For the fourth time in history, a United States president faces an impeachment. But this marks the first time an investigation like this will take place amid a tsunami of false news on social media.
Fact-checkers have built creative strategies to surf this wave.
On Sept. 24, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that President Donald Trump would be investigated for allegedly having pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesky to track the relationship between the family of former Vice President Joe Biden with a gas company in Ukraine. According to preliminary data revealed by a whistleblower, Trump told Zelesky that the Bidens were involved in corruption cases and should be investigated.
Three days after the impeachment process was announced, the amount of misleading information around the case was so overwhelming that some of the most important U.S. fact-checkers decided to launch objective strategies to deal with it.
PolitiFact, The Washington Post Fact Checker and CNN, for example, have created unique pages on their websites where they will add all the fact checks they will do in the about Trump’s impeachment process. This means that they will have a single URL circulating on social media with all the true and false pieces of content they find. In one week, PolitiFact listed 17 stories, The Washington Post four and CNN nine.
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PolitiFact and The Washington Post took a second step. They launched online forms (here is PolitiFact‘s and here is WP‘s) so any citizen can request a fact check about a statement, a photo, a video or even an audio file they see regarding the case.
Citizens who don’t understand the world of fact-checking may find it difficult to realize the impact of this impeachment process on the daily routine of a fact-checking newsroom. So here is a piece of information that might help: Trump, who said he believes to be the victim of a witch hunt, published 138 tweets between Sept. 24 (when the process began) and Oct. 2. In this set of tweets, there are texts and videos, parts of news articles and interviews — extensive material to be verified.
American fact-checkers are surely reviewing all that information and separating facts from fiction. Some of them should update their pages shortly. But Trump will probably tweet more, maintaining the pressure and tension between fact-checkers and the administration.
What is known for now is that some of Trump’s most repeated claims were rated false.
He repeats that Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was being investigated for corruption in Ukraine. So far, there is no evidence that this is true. Public information shows that there was an investigation into Burisma Holdings, the Ukranian gas company where Hunter is part of the director’s board.
Trump also says there has been a change in the way content revealed by whistleblowers is used in the United States. That is not true. The same rules have been in place since 2014.
It is also false that only the United States helps Ukraine in military terms, as Trump repeats. NATO and several European nations have allocated more than 10 million euros to be spent on military equipment and training in that country. FactCheck.org explains that in detail.
In times like this, when a big investigation is on the way that might generate great discussions, the recommendation is clear: fact-check before sharing. A good idea is to follow the work done by the U.S.-based fact-checkers through their social media channels and by bookmarking their websites.
Read the Spanish version of this article at Univision.
Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa, in Brazil. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.