June 28, 2019

Every year at the global fact-checking summit hosted by Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network, fact-checkers compete to win awards in three categories: most bizarre fact-check, most creative format and best correction obtained. At this year’s Global Fact 6, the public was invited to participate in voting for the first time, resulting in an astounding 18,000 votes coming in from all around the world. 

Here are the stories of the three winning fact-checks that each brought in thousands of votes. 

Most bizarre fact-check: Correctiv checks verifies a baby cake 

Last February, Germany was embroiled in a heated debate over abortion after the government agreed to soften the country’s Nazi-era abortion law, which prevented doctors from being able to provide any information to patients about the procedure. 

“In those weeks, we saw many creepy, absurd claims about abortion,” Tania Röttger of Correctiv, a nonprofit newsroom in Germany, told IFCN in an email. “Once, a scene (from the TV series) ‘House’ was used to allegedly portray an abortion.” 

The debate also became a topic of interest in the United States at that time, after the Democratic state government in New York pushed to loosen restrictions on abortion late in pregnancy. 

Thus, false claims in Germany got even stranger — a Facebook page titled “100% Jesus” shared a picture of a cake shaped like a newborn baby being cut up, and the caption explained that the cake had been ordered by Democrats in New York to celebrate their new abortion law. It read: “I’m lost for words.” 

Correctiv’s team was quick to fact-check. “A reverse image search proved that the pictures of the cake had been taken from a Facebook account of a patisserie in New York called Deviant Desserts,” Röttger said. “They’d made the cake for Halloween some years ago.” 

In an email to Correctiv, Deviant Desserts confirmed that the baby cake had been made in 2014, and the bakers had never reproduced it for an abortion party. “They were in fact busy with making heart-shaped sweets, since Valentine’s Day was coming up,” Röttger added. 

After Correctiv published its fact-check Feb. 7, the “100% Jesus” page deleted the post, which had been shared over 700 times. “This was one of the claims that showed us how the topic of abortion was triggering disinformation, especially through images,” Röttger said. 

Most creative format: Fatabyyano takes on horoscopes in a video

Moath Althaher of Fatabyyano presents his Horoscope video to the audience at Global Fact 6 alongside Cristina Tardáguila of the IFCN. (Uğurcan Akin)

Fatabyyano, the only IFCN signatory that publishes in Arabic, uses short videos to share fact-checks with its audience. In March of last year, the organization decided to take on a new kind of verification for its seventh episode: debunking horoscopes. 

“A lot of people will say that they believe horoscopes aren’t really a scientific thing, but because of personal experiences they’ve had, they think there is a (valid) connection between horoscopes and (the events of) their lives,” said Moath Althaher of Factbayyano. “We wanted to take this perspective and make a social experiment.” 

The team identified nine different pieces of evidence that ranged from scientific data to the social impacts of horoscopes to demonstrate how flawed horoscopes truly are. “We wanted to show that there’s no excuse for you to keep believing in horoscopes,” Althaher said. “They affect our lives, our money, our society and even the efforts we make.” 

Three things mattered for the five-minute video: They wanted it to be absolutely scientifically accurate; attractive and alluring to audiences; and understandable by any viewer, regardless of age or demographic. 

Fatabyyano’s horoscope video won a staggering 94.5% of the vote at the Global Fact awards. As it turns out, the site has 500k followers on Facebook, all of whom are “highly active and organic,” according to Althaher. When the site asked these followers for a favor to help them win at Global Fact, they were quick to log in thousands of votes. 

“There are 300 million Arabic users on the Internet,” he said, “and very few Arabic platforms offer the service of fact-checking. We’ve been serving them by providing them with the truth every day, so when they found out we needed them for something, they did not delay.” 

Over the last five years, Fatabyyano has worked on building its credibility and trust online, and being the only prominent fact-checking project in the Arab world, they’ve been able to gain tremendous popularity on social media. 

“People love us,” Althaher said. “People believe that we represent the Arab world.” 

Mutaz Gazzaz, a 29-year-old engineer from Mecca, Saudi Arabia, confirmed this: “I love these guys.” He told IFCN that since most his news comes to him through social media, “(Fatabyyano) really backs me up. They’re doing the work that no one can do all the time, because there’s so much news circulating, you can’t possibly fact-check all of them.” 

Gazzaz added that he frequently receives information from friends and family via messages on WhatsApp, and thanks to Fatabyyano, he’s better equipped to discern fact from falsehood. 

“They’re always fact-checking the news that people send me … Whenever I see something from someone I know has been debunked, I share (Fatabyyano’s fact-check). It’s a great tool to fight misinformation.” 

Best correction obtained: FactCheck.org corrects a hoax on Facebook

Eugene Kiely presents his fact-check to the audience at Global Fact 6 in Cape Town. (Uğurcan Akin)

In April of 2018, FactCheck.org identified an article titled “Facebook Will Give Koch Brothers ‘Unprecedented Access’ to Our Personal Information.” Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez even shared it on Twitter, adding, “This is dangerous… how is this in any way appropriate?” 

“In fact, the Charles Koch Foundation was one of several nonprofits that was funding a research project on Facebook’s impact on elections and democracy,” Eugene Kiely of FactCheck.org explained in an email. “The others included the Democracy Fund and the Hewlett Foundation. The Hewlett Foundation told us that the funders did not have access to data.” 

An online FAQ about the project reiterated the same thing: “Funders are supporting an independent process and independent research; they will not have access to data.”  

It was a quick fact-check for FactCheck.org reporter Angelo Fichera, who explained that “this was a case in which most of the accurate information regarding the research initiative was publicly available for those who sought it out.” He decided to report the story because of the traction it was picking up on social media. 

“Also, there was an ongoing public conversation about the security of users’ data on Facebook, so this falsehood threatened to insert confusion and concerns over a non-issue into that discourse,” Fichera added. 

Two days after the story ran, the site that had originally published the falsehood wrote back to FactCheck.org, telling Fichera that they’d taken down the story because “it didn’t meet with our editorial standards.”

Kiely explained that since FactCheck.org started working with Facebook, it has  received several corrections from websites that had published misinformation. He said he considered this instance a “good example of how the Facebook initiative should work … it took just two days from the time we posted our story till the time it was retracted.” 

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Eugene Kiely’s last name. We regret the error.

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