Almost every journalist who does fact-checking tries to answer the same question: true or false? But one of the many new fact-checkers attending the Global Fact 4 summit in Madrid finds itself grappling with even larger questions.
“The SNU FactCheck Center shows the many aspects of truth,” said EunRyung Chong, director of the project at Seoul National University’s Institute of Communications Research in South Korea.
The SNU FactCheck Center is one of seven new fact-checking initiatives attending the annual conference for the first time. There are at least six other organizations represented among Global Fact’s 190 attendees, including Turkey’s Teyit, Germany’s Correctiv, Austria’s Fakt ist Fakt, Scotland’s Ferret Fact Service, Norway’s Faktisk and the FactCheck Initiative Japan.
The other newcomers have more conventional approaches than the team at SNU. But for Chong and her colleagues, questions about the meaning of truth may be just as practical as they are philosophical.
The FactCheck Center is actually a hub that publishes stories produced by 22 different South Korean media outlets without endorsing any individual contributor’s verdict of truth or falsehood. Instead, the platform encourages its audience to consider all of the differing conclusions it offers — and to make their own judgements — about claims the participating news organizations have reviewed. And since it launched in March, not long after South Korea’s Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment of ousted President Park Geun-Hye, the FactCheck Center has given its audience plenty to consider.
“The most important thing for the public is to understand why one institution decides a claim is true and another institution might decide it’s false,” Chong explained.
“People might criticize us and say that [this methodology] is confusing, but we know the truth has many aspects,” she said. “Throughout the recent two decades in Korea, there has been a great deal of partisanship media outlets that never agree on the same points. As an education institution in the public sector, we think our role is to mediate between them.”
The platform is designed to challenge fake news while still allowing the media to have a collaborative, uncensored dialogue, Chong said. “The media has to redefine its role in this changing moment,” she said.
The team at FactCheck Initiative Japan is also interested in combating fake news — an endeavor that was unheard of in the country where fact-checking is rare. According to co-founder John Middleton, the Japanese public did not understand the phrase “fake news” until the U.S. election popularized the concept in 2016.
“Thanks to Donald Trump, ordinary Japanese people understand exactly what fake news is,” Middleton said. “Because the Japanese understand fake news, they’re also becoming more aware of what should be done. That’s where we step in.”
Though FactCheck Initiative Japan is still in the early stages of development, co-founder Yoichiro Tateiwa thinks it’s an essential tool to fight back against the government’s increased oppression of the country’s news media, he said.
“Simply speaking, democracy in Japan is at stake right now,” Tateiwa said, referencing a 2016 study by the Japan Press Research Institute that found the public’s trust in the media was at its lowest since the survey began in 2008. “It used to be that Japanese media were not politicized. Now, it seems like some of the newspapers and networks are leaning into the government, and some are not. It became obvious.”
For leaders of the new and emerging fact-checking initiatives attending Global Fact 4, the conference serves as a starting place to learn more about the practice. Faktisk, Norway’s second-ever fact-checking operation, just launched July 5 — the same day Global Fact 4 kicked off.
Faktisk is unusual in its own way. It’s a partnership of four of that country’s largest news organizations: rival newspapers Dagbladet and Verdens Gang (VG), public broadcaster NRK and commercial broadcaster TV 2. Helje Solberg, a VG executive who chairs the partnership’s board, hopes to learn more about the fact-checking landscape at the Madrid conference.
“What is the future of fact-checking, and how can we best reach our audience? We’d like to learn more about possibilities for automated fact-checking and anything that is new in the field,” Solberg said. “We have much to learn about what to fact-check, consistency in judgments and how to be as transparent as possible in our journalism.”
Similarly, FactCheck Initiative Japan is just beginning to assemble resources and a team of fact-checkers, and Tateiwa hopes to gain insight about the fact-checking community during upcoming panels and workshops.
“[We plan to fact-check] the mainstream media, websites and what politicians are talking about,” Tateiwa said. “But we don’t know how we do that. This is the reason why we’re here. That’s something we need to discuss with other people. There’s a lot of things we don’t know much about.”
Riley Griffin is a student researcher at the Duke Reporters' Lab, which develops new technology to help fact-checkers report and share their work and studies the spread and impact of this kind of journalism. Rebecca Iannucci is the Lab's editor and research project manager.