January 12, 2016

Big presidential addresses and campaign debates are political junkies’ Superbowl: a live event scheduled long in advance that will be followed by a large audience of people who usually don’t care and tweeted about furiously by fans.

As such, political fact-checkers dedicate extensive time and energy to fact-checking these events. If you don’t believe me, here are two videos of just how extensive from Argentina’s Chequeado and Mexico’s El Sabueso.

Here are a few tips, gathered from the work of fact-checkers around the world.

1. Get prepared early. Perhaps the most important thing to note is that the “live” part of live fact-checking is a small fraction of the actual work. Fact-checkers spend hours before the event combing through old fact checks they have already published; collecting databases; downloading the latest statistics; reviewing the previous weeks’ statements, tweets and interviews by the politicians who will go on stage. If you’re prepared, then your work during the actual event is mostly pulling up the relevant information.

2. Have your experts ready. Full Fact director Will Moy says “the ingredients of successful live factchecking are preparation, in-house expertise, and connections to outside experts.” These are likely to be people who watch the debate anyway; ask them if you can call them rather than email them when you need an urgent detail explained.

3. Make sure you’re transcribing correctly.  Watching an event live means you can’t double check the precise wording of a statement, which can make a world of difference for fact-checkers who have ratings. Recording the event or getting professional help when transcribing will mean you don’t risk fact-checking the wrong thing.

4. Don’t skip steps you’d normally take. It may be the biggest night of the year/election cycle for traffic on your fact-checking site. So make sure your process is as rigorous as it would usually be; skipping a peer review or editing step could spell disaster for accuracy and mean your expanded audience will have a negative opinion of your work. If that means arriving a little late (it usually will), so be it.

5. If you’re fact-checking on TV, have all your sources ready. In a debate among candidates for the leadership of the Democratic Party primary, now-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi challenged Sky News’ fact-checkers’ on a claim he made. Renzi brandished to great theatrical effect a sheet of paper which he said refuted the fact check; the fact-checkers weren’t in the studio and the host didn’t know enough to respond. (The truth was somewhere in the middle in this case). An even more glaring incident occurred during the CNBC Republican debate late last year, as co-host Becky Quick challenged Donald Trump on branding Marco Rubio Mark Zuckerberg’s “personal senator”, something that Trump denied. Quick apologized even though she was in fact correct.

6. Share the fact checks where the readers want them. Short of placing them in a ticker underneath the President while he is speaking, that means (a) Twitter or (b) popular live blogs. It is foolish and ungenerous to think readers will make your fact-checking site their first screen when it only covers a fraction of what is being said.

7. Collect all the fact checks in one appealing place. Many readers – even many commentators – will pretend they followed the SOTU/debate/other but only really come to the party the next morning and want to have something clever to say. Make it easy for your content to be that something by collecting it in one place like Full Fact does with BBC Question Time or Chequeado does with its visually appealing “Chequeo en Vivo” section.

8. Put the fact-checking in context.  While readers will want to get the fact checks from a debate, they’ll also want to have context. If you’re a generalist media organization, embed your fact checks in your coverage like The New York Times has started doing. If you aren’t, give the readers context by presenting your fact checks as annotations to the transcript of the speech like PolitiFact did with last year’s State of the Union.

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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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