December 13, 2017

It’s been a big year for fact-checkers.

From the Knight Foundation awarding more than $1.3 million for fact-checking projects, to Facebook partnering with organizations like PolitiFact and Snopes to debunk online hoaxes, fact-checking was in the spotlight throughout 2017. And now more organizations are getting in on the action.

Today the Duke Reporters’ Lab published a preliminary review of its database of fact-checkers around the world. (Disclosure: The Reporters’ Lab helps pay for the Global Fact-Checking Summit.)

The number of active fact-checking organizations in the United States has decreased from the start of the year, despite covering a prolifically inaccurate president. Duke estimates there are now 44 American fact-checking outlets, of which 28 are local and 16 are primarily national, compared to the beginning of 2017, when there were 51, 35 and 16, respectively. In the report, Mark Stencel explains the change:

This count includes some political fact-checkers that are mainly seasonal players. These news organizations have consistently fact-checked politicians’ statements through political campaigns, but then do little if any work verifying during the electoral “offseason.” And not all the U.S. fact-checkers in our database focus exclusively — or even at all — on politics. Sites such as Gossip Cop, and Climate Feedback are in the mix, too.

That trend is contrasted by the growth in fact-checking abroad. Duke estimates the number of active fact-checking organizations overall grew this year, from 114 at the start of the year to 137 as of publication.

The story is different elsewhere in the world, where we have seen continuing growth in the number of fact-checking ventures, especially in countries that held elections and weathered national political scandals … And we expect more to come — offsetting the number of international fact-checkers that closed down in other countries after the preceding year’s elections.

Still, Stencel reported that U.S. fact-checking outlets still make up about a third of Duke’s database. Bill Adair, director of the Reporters’ Lab and Knight Professor of Journalism & Public Policy at Duke, wrote in The New York Times last year that American fact-checkers tend to close up shop after elections due to their traditional focus on campaigns.

The Reporters’ Lab’s list is still in progress, but Stencel says these trends aren’t unusual for the database:

By January, we may have a few more additions to add to our 2017 tally, but that won’t change the bottom line. This was a year of retraction in the U.S. That’s similar to the pattern our database shows after the last presidential election, in 2013, when PunditFact was the only new U.S. fact-checker.

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Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
Daniel Funke

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