passing judgements in Pinocchios or the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact at the Tampa Bay Times. But more interestingly, some spring to life prompted by the need to verify specific events and developing stories.
Take Ukrainian StopFake – it verifies information, and refutes distorted information and propaganda about events in Ukraine covered by the media. Available in English and Russian, it has build an amazing audience of over 63,000 in only three months. And it’s growing.
Mainly, because there is a pressing demand to verify photos posted on social media, which go viral quickly retweeted by both sides of the conflict who feel strongly about the cause they are fighting for, but do not necessarily reflect the real situation in the region. This photo of the Sloviansk morgue – published by a Russian news outlet – had been taken five years ago by an Associated Press photographer in Mexico. And here is another fake, dating back to 1989 and Tienanmen Square events in China.
Unlike PolitiFakt that debunks mainly domestic news, StopFake tests the accuracy of content from another country aside to its own Ukrainian media and politicians. It handles both official reports and rumours. It was launched by alumni and students of Mohyla School of Journalism, later joined by journalists, marketing specialists, programmers, translators and other volunteers.
Another interesting example of a fact-checking group forming for the purpose of monitoring developments in an event is FactCheckEU – Europe’s first crowd-checking platform. It was established not only as a watchdog holding European politicians to account in the run-up to the elections in May, but also in a bid to spread awareness of EU politics.
FactCheckEU verified statements made by leading figures on the EU’s political scene and even some EU institutions like the Commission, which was caught misquoting some figures. The team live-checked (and live-tweeted) some of the debates between the EC Presidency candidates and partnered up with other think tanks and institutes across the continent.
And then there is Africa Check which covers the whole content promoting accuracy in public debate and the media. Run by a small team of three core staff, it produces reports for free republication and offers interviews with researchers. What I personally find most interesting is their guides and fact-sheets, like this one detailing the abduction of Nigerian girls by Boko Haram.
Interestingly, all three StopFake, FactCheckEU and Africa Check share a crowd-sourcing element. They appeal to their readers for submitting statements which lend themselves to verification. This allows Africa Check to be run by three staffers only, and FactCheckEU to make sure politicians from more EU countries feature on the website than the languages mastered by the team. All this while the audiences feel part of the process.
The raise of fact-checking journalism has been clearly marked in the media landscape over the past couple of years. Some see it as a symptom of failing media, others as popular highlight of mainstream politics. Is it simplified journalism? Or is it the the root of journalism – a starting point for all reporters?
With sites such as Faktomat in Germany, Les Decodeurs in France, Chequeado in Argentina, it is difficult to deny that fact-checking offers an interesting insight into detailed political discourse. It obviously has its flaws but all the sites mentioned above believe it adds to the debate rather than impoverish it. And it expands quicker than you think. Poyner Institute is to hold the first global fact-checking summit in London this June organised by Bill Adair from the Duke University. And soon there will even be a browser plug-in to ‘automatically fact check’ articles, which will tell you how accurate the information on the site is. I am looking forward to seeing further developments in the field.
(Disclaimer: I have been part of the team behind FactCheckEU)