Behind the scenes of Europe’s biggest fact-checking collaboration

March 26, 2019
Category: Fact-Checking

It’s been more than a week since 19 European media outlets from 13 countries started collaborating to separate facts from fiction ahead of the EU parliamentary election in May.

Since then, FactCheckEU has published 11 articles — all of them pointing out false information. And it’s just the beginning.

Last Monday morning in Paris, Tania Roettger, a German fact-checker for Correctiv, sent an email to Jules Darmanin, the French journalist who coordinates FactCheckEU. She informed him that she had debunked a rumor about a “confidential note” from the European Commission related to the UN Global compact for migration.

The rumor falsely stated that all European countries would be forced to implement this new pact. The compact for migration has already been the topic of numerous pieces of misinformation, so Darmanin sent out an email to the entire FactcheckEU group asking if anybody had heard of this particular story.

In a few minutes, fact-checkers from Pagella Politica in Italy answered. The same rumor was making the rounds in their networks, and the leader of the national conservative party Fratelli d’Italia, Giorgia Meloni, had already posted about it on Facebook.

In the Netherlands and Belgium, the hoax was also getting reach online.

“Hoaxes and misleading information travel easily across European borders. Our 19 partners share what they find out on a national level, and I can tie it up together so that we have a broader picture,” Darmanin said.

This is how FactCheckEU works from behind the scenes. Fact-checkers work together, sharing a spreadsheet and using a Google Group to stay updated on the latest misinformation. Darmanin’s job is to keep information flowing between partners and languages — there are 11 of the latter.

19 fact-checkers are teaming up to fight misinformation about the EU elections

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of FactCheckEU is that readers can ask questions. These not only address potential cases of misinformation, but also the lack of information about the EU itself.

“Are there rules to enforce gender parity at the European elections?” asked one FactCheckEU reader. It turns out that there are no EU-wide rule about this.

On FactCheckEU’s website, you can already find some fact checks about regional legislation. On March 25, for example, the Agence France-Presse published and shared a verified article on laws related to imports of hormone-treated beef, genetically modified salmon and chlorinated chicken. This might not deserve the attention of every citizen in the world, but it is surely important to those who live — and eat — in Europe.

All the collaboration is done through Google Docs.

“We could have used great tools like Slack or Check, but this would have added a layer of complexity for partners who don’t necessarily use the same tools and have different workflows, explained Darmanin, “especially as we also need to translate our production.”

All the content published on FactCheckEU is available in English, as one-third of the continent is fluent in it. For other languages, the coordinator relies on translators working for VoxEurop, a pan-European news website, as well as automatic translation from Google Translate. Automatic translation is only used for headlines and comes with a disclaimer.

What’s more, FactCheckEU can also be fun. A poll conducted by the project found that 56 percent of Germans* assumed the EU wants cucumbers to be straight. This has actually been fact-checked — and guess what? In 1996, 36 fruits and vegetables were governed by specific trading standards.

But, conscious of how counterproductive this regulation was, Europe changed the situation. Since July 1, 2009, the European cucumber can have any curve it wants. Check it here.

*Online poll conducted with 6,067 respondents (1,025 in Germany, 1,007 in Spain, 1,011 in France, 1,006 in Italy, 1,011 in Poland, and 1,007 in Sweden), from Feb. 15-22, 2019, using Dynata’s opt-in Internet panel (with sex, age, region and education quotas set for each country).

Getting it Right: Accuracy and Verification in the Digital Age