An updated version of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN)’s 2016 Code of Principles has been approved by an overwhelming majority of IFCN’s signatories and will be introduced worldwide in March 2020.

The IFCN’s senior adviser, Peter Cunliffe-Jones, announced the changes during the APAC Trusted Media Summit, an event co-organized by the IFCN, First Draft and Google News Initiative that is taking place in Singapore this week.

Changes to the code were agreed upon in a series of votes by verified signatories in November, after a six-month process led by Cunliffe-Jones. He interviewed and surveyed not only IFCN’s verified signatories but also independent assessors and mis/disinformation experts around the world.

Launched in September 2016, the Code of Principles consists of a list of five commitments that fact-checking organizations must comply with to be certified as a verified signatory. The compliance is reviewed annually by external independent assessors.

Three principles focus on transparency (funding, methodology and sources). One requires adherence to non-partisanship and fairness. The final principle ensures that fact-checkers have and follow an honest and open corrections policy.

“The International Fact-Checking Network’s goal (with the update of Code of Principles) is to support the organizations that are working to create – not the sort of blind trust that some would like us to have in government, media and other institutions – but rather a properly earned trust: trustworthiness,” said Cunliffe-Jones in Singapore.

Since the Code of Principles was launched in September 2016, the number of verified signatories has grown from 35 to 81. All of them have been independently verified and may be annually reassessed. Their work is analyzed by external mis/disinformation specialists and then approved by the IFCN advisory board.

The Code of Principles is internationally known and respected. The list of verified signatories is currently being used by Facebook to choose who it can partner with and is available for anyone at the Code of Principles website.

During the APAC Trusted Media Summit, Cunliffe-Jones presented for the first time some of the updates approved by the IFCN verified signatories.

The first change relates to the sort of organizations that are eligible to apply for signatory status.

“We want the IFCN to be open to as many organizations as possible, particularly in countries where we currently have no signatories, but we need to know more about them and their motivation,” said Cunliffe-Jones.

For this reason, applicants will, from later this year, be required to have published an average of at least one fact-check a week for at least six months in most countries, and 12 in countries where the IFCN already has five or more signatories to be eligible to apply. Organizations will also, among other new criteria, be required to prove a focus on public interest topics.

The second set of changes relate to how signatories select the claims they fact-check.

“Balance is always an important concern but, in most countries, rival sides in politics, or indeed any form of debate, do not often do us the convenience of making the same number of claims, or the same number of claims worthy of fact-checking as each other,” Cunliffe-Jones said.

“To factcheck precisely the same number of claims made by one side as the other, when those sides put out different numbers of fact-checkable claims, would not only be nonsense. It creates a false balance and harms honest debate,” he added.

The third update introduces a baseline set of standards for the choice and use of sources and the methodology of fact-checking. Among other changes, new and existing signatories will need to commit to reviewing the quality of sources used and to access multiple sources for contested points of evidence.

“It is important we guarantee not just honest but fair and good quality fact-checking,” said Cunliffe Jones.

The updated IFCN Code of Principle will also require those parent media companies that want their fact-checking units to be signatories to also follow an honest and open corrections policy, the IFCN adviser said.

The IFCN will also work with the external assessors to make sure the verification is more rigorous, by conducting randomized sampling of fact checks for the review process and requiring more information from the applicants.

Read Cunliffe-Jones’ speech in Singapore. (PDF file)

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  • What’s to stop the IFCN from publishing the updated statement of principles prior to the date the IFCN implements the principles (“March 2020”)?

    If the fact-checking community would realistically pursue the type of transparency and earned trust it claims to want, wouldn’t releasing the revised statement of principles promptly fit with that purpose?

    I’m trying to imagine the principled reason for delaying the specifics of the changes, now that the IFCN’s signatories have approved the update. So far, not much luck.