Factually: A few takeaways from Global Fact 6

Howdy from Cape Town!

This week, the IFCN traveled to South Africa for our sixth annual Global Fact-Checking Summit. During the three-day event — the largest yet — journalists, technology companies, nonprofits and startups from around the world are mingling to discuss the possibilities and obstacles facing the future of fact-checking.

What are those obstacles? It depends on who you ask.

During the show and tell sessions on Wednesday morning, most fact-checkers talked about how they’re trying to scale their work and reach new audiences.

(Poynter-owned) PolitiFact demoed “What the Fact,” a TV show on Newsyon which editors fact-check a variety of political statements. Chequeado, from Argentina, showed off Chequeabot, an automated system that automatically sends the newsroom fact-checkable claims from the media. Lead Stories, which operates in the United States and Europe, walked participants through a script that automatically publishes YouTube videos based on its fact checks.

The aim of these projects is somewhat obvious. While prolific for their relatively small newsroom size, and in spite of record audiences in recent years, fact-checkers still struggle to contain the spread of misinformationand find new readers online.

The question of scale is a big one for fact-checkers — and tools like Chequeabot and video-generating scripts are just a couple of potential solutions. But for other fact-checkers worldwide, there are more basic obstacles to overcome.

Zahedur Arman, founding president of BD FactCheck in Bangladesh, highlighted some of them in his keynote address on Wednesday about the state of fact-checking in the Global South. Among the key challenges he cited: access to reliable data, freedom of expression, machine learning tools in other languages and a sustainable business model.

Those aren’t uncommon obstacles for fact-checking projects around the world. But they do pose serious challenges to the continued growth of the industry, which has expanded to 188 organizations in more than 60 countries, according to a Duke Reporters’ Lab census published this week.

And while separate in focus, the problems of scale and support are at least somewhat connected.

During his keynote address Wednesday, Peter Cunliffe-Jones, whorecently stepped down as director of Africa Check (and is currently a senior adviser for the IFCN), spoke about how misinformation can have drastic effects on people’s actual lives. The rise of health misinformationabout vaccines has correlated with outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles worldwide, and social media hoaxes regularly stir social and religious tensions in countries like Nigeria.

Those are bigger problems than any one fact-checker — or even a slew of fact-checkers — can solve. But everything isn’t doomed; there are already a few promising endeavors aimed at addressing widespread misinformation at scale, while also lending critical support to organizations that need it to get their work off the ground.

After discussions about attacks on fact-checkers at last year’s Global Fact, the IFCN launched a fund for organizations facing legal challenges worldwide. During his keynote, Cunliffe-Jones said Africa Check is exploring how to partner with African health authorities to surface and debunk popular rumors and get fact checks in front of patients who need it most.

He likened those kinds of partnerships to a herd of sharks and misinformation, a “multi-tentacular” problem, to an octopus.

“With one shark versus an octopus, I put my money on an octopus,” Cunliffe-Jones said during his remarks. “With many sharks, I believe our chances get better.”

As Mevan Babakar, head of automated fact-checking at Full Fact, tweeted on Wednesday, “fact-checking has to be more than just checking.”

“Checking alone is not enough to diagnose problems, or to eventually solve those problems at scale. Let’s not lose sight of that goal,” she said. “We need to have more than just individual fact checks — we need to aim for corrections, mapping spread, identifying key actors, changing people’s behavior, and we must collect these as case studies to understand the landscape much better than we currently do.”

Not at Global Fact? No problem — here’s a live stream of the main sessions and here’s a guide for getting the most out of the conference remotely.

. . .   technology

  • Last week we tackled the issue of deepfakes, the extent of the problem and potential policies around it. This week, the Indian fact-checking site Boom looked at how manipulated videos could evolve in India, where cheapfakes are already plentiful. Meanwhile,Vice pointed out that the Zuckerberg deepfake posted on Instagram last week forced Facebook’s fact-checking partners to debunk art.

  • The email marketing platform Mailchimp has become the latest platform to block anti-vaccination content. A number of companies have taken similar action around the world, and U.S. lawmakers have started looking at the problem, though they haven’t settled on a clear course of action.

  • Content moderation and community standards are confusing enough, even before you consider that the platforms all have different policies. Slate has an enlightening explainer from Subramaniam Vincent, director of journalism and media ethics at the Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. And Wired published an article that posed the question: Could Facebook learn something from the Wikipedia model in its fight against misinformation?

. . .  politics

  • A report from the European Commission suggests Russia hasn’t let up in its efforts to spread disinformation and chaos surrounding elections worldwide. The New York Times called the report “the first official substantiation” by the commission of the role that Russians and other groups played in disinformation in May’s European elections.

  • But … Europe is actually better than the United States in addressing the challenge of disinformation, according to a new report for the Atlantic Council. In a piece for The Washington Post, the report’s authors said U.S. officials lag Europe in both the “strategic framing of the challenge and policy ac­tions to deal with it.”

  • United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May will be remembered for her tendency to make a bunch of unrelated claims all at once. The move is so common that Full Fact coined a term for it: “factbombing,” which the organization wrote may be harmful for the public debate.

. . .  the future of news

  • Concern about misinformation and disinformation “remains high” even though publishers are trying to build confidence with readers, according to the Reuters Institute’s digital news report, which came out last week. The report is based on a YouGov survey of more than 75,000 online news consumers in 38 countries.
  • Sixty-three percent of Americans say made-up or altered videos and images create a great deal of confusion about current issues and events, a Pew Research survey found.
  • People are using the humanitarian crisis in Sudan to get followers on Instagram, The Atlantic’s Taylor Lorenz reported. The accounts purport to be helping supply meals to Sudanese civilians.

U.S. politicians love to make overly broad claims about legislation, perhaps thinking they can get away with it because few people actually understand how Congress works.

This week, the House of Representatives’ Democratic leader, Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) criticized Republican colleagues who voted against the annual defense policy bill, saying that in doing so they opposed a pay raise for members of the military. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave the politicians three Pinocchios (mostly false) for that.

The problem? The pay raises take effect regardless of what’s in that bill. Another law makes the pay raises automatic.

“This is a good example of how politicians can take a sprawling piece of legislation, cherry-pick one part, take it out of context and gin up an attack line,” The Post’s Salvador Rizzo wrote.

What we liked: Hoyer’s staff replied to The Post that since funding for the pay hikes is authorized by the bill, the Republicans were voting against the raise by voting against the bill funding them. That sounds plausible but is actually a rhetorical dance that The Post wasn’t willing to join. The real question is whether the raises would occur regardless of what happens with this bill, and the answer is yes.

    1. The next pandemic will be a two-front war — the disease as well as the “deluge of rumors, misinformation and flat-out lies” on the internet, a Harvard cybersecurity expert warned in The New York Times.

    2. Hoaxes and falsehoods have been spreading during the protests in Hong Kong over the past couple weeks. BuzzFeed News took a look at some of the more prominent ones.

    3. How many ways are there for fact-checkers to rate a falsehood? Daniel told us in this piece on Poynter.org.

    4. The Associated Press uncovered a network of fake LinkedIn profiles that spies were using to connect with targets.

    5. A wealthy Manhattan couple is providing significant funding for the anti-vaccine movement, The Washington Post reported. How they came to the movement is unknown “but their financial impact has been enormous,” the piece says.

    6. Per AFP: No, the Trump administration has not placed a ban on student visas for Nigerians.

    7. The world’s biggest advertisers and ad agencies are banding together to help rid online environments of misinformation and harmful content.

    8. Twitter announced last week that it had removed almost 4,800 accounts it believes are associated with or directly backed by the Iranian government. It also said it removed accounts connected with misinformation in Russia, Venezuela and in Spain, where it found fake accounts engaged in spreading misinformation about Catalan independence referendum.

    9. The latest disinformation threat, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, involves old news stories. They may not be fake, but their lack of current context can badly mislead readers. Read more in this story from Daniel.

    10. Speaking of the CBC, a viral story about a Canadian province’s school bus rules is a case study in how even legitimate news can be misleading. Business Insider explained how.

That’s it for this week. Feel free to send feedback and suggestions to factchecknet@poynter.org.

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Daniel and Susan

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