Fact-checkers launch Instagram, WhatsApp and Telegram stickers to gently warn about false news

Use some colorful images and GIFs to ask family and friends to check their sources and data

What if Instagram, WhatsApp and Telegram had emoticons and GIFs to clearly warn their users about false news, false pictures and false videos? Well, they don’t. So some fact-checking initiatives around the world developed special stickers to be used instead in these platforms. For now, they seem to be a nice (and colorful) way to tell friends and family they are spreading low-quality information — and should think twice before sharing content.

Teyit, in Turkey, announced last week a collection of 16 purple, green and yellow stickers. Twelve are in Turkish and four are bilingual (in English). One, for example, very straightforwardly asks: “What is your source?” Another one shows a pointing finger with a clear word on the top: “Debunked.” And a third sticker is a plain “This is false” sign, something everyone can easily understand.

Teyit is the newest International Fact-Checking Network member to take this path, believing there has to be a non-hurtful way to tell close friends, parents, distant relatives and colleagues they shared fake news and should stop doing so. Teyit hired the illustrator and sticker designer İdil Keysan and also created some moving versions of the collection. The idea was to be ready for Instagram Stories, too.

“During the design process, we paid attention to the stickers’ joyous use”, said Mehmet Atakan Foça, Teyit’s founder. “Even when some people know the real story about a suspicious claim, they still can’t find enough courage to warn their friends, families, relatives — because it could seem offensive. So we had to design stickers not for insulting but for being constructive and entertaining.”

He said the main aim was to force members of WhatsApp groups to be skeptical of claims. “We encourage people with these stickers to ask about the source, to check the information or to look at Teyit’s website before sharing content.”

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During its first 10 days, according to Giphy numbers, Teyit’s collection was viewed on Instagram Stories more than 1 million times. Foça said he is happy about it.

“Stats are very good,” he said. But he said he is looking forward to seeing what he calls a boomerang effect inside WhatsApp, after having sent the entire collection to more than 2,000 people who have opted-in their WhatsApp contact list.

“We can’t get stats from WhatsApp but we expect to receive stickers back from unexpected sources. Will my grandpa send me our stickers? That would be a very shocking impact,” Foça said.

FactNameh, the Toronto-based Iranian fact-checking platform, was probably the first to invest in stickers. Back in 2017, Farhad Souzanchi was already active on Telegram (Iranians’ main communication platform) and he said he knew stickers were a major part of conversations on that mobile app. The collection offers 26 options and is in Persian (Farsi).

“We imagined it would be a fun and lighthearted way for people to discuss the accuracy of claims,” said Souzanchi. “But we also made some stickers for other uses as well and included various versions of Mirza’s (the platform impartial judge character) facial expressions: laughing, crying, kisses, etc.”

According to him, in the last two years, FactNameh stickers have been used more than 11 thousand times. But haven’t felt the “boomerang effect” yet…