More than 500,000 messages were sent to 82,000 people in the last 46 days to help them sort facts from fiction using WhatsApp. The total number of messages shared by FactChat, the chatbot launched by the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter Institute to fight electoral mis/disinformation, is now five times higher than the number of messages registered by Comprova’s WhatsApp tipline in Brazil, during a similar initiative launched in 2018 for the Brazilian presidential election.
FactChat is a tool that brings together the work of 12 fact-checking organizations based in the United States. Heading into election day it has compiled more than 620 fact-checked articles. Over 150 were published in Spanish and more than 470 in English.
The word “Trump” was searched 3,350 times. “Biden” was searched 2,700 times. “Debate” and “town hall” also reached high levels of engagement, proving that WhatsApp users are ready to use chatbots as an instant tool to get reliable information when politicians are campaigning on TV.
During the first presidential debate, for example, FactChat registered around 10,900 engagements. During the only vice presidential televised encounter, it almost doubled, reaching 18,260.
FactChat’s users showed high interest in fact-checks about “voter fraud,” and, for a one-week period in mid-October, “Hunter Biden.”
For obvious reasons, FactChat was mainly used by people in the United States (90.8%). But it also served as a way for people to assess the veracity of pieces of content in countries like India (1.5%) and Mexico (0.8%).
Six messages were sent, on average, to FactChat’s users and, although the chatbot was bilingual, the majority of them preferred the English version.
“We are learning a lot about our audience and about the topics they are interested in. We also confirmed how important collaborative projects are,” said Univision project leader Tamoa Calzadilla. “We understood that people value balanced information and fact-checks about all politicians. Our fact-checked articles are usually in the top 5 most read list, which also shows we are fulfilling one of our community’s information needs.”
“We confirmed that the Spanish-speaking community needs multiple reliable sources for fact-checking in Spanish, platforms able to deliver verified information immediately to help them make good decisions,” said Ronny Rojas, project leader at Telemundo. “When I think of innovative ways and the right tone to distribute fact-checks for this audience, FactChat is a great answer. However, we need to keep exploring more options together, as we did in this project.”
On Oct. 12, FactChat’s team began offering bilingual podcasts of its weekly fact-checking reports as a way to test new formats. The team produced four editions of the 5-minute voice note. In the past 21 days, those files were downloaded more than 920 times.
“Fact-checkers around the world have been exploring ways to team up and tackle mis/disinformation with a stronger emphasis on election integrity and voter safety,” said IFCN Director, Baybars Örsek. “The IFCN’s FactChat chatbot has been a striking experiment to encourage collaboration between the English and Spanish language publishers in the United States and also surface the capabilities of automated fact-checking during waves of falsehoods and uncertainties.”
“WhatsApp is proud to work with IFCN and its verified signatories to empower people to find accurate information in real time about the US2020 election right on WhatsApp,” said Ben Supple, Head of Civic Engagement at WhatsApp. “Addressing misinformation requires support for credible institutions and we’re thrilled this bilingual resource helped people during this important election.”
FactChat’s 12 partners are working diligently this Election Day, but will keep contributing fact-checks well beyond Nov. 3. The collaboration will continue to source fact-checks from its partners until Inauguration Day on Jan 20, 2021.
FactChat relies on Google’s FactCheck Read/Write and Claim Search APIs to populate its chatbot with fact-checks published with ClaimReview, the schema created by the Duke Reporters’ Lab and Jigsaw, Google, and schema.org through an open process involving the global fact-checking community to improve the visibility of fact checks in the open web.