Fact Checking


How the Rouhani Meter fact-checks Iran’s president from 6,000 miles away

This article was republished with permission by the Duke Reporters’ Lab. Daniel Carp is a senior researcher at Duke University.

The capital of Iran’s fact-checking movement is not in Tehran, but Toronto.

When Farhad Souzanchi wanted to promote government accountability in his home country of Iran and track the campaign promises of President Hassan Rouhani, his only choice was to open an office in Canada, more than 6,000 miles away. For the last 18 months, the Rouhani Meter — a unique fact-checking website because it is run remotely from another country — has broken new ground in fact-checking journalism.

Since Hassan Rouhani was sworn in as Iran’s seventh president Aug. 3, 2013, Souzanchi and has team have been tracking and updating a list of promises made during Rouhani’s campaign and the first 100 days of presidency. The project, a collaborative effort between ASL19, a research organization that helps Iranians circumvent Iran’s internet censorship, and the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, has researched 73 promises and rated them as Achieved, In Progress, Not Achieved or Inactive.

“When Rouhani came, he campaigned on hope and presented himself as a moderate. He said he would fix the image of Iran on the international stage, and with that came a lot of exciting promises,” Souzanchi said. “Our main goal was to promote conversation over these issues — government accountability and government transparency.”

There is virtually no transparency in Iran, which ranks 173rd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2014 World Press Freedom Index. The Rouhani Meter is currently the only active fact-checking project in the entire Middle East.

In a world with a 24-hour news cycle and a growing global fact-checking movement, politicians in countries with a free press are growing accustomed to having their words scrutinized. In the United States, White House aides and members of Congress often cite fact-checking websites. But you won’t find Iranian officials citing the Rouhani Meter—they won’t even acknowledge the site’s existence.

“President Rouhani once said that people are monitoring us through the Internet. It was an indirect mention of it,” Souzanchi said. “But they haven’t addressed Rouhani Meter directly. They don’t want to legitimize it.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 11.54.13 AMTo date, the Rouhani Meter has followed 73 promises made be Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during his campaign and first 100 days in office.

Working from across the Atlantic Ocean, access to reliable information is the biggest challenge the Rouhani Meter staff faces in its day-to-day reporting. Iran’s government maintains tight control over public information. ASL19 policies dictate that their reporting cannot involve collaboration with sources inside Iran, which would pose a risk to the sources’ safety.

The Rouhani Meter is forced to follow the Iranian press and collaborate with journalists working outside the country to check the president’s promises, a tactic that has impressed researchers who study the global fact-checking movement.

“It’s hard to imagine how you go about that without having access to data from the government or groups within the country,” said Lucas Graves, assistant professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “With how complicated and nuanced these questions very often get, even a seemingly-straight-forward fact-check sometimes takes several days to research. Having seen these processes up close, I can’t imagine the difficulties of having to do this from halfway around the world.”

Without an error to date, the site’s painstakingly meticulous process has paid dividends.

Of the 73 registered promises on the Rouhani Meter, 11 percent are considered “Achieved” and 36 percent are designated “In Progress.” Five percent of promises are labeled “Not Achieved,” with the remaining 48 percent inactive. Promises on the site are broken down into four categories—socio-cultural, domestic policy, economy and foreign policy, which were the pillars of Rouhani’s campaign.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 12.03.47 PMA sample of some of the socio-cultural promises the Rouhani Meter is currently tracking.

Some promises are easy to check. For example, Rouhani’s promise to re-open Iran’s House of Cinema was easily verified when the theater was opened Sept. 12 by deputy culture minister Hojjatollah Ayoubi. Rouhani’s plan to establish a Ministry of Women is yet to come to fruition, so the promise is designated as “Not Achieved.” Other promises are much more difficult to track, particularly those involving the economy. With little economic data available (and healthy doses of skepticism about that data’s validity), tracking Rouhani’s pledge to increase Iran’s economic growth poses a major challenge. The promise is currently designated by the Rouhani Meter as “In Progress.”

Since its launch on the day of Rouhani’s inauguration, the site has been visited more than 20 million times by 3.6 million unique visitors across the world. The Rouhani Meter is available in English, but the site’s Farsi version makes up more than 95 percent of its traffic. Reports on the site are often written in Farsi before being translated to English, but Souzanchi said that process varies.

Viewing the site from inside Iran presents a challenge all its own. A month after the site launched, it was blocked by the Iranian government. It can still be accessed with Internet circumvention tools and virtual private networks.

Souzanchi indicated that a lack of mainstream accessibility does not affect readership. Internet circumvention is a way of life in the tech-savvy nation of Iran, where nearly three-fourths of the country’s population is under the age of 40.

Iranians are accustomed to using circumvention tools so they can access popular websites Facebook and Twitter, so they can easily use them to see the Rouhani Meter.

“It hasn’t been a problem reaching people,” Souzanchi said.

Despite the Rouhani Meter’s goal to give Iranian citizens access to information, the project has some opponents inside the country’s borders. Much of this is because Souzanchi was inspired to start the site after seeing the Morsi Meter in Egypt, which tracked promises made by President Mohamed Morsi until he was overthrown in a coup.

Because Morsi was ultimately overthrown, conservative Iranians have attacked the Rouhani Meter because they fear the website conspires to carry out similar plots in Iran—a claim that Souzanchi says is not true.

“My answer to those who accuse Rouhani Meter of overthrowing President Rouhani is that our project is not about that,” Souzanchi said. “It is about encouraging political accountability in government. We, and I believe all healthy promise tracking platforms, are focused on accurate reporting based on strong research. Our reports on promises, which may be sometimes positive or negative, are always backed by the best data we have access to.

“In order to be a reliable and transparent source of information, promise trackers cannot and will not side with or against political leadership. Meters and fact-checking websites are ultimately there to help citizens to make informed, evidence-based decisions in a democratic process—and if we did our job, encourage healthy discussion.”

As the site continues to grow, the Rouhani Meter team has launched the Majlis Monitor, a new website that tracks activities in the Iranian parliament. Souzanchi also is looking for ways to expand its coverage to Iranians around the world.

A more challenging long-term goal is the expansion from promise-checking into fact-checking, which Graves said would be an even tougher task for an organization that works remotely. But the organization that refuses to let an ocean, opaque government activities and censored internet access stand in their way thinks it is up to the challenge.

“Through close collaborations with experts, activists, Iran-focused institutions and of course crowdsourcing hopefully we can overcome the challenges of limited access to information as much as possible,” Souzanchi said. “As ASL19’s motto goes, ‘There is always a way!’” Read more


The extreme ratings of fact-checkers around the world

This article was republished with permission by the Duke Reporters’ Lab. Claire Ballentine is a student researcher at the Lab.

A 2015 census of fact-checkers reveals the odd names they use for the most ridiculous falsehoods.

FactCheckEU calls them “Insane Whoppers.” The Voice of San Diego uses “Huckster Propaganda.” Honolulu Civil Beat refers to them as “Screaming Lies.”

From Rome to Hawaii and everywhere in between, the growth of political fact-checking has spawned new rating systems that use catchy names for the most ridiculous falsehoods.

While conducting our census of fact-checking sites around the world, we encountered some amusing ratings. Here is a sampling:

  • Canada’s Baloney Meter measures the accuracy of politicians’ statements based of how much “baloney” they contain. This ranges from “No Baloney” (the statement is completely accurate) to “Full of Baloney” (completely inaccurate).
  • FactCheckEU, which rates statements by politicians in Europe, uses a rating system that includes “Rather Daft” and “Insane Whopper.”
  • The Washington Post Fact Checker, written by reporter Glenn Kessler, utilizes the classic tale of Pinocchio to rate the claims made by politicians, political candidates and diplomats. A rating of one Pinocchio indicates some shading of the facts, while two Pinocchios means there were significant omissions or exaggerations. A rating of four Pinocchios simply means “whoppers.” The French site Les Pinocchios uses a similar scale.
  • In Australia, ABC Fact Check uses a wide range of labels that are often tailored to the specific fact-check. They include “Exaggerated,” “Far-fetched,” “Cherrypicking” and “More to the Story.”
  • PolitiFact, the fact-checking venture of the Tampa Bay Times, uses the Truth-O-Meter, which rates statements from “True” to “Pants on Fire” (a rating reserved for the most ridiculous falsehoods).
  • The Honolulu Civil Beat rates the most outrageous statements as “Screaming Lies.”

    From The Hound in MexicoA false rating from The Hound in Mexico

  • Mexico’s new site The Hound rates statements from “Verdadero” (true) to “Ridiculo” (ridiculous), accompanied by images of dogs wearing detective hats. Uruguay’s UYCheck uses a similar scale. Argentina’s Chequeado also uses a “Verdadero” to “Falso” scale, plus ratings for “Exagerado” (exaggerated) and “Enganoso” (deceitful/misleading).
  • In California, the local website Voice of San Diego uses a system modeled after PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter. But instead of “Pants on Fire,” it uses “Huckster Propaganda.”
  • Denver’s NBC 9 Truth Test gives verdicts such as “Needs Context” and “Deceptive.”
  • In California, the Sacramento Bee’s Ad Watch uses a scale from “True” to “Outright Lie.”
  • Instead of words, WRAL in Raleigh uses traffic lights. Green is “go ahead, run with it”; red means “stop right there.”
  • Italy’s Pagella Politica labels its most far-fetched statements as “Panzana Pazzesca,” which loosely translates as “crazy fib” or “insane whopper.”
  • Australia’s Crikey Get Fact site named its fact-checking meter the Fib-O-Matic. Ratings range from true to “Rubbish.”
Read more
Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 1.38.33 PM

3 lessons from the G20 Summit ‘Factcheckathon’

Earlier this week, nine fact-checking websites joined forces to fact-check the statements made by world leaders during the G20 summit in Australia. Glenn Kessler wrote about the results in The Washington Post. I coordinated this first factcheckathon with Cristina Tardàguila from O Globo and took home three important lessons.

  1. Global fact-checking experiments can yield useful results for comparative politics
    Our fact-checking network caught three of the eight world leaders we were monitoring saying essentially the same thing: Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey, Barack Obama of the USA and Matteo Renzi of Italy all said something along the lines of “large amounts of jobs were created under my government” – and then proceeded to inflate their records. What was interesting was not so much that politicians chose to dabble with figures, but that they did so in such a similar manner. While the rhetoric and imagery deployed by politicians may vary greatly across countries, facts are facts everywhere.

    A fact-driven analysis of speeches made by global leaders in the same forum opens up new avenues to compare political discourse internationally. Do elected politicians fiddle with facts in ways different from non-elected ones? Are there relevant cultural differences? This basic experiment produced a few valuable insights; a more rigorous one could provide a unique perspective by which to analyse international political discourse.

  2. The fact-checking whole can be greater than the sum of its parts
    The factcheckathon was a small, if practical, output of a larger phenomenon. Independent fact-checking is growing across the globe. The nascent movement – largely inspired by Factcheck.org and PolitiFact, and energetically led by the former’s creator Bill Adair – met for its first “global summit” in London this June. But the fact-checking movement needs to grow much bigger, and making that happen will require innovations. Fortunately, greater collaboration should catalyse this innovation process.

    This was clear in a recent fact-checking conference in Buenos Aires, where I saw some impressive efforts in data visualization, and the open-source “DatoChq” platform the Argentinian site Chequeado has built to receive datasets live via Twitter. At Pagella Politica, the fact-checking site I edit, we are developing a “fact-checkers’ Google” aimed at giving citizens structured and user-friendly access to certified data. Computer scientists and journalism professors from Duke, Stanford and the University of Texas at Arlington are looking at ways to automatize certain steps of fact-checking. These experiments may not yield revolutions; but every day fact-checkers sift through an ocean of data with a teaspoon – and the ocean is only getting larger. Given fact-checkers’ shared methodologies, a breakthrough in one country would be rapidly transferrable.

    A lot of work remains to be done. This article published recently by The Guardianhas been haunting me. It shows the distance – often enormous – between public perception and reality on key indicators such as the unemployment level or the immigrant population. Factcheckathons and other efforts aimed at sharing fact-checks internationally can have an impact in defusing stereotypes across countries.

  3. Facts can be fun
    My colleague Peter Cunliffe-Jones of Africa Check has quipped that a world meeting of fact-checkers sounds as riveting as an International Congress of Actuaries. So fact-checking doesn’t set the heart racing; but it doesn’t need to be dull either.

    Pagella Politica submitted two fact-checks to the G20 factcheckathon. The first one concerned the jobs created during Prime Minister Renzi’s government. The second one verified Mr Renzi’s claims that there were more Sim cards than humans worldwide; and more kangaroos than humans in Australia. While everyone (half-heartedly) recognized the greater relevance of the first, I could see the joy with which colleagues from the US, Brazil and elsewhere lapped up the second one (you can read about it in Italian here).

    This is not meant to showcase my Prime Minister’s penchant for cutesy comparisons. It is supposed to show that facts can be fun. What is more, they translate well. There is space for more fact-driven analysis of international summits, and this week has shown that fact-checking websites are up for the challenge.

The experiment was not perfect. For one, our results came out more than 48 hours after the summit was over; that is eons in the current live-news cycle. Moreover, our sample of fact-checkable statements was quite small. Nevertheless, a rough template was set for a more structured experiment in the future. Watch this space.

Alexios Mantzarlis is the CEO and editor of Italian fact-checking site Pagella Politica Read more


Publishers resurface evergreen content; Thailand’s the place to be for drone journalism

Here’s our roundup of the top digital and social media stories you should know about (and from Andrew Beaujon, 10 media stories to start your day):

— New York magazine is posting old content to its Facebook page, and Business Insider is doing so on its homepage, according to Digiday’s Ricardo Bilton. How timestamp-transparent should publishers be when resurfacing evergreen stories?

— Drone journalism won’t take off in South Africa or the U.S. anytime soon, according to Sydney Pead at PBS MediaShift. But in Thailand, “it’s considered a hobby” — and easier than playing Playstation 3 @Free PSN Codes Generator App .

— A new Twitter bot called @congressedits tracks Wikipedia edits from computers on Capitol Hill. David Uberti looks at six of the recent edits at Columbia Journalism Review. Read more

Mitt Romney, Barack Obama

Study: Political journalists opt for stenography over fact checking during presidential debates

During the 2012 U.S. presidential debates, political journalists on Twitter primarily repeated candidate claims without providing fact checks or other context, according to new research published in The International Journal of Press/Politics.

Authors Mark Coddington, Logan Molyneux and Regina G. Lawrence analyzed tweets from 430 political journalists during the debates to see how much they engaged in the checking of candidate claims. The resulting paper is “Fact Checking the Campaign: How Political Reporters Use Twitter to Set the Record Straight (or Not).”

They also examined whether the political journalist’s tweets fell more into the construct of traditional objectivity or what they call “scientific objectivity,” which eschews he said/she said in favor of empirical statements and analysis, i.e fact checking.

They found that 60 percent of the journalist tweets “reflected traditional practices of ‘professional’ objectivity: stenography—simply passing along a claim made by a politician—and ‘he said, she said’ repetition of a politician’s claims and his opponent’s counterclaim.”

Journalists largely repeated the claims and statement of candidates, rather that check or challenge them.

“Our data suggest that fact checking is not the most prominent use to which Twitter was put by reporters and commentators covering the 2012 presidential election,” the authors write. “Indeed, only a fraction of tweets in our sample referenced specific candidate claims at all.”

A missed opportunity

The researchers chose to look at tweets during the debates because debates are “central to the practice of political journalism and fact checking.”

They also wanted to see if fact checking was a big part of political Twitter during debates to get a sense of “how the emerging journalistic practice of fact checking manifests itself in a continually flowing information environment marked at its core by a fading distinction between fact and opinion.”

In the end, 15 percent of the tweets reflected the traditional fact-checking approach. These tweets saw journalists “referencing evidence for or against the claim and, in a few cases, rendering an explicit judgment about the validity of the claim …”

The data showed that checking was done more frequently by those in the data set who identified themselves as commentators rather than reporters. This again suggests that traditional notions of objectivity may be a factor.

Coddington, the lead author and a doctoral student at the University of Texas-Austin, said he and his co-authors believe journalists are missing an opportunity by not challenging and checking claims.

“Debates are a prime opportunity to challenge and confirm factual claims in real-time on Twitter to a public that’s paying real attention — a perfect spot to cut through the rhetoric of the campaign and play the informational role that journalists are capable of doing so well,” Coddington said. “Journalists aren’t, by and large, doing that, and they should, especially in a situation where audiences may be looking for someone to help them sort through the claims that are coming at them at a bewildering pace.”

The lack of checking was something of a surprise to him, as the researchers chose to look at fact checking on Twitter during the debates because they had seen so much of it in their feeds at the time.

I asked him why in the end there was so much stenography.
“Much of the debate analysis on Twitter fell into the category of what’s often called ‘horse-race’ journalism or commentary on strategy,” he said. “In other words, a lot of it was about what a candidate might have been trying to do strategically with statements in the debate, or the likely reception of those statements. As it related to the factual claims the candidates were making, these tweets fell into the stenography category — the journalists were simply passing on the claims, true or not, without any comment on their factual correctness. They weren’t concerned with whether the claims were true, only whether they would help or hurt the candidate.”

Challenge of real-time checking

One other factor may be that political journalists find it difficult to keep in the real-time flow of a debate and do checking at the same time.

Bill Adair, the founder of PolitiFact and now the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke, said it’s notable that journalists were able to do fact checking during such a fast moving event.

“It’s important to remember the nature of the event: It is a rapid-fire, largely unscripted free-for-all and reporters are trying to listen with one ear and still produce some tweets with value,” Adair said. “So there isn’t much time for reflection and verification. I’m happy to see that they manage to produce as much fact-checking as they do.”

It is indeed a challenge to do real-time fact-checking when you have no idea what candidates may say at any given moment. In an interview with me in 2012, the Associated Press’ Cal Woodward explained how they scale up their fact checking efforts for debate night:

We have anywhere from three to six or more people who are sitting at home or in the office watching a debate. When they hear something they’ll flag it and tell my editor [Jim Drinkard], who is the gatekeeper, and he will make a call if we think it’s strong enough to be developed. Sometimes they give me an item that’s pretty much already written, and I’ll slip it in.

It takes planning and execution to deliver fact checks at debate speed.

But it must also be said that journalists don’t have to be constantly tweeting during a debate. If you assume that people interested in the debate are watching it live, then your tweets need not be stenography — which is exactly what 60 percent of the ones gathered for this study were.

Why bother repeating what most people just watched and heard the candidate say? It may take a few minutes more to hunt for the source of a claim, or to offer context. But that’s arguably more valuable. So too is waiting until you have something to say, rather than rushing to transcribe something your followers are watching.

“For all the talk about Twitter as revolutionary journalistic tool, what we and others have found is that political journalists tend to use it simply to snark, talk strategy, and link to their work,” Coddington said. “Those are all fine ways to use Twitter, but that’s a big journalistic whiff if it’s not being used for anything more substantial than that.”


A final note on methodology for those interested: Their final data set included 17,922 tweets sent by the journalists beginning “one hour before each debate began until noon Eastern Time the following day.” The news organizations represented among the 430 journalists included a mix of large print outlets, broadcasters, cable news, online outlets, NPR and the AP. The authors attempted to mix national reporters with regional ones, and  17 percent of the journalists had bios that included words such as “commentator” or  “analyst.”  The authors felt they might be more inclined to offer opinions. That was born out in the data that showed these people did more fact-checking than others. Read more


Truth Goggles launches as an annotation tool for journalists

When Dan Schultz first described Truth Goggles close to three years go, he deemed it a “magic button” that could tell you “what is true and what is false on the web site you are viewing.”

That concept – which Schultz refers to as the “fact-check the Internet approach” – attracted a decent amount of press and enthusiasm at the time. Schultz shipped some related code as a result of him developing the project while at the MIT Media Lab.

Today, nearly three years later, he’s released the first Truth Goggles product — and it’s a departure from that original vision.

The Truth Goggles launching today is a tool to enable anyone to annotate an existing piece of online content to raise and answer questions about what’s been reported/written. It can also be used to offer a layer of personalized commentary.

“It’s still a credibility layer and it’s still very much about challenging the user and prompting the user to think in the moment,” Schultz said.

Schultz said journalists can use it to add more context, and to prompt readers to think more critically about information in an article.

“I think of it more as a storytelling tool being given to the journalist,” Schultz said. “Just like they can embed a YouTube video, they can embed a credibility layer. Or as a media critic or reader [you can highlight] an article that has red flags and can share your layer with your friends by giving a URL.”

Truth Goggles is by no means the only annotation tool out there. There is Scrible, MarkUp.io (which says it will be relaunching), and a plethora of tools to help web designers, educators and others markup websites with notes and feedback. There are also efforts like Hypothes.is, which aims to create a fact-based annotation layer for the web. Earlier this month, it received a grant of just over $750,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to “investigate the use of annotation in humanities and social science scholarship over a two year period.”

Schultz said his project is different in that it enables content creators like journalists to embed their own annotations on their work for all to see, and because it’s oriented to creating public annotations that are “about getting people to ask better questions and be more critical.”

It was after spending this academic year working part-time on Truth Goggles as a non-residential fellow with the Reynolds Journalism Institute that Schultz came to the conclusion that a personalized annotation layer was the best place to start with Truth Goggles.

As for how it connects to his original project goals, he said, “The goal still is to help people cut through their biases and walk away with a more informed sense of what they believe to be true  The point of this iteration on that vision really is to see whether or not a journalist would be willing (and able) to use annotation layers to get them there.”

Two ways to annotate

Truth Goggles annotations can be made visible in two ways. One option is for the author of the content to create annotations and then paste an embed code into the post to automatically display the annotations to all readers. (I’ve done that with this post; look for the yellow highights.)

Another option enables anyone to create annotations for an existing piece of content, and to generate a custom URL that can be shared with others to show your annotations.

Schultz said his inspiration is “to allow the journalist to be the voice inside their readers’ heads.” For others, it can be a way to “call out bullshit without needing to write a full blog post.”

If journalists are at least initially the primary user group, one obvious question is why they would need to annotate their own work? Shouldn’t important information be contained in the original article?

“My thinking is that interrupting the reader [with additional information/sourcing] every time you say something or make a claim interrupts the flow of the article in a physical sense,” Schultz said.

One example of this approach is ProPublica’s Explore Sources, a tool it developed to enable journalists to easily incorporate snippets of source material into a story. Click here to see it in action in a story. (Be sure to click the ON button at the top of the story to enable Explore Sources.)

Schultz said the Boston Globe plans to test out Truth Goggles to annotate health articles with additional information. (In 2012, Schultz spent a year in the Globe newsroom as a Knight-Mozilla Fellow.)

Why the pivot?

This version of Truth Goggles is being launched to see if it proves valuable to users, and to help Schultz identify how he should evolve the project.

“Maybe it’s not going to be a useful tool, maybe it will be … but I can see if it has legs or not,” he said.

My personal feeling is that journalists are more likely to use the tool to add context to their own work, or to call out notable passages elsewhere.

I asked Schultz what made him realize he had to move away from his original plans. He talked about the challenge of  “needing to have a database that has hundreds of thousands of [facts] before you can get off the ground” with a product that aims to fact check web content in real-time.

I detailed that very challenge in my recent post about Trooclick, a French startup that is aiming to execute on the “fact-check the Internet” vision.

Even with a big database of checked facts in hand, you also have to have enough computational and natural language processing power to analyze web content in real-time and surface the correct, relevant facts for any given piece of content. (Trooclick’s engineering team includes NLP experts.)

“Unrealistic is not a word want to use, but it was frankly a lot harder to gain traction and get to the point where traction was just a feasible thing,” Schultz said. Read more


LinkedIn acquires major fact checking patents

Lucas Myslinski was tired of having to fact check the questionable emails his father often forwarded to him.

“My dad would send these emails where they say something like, ‘Oh the government is stockpiling billions of dollars of ammunition’ and other things like that, where if all you would do is take a little time and look on Snopes you would find it’s not true,” Myslinski said.

That very problem has inspired projects such as LazyTruth, Truth Goggles, and Trooclick, all of which I wrote about last week, as well as the Washington Post’s TruthTeller. There’s a broad consensus that in a world of abundant, and often incorrect, information it would be valuable to have an app that “automatically monitors, processes, fact checks information and indicates a status of the information.”

Myslinski sketched out his ideas and then took the step of patenting them. The above quote is in fact taken from one of his many patent filings and summarizes the core of the systems he has imaged and diagrammed over the last few years.

“I filed the initial ones and then as I had new ideas I attached them to it and kind of kept growing it,” he told me by phone this week.

As a result, since 2012 Myslinski has been awarded eight U.S patents related to fact-checking systems. It’s arguably the largest portfolio of fact-checking patents in the U.S., and perhaps the world.

Filing for patents is Myslinski’s day job. He began his career as a software engineer and is today a patent attorney with the Silicon Valley firm Haverstock and Owens, L.L.P.

A patent attorney in Silicon Valley holding eight fact-checking patents is interesting enough on its own. But it’s what Myslinksi did in March of this year that makes these patents even more notable.

That month, he transferred ownership of all of his fact-checking patents to a major Silicon Valley company, though perhaps not the first one you’d think of: LinkedIn.

Yes, the juggernaut of professional networking and recruiting is now the owner of perhaps the most significant portfolio of fact-checking patents.

I asked Myslinski what LinkedIn plans to do with his former patents.

“You know, I don’t know,” he told me. “I haven’t had any real discussions about what their plans are for it.” (Some entirely speculative thoughts from me are below.)

I contacted LinkedIn for comment and not surprisingly they didn’t offer any specifics, either.

“We are a fast growing Internet company and it’s not uncommon for us to expand our patent portfolio,” said spokesman Doug Madey in an emailed response. He also declined to name the cost of the acquisition.

I asked if LinkedIn planned to use these patents for product development and Madey said, “Our patent acquisitions do not necessarily foreshadow new product innovations.”

Mark Lemley, director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science, and Technology and a partner at Durie Tangri LLP, listed three main reasons why a company like LinkedIn would buy patents:

(1) to try to shore up legal rights in a product space they consider important, (2) to resolve a claim that they are infringing those patents, and (3) because they think the patents will be useful to target a competitor or someone who is in turn threatening to sue them.

Michael Carrier, an intellectual property expert and distinguished professor at Rutgers School of Law, said LinkedIn’s acquisition likely has more to do with its competitors, rather than a specific interest in fact-checking.

“Companies acquire any patents that they think they can use against competitors,” he said. “LinkedIn must believe that it will be able to use these patents against rivals.”

For his part, Myslinski said he sought out a patent broker to sell his portfolio because he realized he wasn’t going to be able to turn the patents into a real product.

“First I focused on the patents and then I did have a developer develop a prototype, a very basic one,” he told me. “But then you know with just life and everything going on I figured it would probably be best to see what I could get out of it in terms of monetizing.”

The Patents

LinkedIn now owns these fact-checking patents (ordered by most recently granted):

  1. Method of and system for fact checking with a camera device
  2. Method of and system for fact checking email
  3. Social media fact checking method and system
  4. Web page fact checking system and method
  5. Method of and system for fact checking rebroadcast information
  6. Fact checking method and system
  7. Fact checking methods
  8. Fact checking method and system

There are also some open applications, including this one, which was just made public last week. It’s for a “Fact checking Graphical User Interface Including Fact Checking Icons,” and builds on the existing patents by introducing claims related to a user interface to display the result of fact checking claims.

Here, for example, is one drawing from that filing, a pair of “fact checking glasses”:

More important than the newly published application is the core patent in the portfolio, “Fact checking method and system,” which was granted in May of 2012.

That patent’s claims, in my view, represent the kind of systems being used, at least in part, by the aforementioned existing efforts in the world of automated/real-time fact checking.

Myslinski said he is aware of Truth Teller. I asked if he felt the project infringes on the patents. He hesitated before answering. “That would be up to [LinkedIn] to decide.”

I also asked LinkedIn. “We do not comment on intellectual property implications outside of the case of an active lawsuit,” was their answer.

That 2012 patent outlines Myslinksi vision of a checking system. Here’s what he wrote about the benefits of the system:

The fact checking system will provide users with vastly increased knowledge, limit the dissemination of misleading or incorrect information, provide increased revenue streams for content providers, increase advertising opportunities, and support many other advantages.

The patent’s specification includes a myriad of potential applications, from checking basic facts to alerting TV viewers to political bias on the part of a commentator, and imagining ways that viewers could flag items that need to be fact checked. The basics of the system are outlined in this diagram:

Again, that’s very basic. And, again, it arguably applies to how TruthTeller and others do their work… but that’s my non-legal opinion. (I’ll also state that my hope is these patents would never be used to stop efforts to develop fact-checking applications and systems.)

If Carrier, the patent expert, is correct and LinkedIn wants these patents mainly to use against competitors, then it’s important to consider who falls into their competitive set. Social networks, as well as jobs websites, are certainly competitors. (And when I saw those glasses I of course thought of Google Glass.)

But so too are publishers and other online information providers.

LinkedIn the publisher

LinkedIn has in a very short time become a major online publisher. The first big step in this direction came in the form of the purchase of Pulse, a news reader app that has since been revamped to power LinkedIn Today, a section of the site where the Pulse algorithm helps surface relevant content in a variety of industry and topic areas.

LinkedIn also has a small editorial team led by Dan Roth, formerly of Fortune. (Disclosure, when I was working at Spundge, a start-up, I met with Roth and a member of his team, and demoed our product.)

One of the biggest editorial efforts at LinkedIn is its Influencers program that has influential executives, entrepreneurs and others contribute content to the site. A more recent evolution is the expansion of LinkedIn’s CMS to enable anyone to write and publish content on LinkedIn.

That context makes the acquisition seem more in tune with LinkedIn’s editorial efforts. If they wanted to actually use these patents for innovation, an obvious step would be for LinkedIn to integrate fact-checking into its Pulse content algorithm. Then it could conceivably begin to offer professionals a feed of the most important and accurate information in their given industry.

That would save people time, and saving busy professionals time is a powerful value proposition. Of course, it would also bring people back to the site in a way that’s more effective and less annoying than all the “It’s Jane Doe’s birthday” LinkedIn emails.

And if LinkedIn can build an algorithm and system that reliably surfaces the most accurate content about a given topic, then that’s also a powerful tool to help scale its LinkedIn Today curation efforts – without requiring additional human editors. (Sorry folks!)

But the above is of course speculation on my part. Maybe even wishful thinking, given my affection for fact-checking. It’s entirely possible, and probably more likely, that LinkedIn simply wants to keep these patents in the chamber should they ever need to fire upon competitors.

If that’s the case, I hope the promising efforts in this emerging space don’t end up being collateral damage. Read more


Fact-checkers plan international organization

The Poynter Institute’s Global Fact-Checking Summit concluded Tuesday with participants voting to start an international association.

The group will build on the progress of the London summit to connect fact-checkers and convene future meetings, said Bill Adair, creator of PolitiFact and the summit’s organizer.

“The meeting showed there is a passionate community of fact-checkers that is growing around the world,” said Adair, a professor at Duke University and an adjunct faculty member at Poynter. “The association will keep the fact-checkers in touch with each other and help them learn from each other.”

Look out, untruths!

“We’re excited about the possibility of The Poynter Institute being the home of the international fact-checking organization, and producing a website that showcases members’ best work and impact on democracies” Poynter President Tim Franklin said. “We’ll now be seeking foundation funding for this important effort.”

Attendees at the summit expressed their support and were eager to start sharing information.

Ukrainian fact-checker Margo Gontar said that before she attended the summit, she thought she was alone in the industry. She did not realize how many journalists are dedicated to the practice of fact-checking, she said.

“It is like I found an umbrella,” said Gontar. “Even if it doesn’t rain, I now know I have support from fact-checkers all over the world. I have people to lean on.”

PolitiFact Editor Angie Holan said an association would be helpful to organize more in-person meetings among fact-checkers. The conversations she had with colleagues during the summit were critical to understanding international efforts, she said.

One hope for the association is that it will create a platform to collect anecdotes of impact, said Adair.

It is difficult to measure the overarching impact of fact-checking, said Jane Elizabeth, Fact-Checking Project Manager at the American Press Institute. The best way to gauge influence is when politicians, media pundits or readers cite a fact-check.

For instance, a politician in Georgia posted an apology on his Facebook page for delivering misinformation and included the GRASS Fact Check link that revealed the false statement.

An Italian site called Pagella Politica presents its fact-checks on a weekly television news segment in addition to regular reporting on its site. The spot reaches about one million viewers.

The Poynter association will create a platform where these examples can be shared, and where fact-checkers can continue the conversations they had at the summit.

During a session on funding and sustainability — a key component to increasing fact-checking globally — attendees shared their funding methods and asked questions about donors.

“We are all furiously taking this down,” said Alexios Mantzarlis from Pagella Politica, laughing while participants scribbled notes.

A common disagreement between fact-checkers is whether sites should use a rating system, such as PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter.

Will Moy, Director of British site Full Fact, said “we live in a gray world” that is too complex to simply rate claims as True or False.

“There is something inherently dodgy about a rating system,” said Moy.

Adair disagreed. He said rating systems respected the reader’s time and served to summarize in-depth journalism.

For others, like Peter Cunliffe-Jones of Africa Check, the jury is still out. Cunliffe-Jones said he wants to assign a rating but is hesitant to use terms like True and False.

This is a conversation that is sure to be continued after the summit, said Adair.

Related: At fact-checking summit, ‘We hope courage is contagious’ (Poynter) | 8 tips for fact-checking from PolitiFact (journalism.co.uk) Read more

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At fact-checking summit, ‘We hope courage is contagious’

The stakes are high for fact-checkers in India, Govindraj Ethiraj from FactChecker.in said at Poynter’s Global Fact-Checking Summit in London Monday. Ethiraj risks his safety and credibility in order to fact-check politicians: “We do one thing wrong and our office will be burned up,” he said.

Summit attendees Monday.

Fact-checking is not always easy or safe, speakers said.

Macedonian fact-checker Bardhyl Jashari said, “We hope courage is contagious.” That’s why we fact-check, he said.

“Manufacturing of truth has become a multimillion dollar industry,” Tampa Bay Times Editor Neil Brown said in a keynote address. “This is where we come in to provide independent analysis.”


Fact-checkers are “fighting difficult circumstances and bringing creativity to try to build this candid world,” Brown said.

The conference’s primary goal is to create a community among fact-checkers, said PolitiFact founder Bill Adair, who organized the summit, held at the London School of Economics.

Participants came from 6 continents and 21 countries, including South Africa, Ukraine, Serbia, Italy, Argentina and Australia. Adair encouraged fact-checkers to use their common passion to improve their techniques, share successful practices and learn from colleagues.

Only four of fact-checking sites that had representatives at the summit existed prior to 2010, said Lucas Graves, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin who has researched fact-checking.

The Internet has provided a platform for fact-checkers “that is more powerful than any politician’s microphone or any military leader’s weapon,” noted Tim Franklin, president of the Poynter Institute. “It is changing our societies right before our eyes.”

This trend is important because the world needs more clarions of fact-based truth, Franklin said.

And in turn, fact-checking operations need help from readers. Laura Zommer, founder of Chequeado in Argentina, explained a crowdsourcing platform she created called Dato Chequeado. Readers actively contribute to a database of sources that helps expose inaccuracies in political statements.

Similarly, FactCheckEU invites readers to submit their own fact checks, which undergo an editorial process and are posted on the site.

Zommer, left.

Further topics at the summit, which continues tomorrow, will include sustainability, the use of social media and tracking campaign promises. Read more

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Poynter to hold Global Fact-Checking Summit in London

With fact-checking growing around the world, the Poynter Institute will convene the first Global Fact-Checking Summit, to be held in June in London.

The conference, at the London School of Economics on June 9-10, will bring together about 40 fact-checkers from places such as South Africa, Italy, Great Britain, Germany, India, the United States, South America and Eastern Europe.

Fact-checking is expanding rapidly around the globe, according to a new analysis from the Duke University Reporters’ Lab. The Duke study found 59 sites that have been active in the last few years, including 44 currently in operation.

About half of the sites are affiliated with newspapers, television networks or other legacy media organizations. The other half are run by startup companies or not-for-profit groups. Twenty-seven have started in the past two years.

The Global Fact-Checking Summit is sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, the Duke Reporters’ Lab, the British fact-checking site Full Fact, and craigconnects, the Web-based initiative to support philanthropy and public service run by Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist.

Topics will include the growth and challenges of fact-checking, the best techniques for researching claims, the pros and cons of rating systems, the use of crowdsourcing and the need to find sustainable business models.

“Fact-checking is quickly becoming an important new form of accountability journalism,” said Poynter President Tim Franklin. “Poynter will play a leading role to help journalists do their best work and foster the growth of fact checking, which is vital to democracies around the world.”

The conference also represents Poynter’s strategy to greatly expand its training initiatives across the globe. Last month, Poynter led a series of seminars for journalists in India. Later this month, the institute will formally announce the launch of a training project for Turkish journalists. The project includes e-learning courses through NewsU Turkiye, a certificate program and a fellowship that will bring up to 20 Turkish journalists to Poynter in the fall.

Presenters at the fact-checking conference will include editors from PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning site in the United States, and Chequeado, an independent fact-checking site in Argentina, as well as Lucas Graves, a University of Wisconsin professor who is writing a book about the rise of fact-checking, and Bill Adair, a Duke University professor and adjunct faculty member at Poynter.

For more information about the conference, contact Bill Adair at bill.adair@duke.edu.

Related training: Getting it Right: Accuracy and Verification in the Digital Age | Don’t Get Fooled Again: Best Practices for Online Verification | How to Keep Misinformation from Spreading | Growing Trust and Engagement With Local News Audiences | Making the Case for Fact-Checking in Your Newsroom | Political Fact-Checking: Tips and Tricks for the 2012 Election Read more


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