Upworthy details why it fact-checks every post (and why it used GIFs in a correction)
In the battle for viral shares and views, Upworthy believes it has an advantage over other sites such as ViralNova: a team of fact-checkers.
Ironically, this group's existence is today better known after an August correction from the site resurfaced on the weekend and ignited a debate about how Upworthy handled the error.
The discussion about Upworthy's GIF-laden correction and its efficacy was followed today by a post from copy chief Matt Savener, "Why We Fact-Check Every Post On Upworthy."
Savener, who had a previous career "on the copy desks of major newspapers," explains that his job is "to make sure you can trust everything we post to the site."
That's achieved in part through a process that requires every piece of content found by the site's curators to pass the scrutiny of an "independent group of fact-checkers" before being published.
Why? Here's how Savener concludes:
The bottom line here: We take the trust our community places in us very seriously. Credibility is perhaps the most important trait of great curation. So don’t worry about spreading bad info. If it says “Upworthy,” you can share it with confidence, knowing that it checks out.
Upworthy views veracity as a core part of what makes for good, shareable content — something that is Upworthy, to use the vernacular. But accuracy is also positioned as an advantage over other operations that aren't as rigorous.
I'd like to think accuracy is always a competitive advantage. But it's been argued many times that what spreads has little to do with what's true. So Upworthy's positioning is of note given its playing field.
Upworthy is careful to not describe itself as a news outlet, which you would think unburdens it from something such as fact-checking.
"We’re curators, not journalists — we don’t do investigative reporting, we don’t report breaking news," Savener writes. "But we absolutely believe in editorial ethics."
Viral news/content is often a short game: get it up and get tons of people to share and see it. Find the next thing. Repeat.
But if you're trying to build a long term community and following and to monetize it with premium ads rather than programmatic junk, at a certain point you have to think that pumping out fake stuff will keep people from coming back.
And so: the Upworthy fact-checkers.
In response to questions I emailed, Michele Clarke, a spokesperson for Upworthy, said the site has issued a total of six corrections for "thousands" of posts published.
(Side note: The correction rate for a curation-driven site should be very low when compared to operations that focus on original reporting. The more reporting you do, the more opportunity you have to make mistakes.)
Clarke said Upworthy corrections can take different forms.
"There's no standard format for [corrections] – the goal with the corrections is to get them seen really, really broadly," said Clarke. "There has only been the one with GIFs. There's also this one that creates a similar emphasis to the original to correct one of the facts (the correction is the second info graphic / scroll down). There was also this clarification when they thought the post needed more info/nuance/balance."
Both Savener and Clarke cited the McDonald's video correction that stirred so much discussion as the only "major" correction Upworthy has had to issue.
"We feel pretty good about that track record," he wrote.
So what went wrong with that McDonald's post?
"It was a rare case – and the only one they know of – where a piece didn't get a comprehensive QA," said Clarke. "Within hours of the posting, the clarification was made and there hasn't been an instance like this since. They also viewed it as a turning point in their editorial judgment ... The company beefed up its copy team even further after this one happened."
Why the GIFs?
So... about those GIFs in the "major" correction.
Why use them in this particular correction?
"They felt it was important on that one to draw a lot of attention to the correction," Clarke said. "Mission accomplished there – it's been viewed more than 600,000 times. It's the only time they've used GIFs. They also replaced the content at the original link with the correction so anyone who shared the link going forward would get the accurate info."
Back in August, when that correction was first published, the site promised to launch a dedicated corrections page. It's up, though not linked from the homepage as far as I can see. As of today, that McNugget correction remains the only one listed.
It is, however, joined by a very clear explanation of how Upworthy handles mistakes, which is a handy four-point roadmap for corrections:
- Edit the existing content page with updated information, noting that it's being corrected.
- Add the error to this content page at the bottom so people can see how much we blew it and what we're doing to fix it.
- Repost the corrected post on our wall, clearly marking it as a correction, to make sure it gets the same amount of attention as the original incorrect content.
- Do everything in our power to make sure we never have to update this post again.
That's some advice worth sharing.