Read the Turkish version of this article here.
There are currently 300 active fact-checking initiatives around the world, according to the Duke Reporters’ Lab. When the lab first launched its database in 2014, that number was only 44. Like every fact-checker, we are excited to see a growing and dedicated increase in fact-checking and verification initiatives.
Teyit is an independent fact-checking platform based in Turkey, operating as a social enterprise. When I was listening to a session during the virtual Global Fact 7 conference, I thought it would be interesting to talk to some of the fact-checking organizations that have equally been interested in driving a social impact as Teyit. To learn more, I got in touch with FactCheckNI co-founder and director Allan Leonard, Maldita.es co-founder and head of project Clara Jiménez Cruz, Teyit founder Mehmet Atakan Foça and GhanaFact managing editor Rabiu Alhassan.
Each of these fact-checking initiatives prioritizes social impact. For instance, FactCheckNI aims to benefit local communities in Northern Ireland by strengthening the community’s relationship with information (via fact-checking) and increasing their critical thinking skills.
“While holding power to account is a familiar mission of journalists and fact-checkers, an important difference of fighting misinformation as a social initiative is the effort to extend empowerment to a wider community,” said Allan, FactCheckNI’s co-founder.
GhanaFact is a project by FactSpace West Africa, a nongovernmental organization. GhanaFact’s managing editor, Rabiu Alhassan, defines social impact as “being able to influence the information flow and the ecosystem positively, regardless of how small the influence is.” He noted that fact-checking and verification are relatively new practices in Ghana, which attracts public interest because GhanaFact puts great effort into demanding accuracy and holding officials accountable.
Maldita.es is an independent journalistic platform focused on fact-checking and data journalism. It believes that the more people become a part of the community, the greater Maldita.es’ impact will be. To that end, they encourage their community to get involved in fact-checking and spread facts to their offline communities.
Maldita.es’ co-founder, Clara Jiménez, an Ashoka Fellow since 2019, notes that “empowerment” works both ways because, with the help of their community, the team gets the opportunity to reach places that they would not otherwise be able to step in.
Teyit’s founder, Mehmet Atakan Foça, also an Ashoka Fellow since 2017, believes that the difference of being a social initiative in the fight against misinformation is that they are better able to see where the problems lie and where they can create a social impact since they see through a social-impact oriented point of view.
Moreover, Atakan said that Teyit is not only feeding into the fact-checking initiatives but also into the wider media ecosystem, nourishing creative productions, strengthening social entrepreneurship and bringing an alternative fair order.
These four initiatives mention how important their communities are to them and how much they look for a fruitful dialogue with them. Like most of the fact-checking platforms, FactCheckNI tries to increase online engagement via communication strategies. Allan says that they increase social impact by “embedding themselves in the community they serve” and through community building.
Maldita.es’ Clara focuses on the fact that, in the end, the misinformation problem is affecting individuals. And it is up to individuals to decide whether to share, fact-check or consume a piece of information. Thus, she said, “In order to actually make a difference, we need to involve citizens and communities.”
GhanaFact builds communities in the traditional media in addition to the online platforms since television and radio attract a large percent of the population in Ghana.
Teyit also focuses on being a light for others to drive social change. Social impact is created only when solutions to social problems are successful. Atakan said the misinformation problem cannot be solved by just a single organization. The problem is multilayered and requires a collective effort. The most important thing in building a community is that “you bring together people with similar values and ideals.” He added, “In order to see the rise of the Greta (Thunberg) of the fact-checking world,” with someone stepping up to become a spokesperson for this global problem, “there needs to be a community movement first.”
These organizations strive to equip their communities with media literacy skills by delivering training, creating educational contents and empowering the actors in the ecosystem in the long run. GhanaFact’s Alhassan said they aim to build a community of fact-checkers by introducing fact-checking tools to their community. These efforts will eventually help safeguard democracy in Ghana, he said. FactCheckNI provides fact-checking training in schools and other local settings. Teyit aims to increase digital literacy and critical thinking by strengthening what it calls the “suspicion muscle.”
“Whereas Teyit’s incubation program, Factory, aims at transforming the media ecosystem at the macro level, it tries to drive a change in individuals at the micro and in communities at the mezzo level,” Atakan said.
I also asked how the current pandemic has affected their workflows. The pandemic seems to have made these initiatives turn towards health-related misinformation. Maldita.es, for example, fights against false information, mostly anti-science, that has a direct effect on individuals’ health.
“What we have also seen,” said Maldita.es’ Jiménez, “is that this is a transversal topic that has made our audience grow exponentially, reaching other Spanish-speaking countries that, when we talk about politics, poverty, migration, gender … we don’t impact as much because that misinformation is often region-specific.”
FactCheckNI formed a new partnership with the Community Development and Health Network, a health-based NGO, to improve health literacy and “to provide accurate and up-to-date information that will increase knowledge, understanding, and confidence to help people make good health decisions,” Allan said.
GhanaFact said that the IFCN #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance has really helped and contributed to the team’s ability to curb the spread of misinformation. “Our first major local and global challenge was to help deal with a wave of disinformation around the pandemic,” Alhassan said.
Since Teyit’s project on the anti-vaccine and anti-science claims called #StopthePandemic, it has continued boosting health literacy through various different formats, like newsletters, visuals, a YouTube mini-documentary series and through fact-checks. A COVID-19 newsletter, prepared by Teyit editor Nilgün Yılmaz, for example, was meant to provide accurate, easily accessible information about the novel coronavirus even before the virus officially entered Turkey.
Different cultural and sociopolitical dynamics play a role, but if the target is to prioritize the truth, all these efforts show that social impact is impossible without community building, strengthening individuals and an urge to transform the ecosystem. That means that impact-oriented initiatives, which maintain and sustain a community-oriented approach, differ from the other fact-checking and verification initiatives.
Kansu Ekin Tanca is an education associate at Turkish fact-checking organization Teyit. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org