August 24, 2018

Aos Fatos has a friend in Full Fact.

The Brazilian fact-checking project used technology from the latter during a presidential debate in São Paulo last Friday to make its job a little easier. Instead of only relying on what they could hear on TV, fact-checkers picked out claims from a live transcript on their computers.

“It kept us from (doing) four to five hours of work,” said Tai Nalon, director of Aos Fatos. “We still had to review everything of course — we have to edit what the tool transcribes — but it’s way easier to fact-check and make the live transcription and put everything on there by the time the debate is over.”

That system was made possible thanks to a platform called Live, which Full Fact has spent the past couple of years developing. It works by automatically scanning BBC and Parliament transcripts for fact-checkable claims, which it then matches against an existing database of fact checks.

The British fact-checking charity gave Aos Fatos its own login to Live, which they used to view a real-time transcript of the debate. Powered by Speechmatics, an automatic speech recognition tool, Live pulled audio from a YouTube video of the debate and then generated the transcript.

Fact-checking transcript
(Screenshot from Aos Fatos' debate transcript)

“We know what it's like to live fact-check a debate without a transcript — not easy — so we worked overtime to get the system up and running for them,” said Mevan Babakar, head of automated fact-checking at Full Fact, in an email to Poynter.

“We had to set up Aos Fatos with an account, turn on Portuguese transcription (no mean feat!), check it wasn't all a garbled mess and actually useful, then at the time of the actual debate (2 a.m. English time), when we had the live YouTube stream URL, we had to turn on the transcription for them.”

The debate, which featured eight candidates on RedeTV, was the second that Aos Fatos has live fact-checked ahead of the October election. The organization, which had a team of about 14 people fact-checking the event, wasn’t able to get Full Fact’s automated technology ready in time for the first debate earlier this month, which lasted more than three hours.

The technology still isn’t perfect. Nalon said there were a few bumps along the way, notably getting Live to work with Portuguese, which Babakar agreed was one of the biggest hurdles.

RELATED ARTICLE: Automated fact-checking has come a long way. But it still faces significant challenges.

“Portuguese is a difficult language and there are too many candidates — eight candidates per debate,” Nalon said. “So the tool isn’t able to say who is talking while it transcribes … We are automating just one tiny part of the process.”

In the future, Babakar said Full Fact is going to try to remove the more time-consuming parts of the transcription tool so that more organizations can use it. They’re also working to make the system compatible with languages beyond English, Spanish and Portuguese.

“We learned that setting up infrastructure like this can really empower organizations, and help them live fact-check more efficiently,” she said. “We're soon going to take away the manual part of the process, and hopefully make it so that other organizations can turn on and off transcription when they like.”

Nalon said Aos Fatos plans to continue using the transcription tool for the next three or four presidential debates. And it isn’t the only fact-checking project that Full Fact has helped with automation; in Argentina, Chequeado used a transcript from the project earlier this month to live fact-check an abortion debate in the Senate.

Seeing that collaboration inspired Aos Fatos to reach out and ask for help, too — which Bill Adair said is an encouraging sign.

“It’s marvelous to see Full Fact and Aos Fatos working together like this,” said Adair, co-director of the Duke Reporters’ Lab — which runs a collaborative initiative to automate fact-checking. (Disclosure: The Reporters’ Lab helps pay for the Global Fact-Checking Summit.) “Technology is ideal for collaborations because fact-checkers in many countries don’t have the resources that some of the others do. I think we’ll see more of this in the future.

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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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