From March to May, the French journalist Jules Darmanin led a team of 19 European fact-checking platforms that decided to join FactCheckEU and work together against all types of mis/disinformation related to the European Parliamentary Election. After publishing 90 fact-checks in 13 countries and managing translations to 11 languages, he is now ready to list three hard-learned lessons and to present two ideas for the future of the group. “Partners can work together on a regular basis,” he told the IFCN during a recent email interview.
Darmanin said it is important for projects like FactcheckEU to have partners understand the work they will share right from the beginning, and for their coordinators to be patient, since the daily routine can be demanding.
An internal evaluation by the International Fact-Checking Network’s staff found that 14 of 19 partners were interested in continuing to collaborate after the Parliamentary Election. Darmanin suggests partners be ready to face global breaking news events, just like they did for the Notre Dame fire (the most active day for the FactcheckEU initiative) and also for some in-depth investigations on how false news is created and spreads around the globe. Here are his ideas:
What did you learn during those two months you led FactcheckEU? Can you share with us a couple of lessons you have learned?
I have learned that months go by very fast. And I also think that, as a fact-checker, you tend to get obsessed about your short-term impact: Are you quick to respond? Is your fact-check doing better than the hoax (which is rarely the case)? But the long-term impact is much more important. From a media outlet point of view, the question should be what kind of relationship are you building with your audience? From a personal point of view, as I was coordinating the project, the question is what did I want FactcheckEU to become once the elections were over? So I became more and more focused on showing the project partners that they could work together on a regular basis.
What about the hard-learned lessons?
I have three real hard-learned lessons.
- Always make sure everyone is on the same page (about the project and its structure). The first bumps on our road were mostly occurring because different people had different ideas about how the project worked. Some people saw it as content sharing. Others thought it was only a back-end collaboration without a front-end website.
- Always assume people don’t have time for you. The day of a fact-checker is often long and dense. Some do other kinds of journalistic work. Some are doing educational work. They appear more and more frequently as guests on air. The relationship some outlets have with their audience is very demanding. And as their work is not paywalled, they need to find ways to fund their operation, or at least to prove to their bosses that they’re worth the budget. So, at the end of the day, they understandably have little time to spare for a collaboration project like FactcheckEU. So you need to be patient, but also to show them what they might get out of it.
- People still want to work together. That’s a really positive lesson I got from FactcheckEU. Most partners were really happy to help each other on tiny things or larger problems when they had the time to do so. That made me very hopeful.
What was the most difficult day of the initiative?
I would say the launch of the website. We already had a delay of two weeks and we were supposed to launch it at 10 a.m. (in Paris) on a Monday. But we had technical issues that meant we could only send people over to the website at 6 p.m.. I felt hopeless for the whole day and I wondered whether I would feel this hopeless for the rest of the project. Fortunately, I didn’t.
What was the most active and collaborative day of FactcheckEU?
The day I felt the best about the project was after the Notre Dame fire. Ironically, it had nothing to do with the Parliamentary election, our main topic of work! But it had a lot to do with the biggest challenges fact-checkers face. There was a lot of disinformation coming from many places including several U.S.-based far-right fearmongers. We managed to build a library of fact-checks that could be used by everyone, including IFCN partners outside of Europe.
Some key performance indicators established for FactcheckEU weren’t reached. Could you detail them and try to explain why that happened?
We had a high objective of reaching several million page views on the FactcheckEU website, which we didn’t reach for internal and external reasons. The external reason, is, basically, related to the fact that we didn’t observe a massive effort from any actor to spread misinformation during the European Parliamentary campaign. There are some explanatory factors: The European elections are complex, as they are taking place in 28 countries and 26 languages. They are also proportional, and many of these countries have a diverse political offer, which means that you often have three or more parties getting seats. So in order to sway the election, you would need to invest massive resources. The internal reasons are multiple: I think we overvalued the interest of the public on the European Parliamentary elections. We also had some technical and coordination issues that delayed our launch and made the promotion of the platform a bit more difficult.
At least 14 out of the 19 partners in FactcheckEU have said they would like to keep collaborating. How do you see this?
I think the content sharing aspect of the project was interesting, but not really viable in the long term. On the other hand, I think most partners are really eager to keep on collaborating on the fact-checking itself.
In your opinion, what is the best path to be taken now by this group of fact-checkers?
There are two main aspects. On one hand, when there is global breaking news, just like the Notre Dame fire, we could put in place a sharing system that would allow fact-checkers around the world to have all their material in one place. On the other hand, partners can work together in order to identify the sources of disinformation and the paths it takes. This could be very useful for hoaxes around migration or health.
Can you give us an example of a good collaborative situation that lead to an article being published by FactcheckEU?
There were various points of difficulty regarding translation and adaptation. One was about the form: Different fact-checkers have different ways of presenting their work, so if you simply translate an article and publish it on another website, it won’t always fit. The other main issue was substance. FactcheckEU was focused on politics, which is naturally a very national topic as opposed to science or sports. Partners (and readers as well) were more interested in longer reports that went further showing the path of misinformation than an article with a simple fact-checked claim. This report on an EU Commission internal note which became a “secret plan” in order to impose the UN Migration pact is a good example of what I am saying.