September 25, 2017

Three U.S.-based fact-checking projects are getting an influx of cash this week from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Duke Reporters’ Lab, First Draft (now based out of Harvard University) and the Associated Press are all being funded by the Trust, Media and Democracy initiative, a multi million-dollar push Knight announced today to support “long-term solutions to address misinformation and promote trust in news,” according to a press release.

The initiative will be led by the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy, which is using $2 million to explore the problem of lagging trust in media. Of the additional $2.5 million for seven organizations working on improving trust in news, more than $1.3 million is going to fact-checking projects aimed at improving best practices — including through automation.

“Automated fact-checking is no longer just a dream,” said Bill Adair, the Knight Professor for the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University, in a press release (Adair founded PolitiFact, a project of the Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times). “Advances in artificial intelligence will soon make it possible to provide people with real-time information about what’s true and what’s not.”

The potential of artificial intelligence-powered fact-checking is great because it can provide real-time debunking and quickly correct misinformation when journalists are in a bind, such as having fact checks appear alongside claims online. But the current technological capability is a not there yet; last year, Poynter reported that early pushes toward automation struggled to yield viable products. In that spirit, several organizations are pushing ahead with those projects — all with Knight’s financial blessing.

Among the projects aimed at developing better real-time fact-checking technology is the new Duke Tech & Check Cooperative at the Duke Reporters’ Lab, which will gather researchers from around the world and fund the further development of debunking tools like ClaimBuster, which flags fact-checkable claim in an automated manner.

In addition to the latest round of funding from Knight, the cooperative — which grew out of the lab’s work in Share the Facts, a partnership with the Google News Lab and Jigsaw to index fact checks in search engines — has received grants from both Facebook and Craig Newmark, bringing the project’s two-year operating budget to $1.2 million. (Disclosure: Poynter receives funds from the Knight Foundation and Google News Lab.)

First Draft will also use its Knight funding to improve verification practices for journalists. Now housed in the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Policy at Harvard, First Draft will build a team of researchers and graduate students focused on testing different ways of responding to online misinformation. With $250,000, First Draft will also build a “shared technology database” for social media research in this area. 

At the same time, the AP is doubling its full-time fact-checking staff from two to four while also integrating local fact checks into the AP News website and app. With $245,000 from Knight, it will also explore new ways to present fact checks on social media and mobile platforms, as well as provide training and support for local fact-checkers.

"Fact-checking gets to the heart of AP's news values, and we are more committed than ever to objective, fact-based reporting," said AP Managing Editor Brian Carovillano in a press release

With its latest initiative, Knight joins a handful of other major investments in the automated fact-checking space. British fact-checking charity Full Fact will start rolling out its own automated debunking system in October with $500,000 of funding from the Open Society Foundations and the Omidyar Network. The software scans statements from politicians and instantly determines their validity, The Guardian reports.

“The challenges posed by rising mistrust in media and the rampant spread of misinformation in the digital age raise urgent concerns about the future of journalism,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight vice president for journalism, in the release. “These projects aim to bring communities and journalist closer together, and help create long-term solutions to the problem of misinformation.”

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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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