Fact-checkers say these are the best fact-checks they did during this decade

December 31, 2019
Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

Professional fact-checkers usually roll their eyes, laugh for a while and start a huge list when asked about the best fact-check they did or read in this decade.

For those who have been battling against dis/misinformation for a few years now, some fact-checks should be remembered forever for the challenge they represented and for the amount of work they demanded.

Some fact-checks, on the other hand, can’t be forgotten because they had a huge impact on society. They were responsible for real changes and not only made fact-checkers proud of their work but also still serve as clear pieces of evidence that fact-checking is very much needed.

But there is also another kind of memorable fact-check: those that came out of the craziest ideas and/or the deepest conspiracy theories. They focused on funny nonsense and are always remembered.

To celebrate the end of 2019 and the closure of this decade, the International Fact-Checking Network asked its members to share their favorite fact-check.

Here you will find 17 articles that were published in 11 countries and are considered great pieces of work by really amazing professional fact-checkers.

You just can’t miss them!

These were difficult fact-checks

PolitiFact (USA): People might believe that “Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States,” that “Barack Obama is Muslim” and/or he “refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance.” PolitiFact has been working hard to debunk these super-viral false claims since 2007.

The Washington Post Fact Checker (USA): In October 2013, the WP fact-checking team gave “Four Pinocchios” to one of the most famous pledges made by President Barack Obama – that his health care plan would let people keep their existing plans if they wanted. It caused a firestorm and much commentary. Obama later admitted he had been wrong.

BOOM (India): A dramatic video of a police sniper killing a man who took a pregnant woman hostage at gunpoint was going viral in India in June 2017. The actual incident took place on April 5, 1998, in the Cua district of Caracas, Venezuela — and Indian fact-checkers had to locate a 20-year-old video in AP archives to prove their point.

Agencia Lupa (Brazil): In September 2018, when Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro was destroyed by a tremendous fire, Lupa’s team published a series of fact-checks related to the story. First, it showed that almost none of the 14 presidential candidates running at that time had strong plans related to culture. Then it revealed that, even though the museum had been allowed to get up to R$ 17 million ($ 4,1 million) from private sponsors, it only managed to receive R$ 1.07 million ($ 246,700). The team also flagged as fake a list of books and pieces of art that were being considered burned.

These fact-checks had a great impact

Aos Fatos (Brazil): In March 2018, a few days after Rio de Janeiro’s leftist councilwoman Marielle Franco was shot and died, a big wave of rumors flooded Brazil’s social networks. The hoaxes were also amplified by authorities, who wrongly claimed that Marielle was married to a famous drug dealer and had acted to protect criminals. Less than 12 hours after those false statements went viral, Aos Fatos debunked them. The fact-check was seen by 1.1million people in one weekend.

Rappler (The Philippines): A fake letter supposedly signed by Queen Elizabeth and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan claims that the Commission on Good Government, created to track the late Philippines’ dictator Ferdinand Marcos, concluded the politician “had no ill-gotten wealth.” Rappler debunked the piece in September by fact-checking all the signatures and noting that the commission is still chasing traces of the Marcos’ stolen funds to this day.

Taiwan Fact-Check Center (Taiwan): On Oct. 23, a Chinese spy named Wang Liqiang gave an interview saying he had spent the last years of his life manipulating a digital army in favor of China. The moment the information was published, China said he was a scammer and some Taiwanese politicians said the man used a pseudonym during the TV interview as a way to undermine his credibility. Taiwan Fact-Check Center debunked that information, proving the spy had used his real name.

FactCrescendo (Sri Lanka): On Nov. 15, the eve of the last presidential election in Sri Lanka, a false claim went viral saying the U.S Department of Justice had issued a letter stating that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s citizenship renunciation had not been completed, and therefore he could not run. In a few hours, the fact-checking organization contacted the U.S. Embassy in Colombo and obtained official documents to prove the claim was false. They also noticed many discrepancies in the letter that went viral, such as the wrong date format and name misspellings.

Myth Detector (Georgia): On Nov. 22 the Georgian organization revealed that a pro-government blogger called Girgi Agapashvili was actually using an AI-generated photo on its profile. After Myth Detector published its story, Agapashvilli’s Facebook page changed its name: from “გიორგი აღაპიშვილის ბლოგი” (Giorgi Aghapishvili’s Blog) to “ხელვონური ინტელექტის ბლოგი” (Artificial Intelligence Blog).

These were funny fact-checks

The Washington Post Fact Checker (USA): Did Donald Trump really send his personal plane to Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina, when 200 Marines were stranded after fighting in the 1991 Persian Gulf War? No. In August 2016, the WP fact-checking team documented that the jet used on this operation was from the defunct Trump Shuttle. Trump had nothing to do with it.

BOOM (India): In March 2019, social media users claimed that an Australian man had named a brand of apples after Prime Minister Narendra Modi. BOOM examined the story and found out it was untrue. The apples were named after renowned painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani — not India’s prime minister.

Demagog (Poland): Also in March 2019, Polish fact-checkers verified a claim made by former prime minister Ewa Kopacz. While trying to explain why her party was dropping in the ratings, she said that, in prehistoric times, people without gunpowder would use rocks to fight. According to her, a single rock (scandal) couldn’t do any harm to a dinosaur, but throwing many of them for over a month could eventually weaken the animal. Demagog published an interesting story saying that the last non-avian dinosaurs ceased to exist around 66 million years ago and that the Sahelanthropus, who could be considered a human ancestor, appeared on Earth 6 million years ago. It was a reminder that dinosaurs and man didn’t coexist.

These fact-checks are just unbelievable

Agencia Lupa (Brazil): A photo of an obese white man went viral in Brazil, claiming the guy was being tried in the United States for being a cannibal. According to the fake post, he had eaten 31 people in the last seven years: 23 pizza delivery boys, some Jehovah’s Witnesses who had knocked at his door and a couple of mailmen. Lupa’s team found the story was based on a satirical article published in Canada.

GhanaFact (Ghana): In November 2019, the platform fact-checked an absurd claim from the American actress Lisa Raye McCoy, who said she had been crowned Queen Mother of Ghana. Ghana is not a monarchy. It doesn’t have a king or queen.

Décrypteurs (Canada): A false story claimed that the mayor of Dorval, a small city just outside of Montreal, refused to ban pork in school cafeterias after Muslim parents asked for it. The story is not only false but impossible. Mayors in Quebec have no say in what goes on in schools. Even though the story has been debunked and even though a Google search for “Dorval Mayor” in French returns two fact-checking articles, the falsehood keeps circulating. Décrypteurs has counted over 400,000 shares on this story — when Quebec has only 8 million inhabitants.

The Quint (India): Old and unrelated images of Indian former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru come and go in the misinformation world in different contexts — some of them are simply unbelievable. Fact-checkers at The Quint have created a list of false images so you are not fooled.

RMIT ABC Fact Check (Australia): Is a person torn to pieces by a crocodile every three months in north Queensland? Hell, no! Please read RMIT ABC fact check on this.

Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa. She can be reached at ctardaguila@poynter.org.