Tired of hoaxes and polarization, fact-checkers in LatAm formed national coalitions for 3 presidential elections

Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

It might be more difficult to spread false information in four South American countries.

Fact-checkers in Uruguay, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil have come together to form national coalitions and fight mis/disinformation in teams. Facebook posts and messages spread via WhatsApp are their main focus, as many of these nations are facing elections soon.

Uruguay

Verificado Uruguay is the newest collaborative project on the continent. It was officially launched July 24th in Montevideo with not only journalists but researchers and NGOs that have been working around transparency and public data.

According to Sebastián Auyanet, who is responsible for distributing all fact checks done by the coalition, the group now includes over 50 media outlets that are ready to spread content verified by a team of fact-checkers. The group has been trained and is fully supported by First Draft, Facebook, Google and Fundación Avina.

 

The first fact-check published by Verificado Uruguay came from a claim posted on Facebook on July 13. It stated that minors in Uruguay were able to undergosurgery and change their biological sex for free without their parent’s consent. The false information went viral, and was shared by 1,300 people before the Uruguayans debunked it.

The fact-check prompted some unpleasant backlash and made Verificado Uruguay the target of digital attacks. Fact-checkers in Brazil and the Philippines have faced similar harassment from online trolls in the past.

“Some people asked if we would become the Ministry of Truth. Some called us The Avengers. Others said we would interfere with freedom of speech,” said Auyanet. “But we also had some good reactions: people telling us our work is important. Uruguayans know we will have elections in October, so we better start (fact-checking) now.”

Bolivia

Bolivia Verifica was also built to fight false news around an electoral process, as Bolivians will vote for a new president in October. Since June, fact-checkers in the country have debunked countless stories about false polls, at least one fake post about a presidential candidate’s resignation and lots of incorrect information about the voting process.

  

Renan Estenssoro, director at Fundación para Periodismo, one of the first members of the coalition, said that 83 fact checks have been published in the 43 days since the project’s launch. Bolivia Verifica has a staff of 7 journalists.

“We have one editor-in-chief, two editors and four fact-checkers. We also have an agreement with Universidad Catolica Boliviana to include students learning the methodology,” he said.

“In our project, all media outlets that are partners can ask our fact-checkers to verify a claim or a photo and then publish our conclusions. It is quite impressive how well things are going so far. But of course, there are those accusing us of being partisans, liberals or against the government.”

To those critics, Estenssoro likes to emphasize three points. First, the group is entirely composed of journalists with strong professional backgrounds who are committed to ethical standards. Second, the group has spent more than six months planning the project.

And lastly, Bolivia Verifica was thoroughly trained by Argentine fact-checkers from Chequeado, so it is close to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles.

“We’ve been working with Bolivia Verifica since last year, offering them high-intensity technical support,” Laura Zommer, the director of Chequeado, told the IFCN.

“First, all the editors and journalists participated in a five-day course online, and then the editor in chief came to Buenos Aires to see how we conducted our work at Chequeado. We’ve been doing follow-up meetings every 15 days to check in on what they need, and for now we’re working on helping them find more effective ways to make stronger alliances with television and radio media.”

Argentina

In addition to offering training, Argentinians are working on their own fact-checking coalition, Reverso. They, too, have presidential elections in October.

Reverso has been running since June and is coordinated by Chequeado, AFP Factual, First Draft and PopUp Newsroom. It began with 80 media sites and tech companies in the country uniting under one goal: combating misinformation in light of the country’s upcoming presidential elections.

Now, the alliance includes 130 media sites, including digital, print, radio and TV, and operates in nearly all of Argentina’s provinces. 59 articles have been published so far on Reverso’s site.

“Lots of people have been citing Reverso,” Zommer said. “Last week, the provisional president of the Argentine Senate corrected himself on Twitter after realizing he’d shared fake news that Reverso had checked. He asked for forgiveness, saying he hadn’t realized it was false.”

Both politicians and traditional journalists have been buzzing about the initiative, Zommer said.

Checks began to be published on June 11, and will be available until Dec. 11, by which point the new government will have been elected. Reverso is also operating on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and WhatsApp, as several of these platforms have provided financial aid or infrastructure support to the project.

“The goal of our allies is simple,” Chequeado stated in its announcement of the project. “(We want to) provide citizens with the tools they need to know what’s true and what’s false, and slow down those who aim to use mis/disinformation to influence voters in the 2019 elections.”

Brazil

Comprova, a collaborative debunking project, was initially launched in Brazil in 2018 to fight misinformation in light of the upcoming presidential elections. This year, it’s progressed to a second phase that continues to focus on debunking social media hoaxes.

“The polarization that was present during the elections is still very much present,” Sergio Ludtke, Comprova’s editor in chief, told the IFCN. “Except now, there are false claims and hoaxes that spread on social media that aren’t related to public policy.”

Ludtke explained that the country’s strong political polarization has lent itself to the production of competing narratives, something that makes it even harder to effectively fact-check because, as he said, “Verified information isn’t as sexy. Lies are much sexier than the truth.”

One of Comprova’s challenges thus far has been finding enticing ways to compete with these contrasting accounts of reality. “We are making an effort to (include people in our fact checks), to construct a didactic narrative so that people can (get involved in the verification) and re-do the fact checks themselves,” Ludtke said.

Comprova’s strategy for choosing what to fact-check in this second phase remains the same as when it was first launched. To be verified, a piece of content must be viral, must be a social media hoax and not a claim from politicians or public figures, and must be related to some kind of public policy.

Ludtke explained that the topics for recent fact checks include education, the environment, agriculture, human rights and international politics. These can often take more time to fact-check than electoral misinformation, since they tend to be more complicated and sometimes involve deeper investigations.

Comprova’s second phase launched on July 15, and will last six months, until Dec. 15.