When the world’s fact-checkers team up: 5 good questions with Alexios Mantzarlis of Italy’s Pagella Politica

During the G20 Summit in Australia in November, fact-checking organizations from the United States and six other countries, as well as FactCheckEU, collaborated in fact checking statements made by world leaders at the international economic summit. They called the effort “G20 Factcheckathon.”

Participants in the G20 Summit Factcheckathon included Chequeado.com of Argentina; ABC News Factcheck, Australia; Blogpretonobranco.com.br, Brazil; FactCheckEU.org (European Union); PagellaPolitica.it, Italy; AfricaCheck.org; DogrulukPayi.com, Turkey; PolitiFact.com and the Washington Post Fact Checker in the U.S.

The first of its kind, the Factcheckathon has prompted organizers including Alexios Mantzarlis of Italy’s fact-checking site  to eye other mass fact-checking initiatives during future international events.

Mantzarlis says he believes that coordinating efforts can help small fact-checking journalism projects create a more powerful voice heard around the world.

Future factcheckathons will definitely need a greater effort in terms of promotion, focusing on delivering a faster service in a more appealing format.

Can the “factcheckathon” idea be replicated — on a local, national or international scale?

This can definitely be replicated. Once there was a clear but simple agreement on how to reuse one another’s content, the system whisked along essentially autonomously. By teaming up to cover large-scale events, fact checkers can cover much more ground and benefit from comparative advantages (i.e., Turkish fact checkers will find Turkish data faster than I can).

I reckon this can be replicated nicely at a larger level still: a UN climate conference, for example. Several fact-checking organizations, including Chile’s El Poligrafo and Uruguay’s UY Check, mentioned that while they couldn’t participate in the G20 effort (their countries are not G20 members) they were keen on the factcheckathon.

It can also work sub-regionally, and the EU seems to be an obvious example, given how much we like our summits. The key will be to present the material in such a manner that, for instance, an Australian reader will find a fact check on a Turkish politician relevant to her own understanding of the event that is being fact checked.

By collaborating across borders, we create a virtual cluster that can benefit from economies of scale Tweet This

During an coordinated event like this, is it important that fact checkers agree on major issues? Or should fact checkers maintain an independent voice?

With clear attribution of each fact check to its author organization, I don’t think there is a need for a verdict to pass muster with everyone. Of course this requires that everyone trusts one another’s methods. With the G20 factcheckathon it was evident that we have common methodologies, given that similar statements made by different politicians on job creation ended up being fact checked in very similar manners.

Do you foresee an opportunity for the public, not just journalists, to participate in future Factcheckathons?

Definitely. Chequeado of Argentina has developed an open-source application to receive datasets from readers and ordinary citizens through Twitter. At FactCheckEU, community fact checkers upload, submit and translate fact checks. These seem like instruments that can be put to good use in a new factcheckathon, in order to speed up our work, but also to get more people interested in fact-checking.

The G20 Factcheckathon was a last-minute idea. How did you explain the project to the public, and what ideas for promotion do you have for next time?

In all honesty, the promotional aspect of the project was nearly ignored. The effort was mostly aimed at seeing what kind of output we could obtain. Several of us were concerned the G20 leaders might get away with mentioning no facts at all during the conference.

Future factcheckathons will definitely need a greater effort in terms of promotion, focusing on delivering a faster service in a more appealing format.

In terms of speed, we can accelerate efforts much in the same way that we each prepare to fact check big national events such as debates or States of the Union addresses. This essentially entails readying up our archives of data and fact-checked articles to take advantage of a basic trait of politicians: They often repeat themselves.

In terms of format, we could stream results on a shared page tying our fact checks to the coverage of the summits and linking to the primary sources on the issues in order to contextualize them.

What benefits do you see from fact-checking organizations collaborating internationally as they did for this effort?

The factcheckathon was an experiment aimed at putting into practice the benefits of an international network of fact-checking websites. None of our organizations is particularly large and most are positively tiny. By collaborating across borders, we are creating a virtual cluster that can benefit from economies of scale. This is true with our editorial content, but it can also be true in terms of developing technology that will help us fact check faster and more effectively. And why not, perhaps it can help in obtaining funding, too.

 

 

  1. Read more about the factcheckathon from the Washington Post.
  2. Read more about the factcheckathon from Poynter.