Today marks the online launch of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) at Poynter. This informal network, a forum for fact-checkers from five continents, is born out of the desire to study and discuss fact-checking as a journalistic instrument worldwide.
The IFCN is supported by grants from the Omidyar Network and the National Endowment for Democracy.
‘External’ fact-checking, as Craig Silverman has called it to distinguish it from newsrooms (such as Der Spiegel or The New Yorker) methodically checking their own articles before publication, is spreading globally. The Duke Reporters’ Lab database’s most recent update shows more than 70 fact-checking websites active worldwide. Because fact-checking is a relatively well-defined and homogeneous practice internationally, it makes for a practice that can be fruitfully studied from a comparative perspective.
The International Fact-Checking Network will:
- Research trends and formats in fact-checking worldwide
- Provide online and offline training resources for fact-checkers
- Occasionally lead collaborative efforts in international fact checking, such as last week’s ‘Relay-Check’ on refugees in the European Union.
This section on Poynter.org will study with particular attention four aspects of fact checking:
1. Using technology to turbo-power fact-checking. A false claim is produced in a fraction of the time that it takes to fact-check it. Without help from technology, fact-checkers seem doomed to fall continuously behind those they check. Thankfully, such help is forthcoming and will be studied on these pages. Recent years have seen computational fact-checking receive increased attention from academics and media organizations. Tools have been proposed to annotate claims (also see Fiskkit) or highlight claims that have been fact-checked elsewhere (something attempted by The Washington Post’s Truth Teller). Earlier this year researchers at the University of Indiana proposed addressing fact-checking as a problem of knowledge networks. In France, INRIA, Décodeurs and LIMSI are planning to launch fact-checking software in early 2016.
2. Measuring the impact of fact-checkers. There is no doubt that fact-checkers are having an impact worldwide, in terms of obtaining retractions and correcting misperceptions. Nonetheless, much remains to be done on systemically measuring this impact, as discussed here.
3. Funding fact-checking. As with other journalists, fact-checkers operate in an industry still figuring out its new business model. Nineteen out of the twenty-nine fact-checking organizations surveyed in June funded 75% or more of their work thanks to grant-giving Foundations. Fact-checkers are aware of the need to diversify their sources of funding. Chequeado, FullFact, PolitiFact and FactsCan were among the fact-checkers who ran successful crowdfunding campaigns this year. Pagella Politica* is developing a freemium tool (‘TrovaDato’) to monetize on fact-checkers’ capacity to distinguish reliable data from suspect data, and help journalists obtain rapid access to the former in exportable formats. The IFCN will monitor and analyse new sources of revenue both potential and actual.
4. The ethics of fact-checking. As a confrontational art, which uses (often colourful) terms to tell public figures they are being untruthful, fact-checking is rife with ethical dilemmas. Fact-checkers must also be sure to conduct their work in a manner that avoids the backfire effect and bridges the partisan divide.
The IFCN will therefore study in depth fact-checking as a form of “reported conclusion journalism”, as Bill Adair, creator of PolitiFact and Knight Professor of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University, has dubbed it. But is not aimed solely at practitioners.
The work of fact-checking organizations – their breakthroughs and their failures alike – will provide useful lessons for all those who believe that few challenges in media are as crucial as disseminating information that is reliable and truthful.
*Full disclosure: I was Managing Editor of Pagella Politica before joining Poynter and I remain on the board of that editorial project. I don’t intend for this fact to affect my coverage in any way, but I will specify it for transparency purposes any time I cover the Italian fact-checkers on this site.