As Notre Dame burned, fact-checkers were collaborating worldwide

FactcheckEU debunked articles and then shared the results with the entire IFCN ecosystem

It happened again. On Monday, while the world froze in front of thousands of TV sets and computers as they watched flames burn much of Notre Dame in Paris, fact-checkers knew misinformation would arise, and fast. FactcheckEU partners were ready to work together and share their debunks with the entire fact-checking ecosystem. The result was proof that collaboration among journalists is a strong way to fight false news during tragic events.

It was 6 a.m. in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the IFCN is headquartered, and about noon in Paris, when I first spoke with Jules Darmanin. He is the journalist IFCN has hired to coordinate the 19 platforms that are now part of the FactcheckEU initiative. This European collaborative project has been active since March to fight misinformation in the continent (especially related to the parliamentary election) and, on Tuesday morning, it was already up and running. So we agreed: False news on the Notre Dame fire would go viral worldwide and the work that had been done by the Europeans fact-checkers needed to be expanded to other IFCN partners. IFCN’s director Baybars Orsek gave us the green light to share FactcheckEU debunks with all members of our network.

The IFCN has a listserv with more than 370 members that reaches all continents and most languages. It took less than 30 minutes for Darmanin and I to put together a Google Doc with instructions and debunks that had already been published by FactcheckEU partners to be reused. In about an hour, this content was shared with the community and spread worldwide.

Together, FactcheckEU members debunked a video that claimed a member of the Yellow Vest movement was inside the cathedral right at the beginning of the fire. They also identified that an article from British newspaper The Telegraph about gas tanks being found near Notre Dame was actually published in 2016. The European group of fact-checkers figured out it wasn’t the second time the beautiful church was caught in flames — as one Twitter account claimed. And they were even able to explain that this photograph was real, thanks to the kind of lens the photographer had used.

The European collaboration expanded to a worldwide one. The content ended up being published not only by all 19 FactcheckEU partners but also republished by Chequeado (Argentina), Ahoranoticias (Chile), PolitiFact (USA), The Quint (India), Agência Lupa (Brasil), Faktograf (Croatia), FactCheck Georgia (Georgia), Open.Online (Italy) and others.

Let’s not wait for sad situations like the one we saw in Paris this week to act. Let’s keep working together to collaborate quickly and creativity to increase our effectiveness and relevance.