May 10, 2016

Univision’s Spanish-language fact-checking project, “Detector de Mentiras” launched in March, the same day the network hosted the Democratic debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Since then, the data team that runs Detector de Mentiras has been working with Univision’s innovation team to find ways to expand the reach of their fact checks. This fits into a wider trend of fact-checkers trying to shed their nerdy reputations and get readers’ attention through formats more popular than plain text.

One channel Detector de Mentiras (or “lie detector,” in English) is experimenting with combines old and new technologies: text messages and bots. The same night Univision launched Detector de Mentiras, it also launched a partnership with Purple, the SMS bot service that sends election news.

On the night of the debate, Purple sent subscribers updates from the televised sparring. Now, the effort has been turned over to fact-checkers.

Upon signing up (online or by sending “Univision” as a text message to 359-45) you receive the latest fact check, usually in the form of a question with keywords that will unlock the next messages in capital letters. Here’s an example (never mind my ignorance of Bernie Sanders trivia):



Ronny Rojas, who runs the Detector de Mentiras, says results have been promising. On the night of the debate, 250 people signed up to the service, and after one week of sending fact checks, the number had risen to almost 300.

The average user has responded five times to Univision’s fact checks in a message, of which there had been eight by last Friday. Seven people have chosen to unsubscribe from the service for the moment.

Users have engaged beyond using the keywords that trigger the automatic responses, sharing more about what they think of the claims and asking additional questions (some of this in impolite language aimed at the candidates themselves).

“Receiving messages on your phone is quite an intimate process,” Rojas says. So when the users seek more information, the team will occasionally respond with additional personalized responses that go beyond the bot’s remit.

Detector de Mentiras will keep texting until the elections in November.

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Alexios Mantzarlis joined Poynter to lead the International Fact-Checking Network in September of 2015. In this capacity he writes about and advocates for fact-checking. He…
Alexios Mantzarlis

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