Fact-checking and the IFCN made big strides in 2019. Here’s what’s coming in 2020

December 18, 2019
Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

Debates around the impact of fact-checking, regulation attempts by state actors and an increasing need to work on sustainability for fact-checking organizations have shaped 2019. Now the fact-checking community heads toward a crucial year for fact-checking all around the world. Read IFCN Director Baybars Örsek’s end-of-year remarks.

The International Fact-Checking Network has provided more services to more fact-checkers than it could have imagined when it launched five years ago.

In 2019, we announced new initiatives and projects for fact-checkers and facilitated collaboration to promote and encourage fact-checking around the world. After the IFCN bade farewell to Alexios Mantzarlis and Dulce Ramos, the founding director and its first program manager, I and my friend and colleague Cristina Tardaguila were hired by the Poynter Institute and IFCN’s Advisory board as the director and associate director of the IFCN in February 2019.

A new era 

Right after our announcements as the director and the associate director on Feb. 15, we hit the road to meet with current and future fact-checkers in South Africa, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Lebanon, India, Thailand, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, and entertained visitors from different parts of the world at our headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ve come together with more than a thousand colleagues after spending more than 50 days in airports and conference rooms. Both Cris and I were part of this community earlier in our careers as fact-checkers from Brazil and Turkey. Making those trips in person with our new responsibilities has made us feel privileged for every single moment during those encounters.

The Sixth Global Fact conference in Cape Town, South Africa, was the largest and most diverse fact-checking event in history. It was a testament to the growing movement of fact-checking and the interest among scholars, journalists, platforms and other stakeholders toward the practice of fact-checking. We saw 241 participants from more than 50 countries come together and share their needs and priorities, building a road map for the future. The first Global Fact in the African continent enjoyed more participants than last year’s in Rome — a more centrally located city — demonstrating both the IFCN’s and the fact-checking movement’s increased mobility and capacity to attract global interest.

A month before the deadline for applications, next year’s Global Fact summit has already attracted more applications than previous years. This trend, along with the recent fact-checking census published by Duke Reporters Lab, is a testament to Bill Adair’s famous and scientifically proven “fact-checking keeps growing” claim.

Getting IFCN ready for 2020 and beyond

It’s reassuring to look back and seeing the first order of business of the IFCN was to work with Peter Cunliffe-Jones, the founder of Africa Check, as the senior adviser to IFCN. Cunliffe-Jones, one of the pioneers in the fact-checking world, had led efforts in reviewing and auditing the IFCN’s Code of Principles. Our aim was to update the Code of Principles’ criteria and strengthen its integrity while addressing the challenge of serving 46 countries with requirements that were meant for 20 countries in 2016. The verified signatories of the network have ratified all but one of the individual suggested changes to the code and their qualifying criteria with an average 89% approval rate.

As we announced last week in Singapore, during the Asia Pacific Trusted Media Summit, the new criteria will be announced in January and applications will be reviewed based on the new criteria starting March 1.

Cristina has boosted IFCN’s capacity in reaching wider audiences with extensive reporting and misinformation coverage around the world. IFCN’s channel at Poynter.org receives more traffic than ever, expanding the IFCN’s reach to Spanish-speaking audiences in partnership with Univision. The 246 articles published IFCN since January have been viewed more than 1.6 million times since Cristina’s first post on Poynter.org. In addition to surfacing inspirational success stories from the global fact-checking community, her deep commitment to collaboration and solidarity has empowered IFCN with a stronger mandate to support fact-checkers around the world.

What awaits fact-checkers and the IFCN in 2020

In 2020, the IFCN will address some of the key challenges within the fact-checking community. As the umbrella organization for 82 and counting fact-checking organizations around the world, we keep reminding ourselves of our responsibility to be a resource for advancing fact-checking.

The growing interest in fact-checking had shown its impact on the number of IFCN’s verified signatories, too. Parallel to trends visible in the Duke Reporters Lab’s annual fact-checking organizations surveys, the number of verified signatories has grown from 55 to 82 in less than a year — a 50% growth rate.

The same growing interest can be found in the number of critical takes and analysis on the impact and role of fact-checking, often misrepresented due to debates around Facebook, not necessarily always related to the Third-Party Fact-Checking Program the platform runs with fact-checking organizations in our network.

The IFCN has allocated considerable resources and effort to communicate the program with media, researchers and concerned citizens since transparency and communication from Facebook have sometimes been lacking. Even though IFCN doesn’t broker the program in any capacity nor appoint fact-checkers for Facebook, we have not escaped the responsibility to clear the air for the sake of fact-checkers. Fact-checkers still request more data and transparency from Facebook on the impact and the scope of the program. The IFCN will keep advocating for transparency, data and more space for fact-checkers, including flagging political claims and content on the platform.

Our annual State of the Fact-Checkers report shows more fact-checking organizations used a for-profit model to do their work in 2018. That trend is likely to continue as Facebook is reportedly increasing its investment in fact-checking and others are expected to follow suit. As Alexios said in his opening remarks in Rome during his last Global Fact as the head of the IFCN, “Fact-checkers are no longer a fresh-faced movement. They’re fighting for the future of the internet.”

This fight is justly being compensated both by generous funders and big platforms. Even though this fight has repeatedly been attempted to be undermined by skeptics of fact-checking for various reasons, fact-checking remained one of the most crucial tools to hold the powerful accountable and help people access reliable information. The  IFCN will keep reminding fact-checkers of the importance of political fact-checking and debunking information on health, social cohesion, economy and other essential issues.

To fulfill this civic duty, fact-checkers should diversify their revenue streams, be less dependent on Facebook funding, and make sure their audiences are able to tell which politicians are deceiving them using misleading and false claims during and after election campaigns.

Our backgrounds as political fact-checkers in Turkey and Brazil ensured that we saw the role of political fact-checking in settings where traditional media has failed to provide that service. We should always remember what our societies most need from fact-checkers and how we can address those needs.

The International Fact-Checking Day, which we celebrated April 2, showed us that more and more fact-checking organizations are working on media literacy. We should be proud to be the frontrunner in this new awareness now being shared by many stakeholders.

Last but not least, fact-checkers are being challenged more frequently by state actors under the name of launching “fake news” centers. Since earlier this year, the IFCN has been monitoring legislative actions around the world on misinformation. The recent actions by the governments in Turkey, Belarus, Thailand and Singapore, along with intense pressure on fact-checkers in Brazil and Mexico, internet shutdowns in Iran and India, and political parties mimicking fact-checkers in United Kingdom, Mexico and the Czech Republic are the latest examples of increasing need for reliable fact-checking organizations in different parts of the world.

Those fact-checkers are providing an essential service of countering those attempts often leading to misinformation and censorship rather than supporting free speech and fighting against misinformation. The International Fact-Checking Network will keep monitoring such activities, promoting original fact-checking, and supporting organizations who are under legal threat due to their work.

Summary of 2019, 2020 plans and future vision

In addition to hosting Global Fact 6 in Cape Town and leading overseas trainings, the IFCN announced the Fact-Checking Innovation Initiative, awarded to Africa Check for their “What’s Crap On WhatsApp” project, opened the applications for Global Fact 7 in Oslo for next June, announced Melbourne as the host for Global Fact 8 in 2021, and spoke for world’s fact-checkers in international media outlets such as Huffington Post, CNN, Forbes, Columbia Journalism Review, New York Times and PBS. To execute those plans and carry out our responsibilities, we are hiring a program manager and a reporter to grow IFCN’s team and lay the foundation for a stronger 2020 and beyond.

In addition to bringing together fact-checkers, researchers, platforms and the broader journalistic community at Global Fact in Oslo June 24-27, the network will be present in different countries throughout the year. We will be relying on our community in those efforts and will be doing our best to support and promote fact-checking around the world in 2020.

The International Fact-Checking Network will keep supporting native fact-checking initiatives for a healthier public discourse in some of the underserved regions through in-person workshops, mentorship and capacity building.

The updated Code of Principles and its criteria, along with our strengthened pool of external and independent assessors, will help filter bad actors from the fact-checking field and promote those who are good examples with transparency, accountability and solid methodologies.

We again will be spending some of our time between airports and flights to extend the borders of IFCN and fact-checking in 2020. This already sounds like a year full of fact-checking, one I feel privileged to have.