Hundreds of fact checkers from around the world and across 16 time zones convened virtually Monday in Global Fact 7 — an unprecedented conference to discuss the battle against misinformation in political speech and on social media platforms.
The conference, which would have been held in Oslo, Norway if not for the pandemic, is the largest gathering of fact checkers, and is put on by the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN). Now, as a virtual conference, the program will be held over 5 days, online.
The opening day sessions centered on the role of fact-checkers amid the pandemic, the battle against attacks on fact-checking in various countries, and the need for continued vigilance in sorting out phony claims related to COVID-19.
Here are some Day One highlights:
Global Fact 7 opening remarks
- Baybars Örsek | International Fact-Checking Network, Director
- Bill Adair | Duke Reporters Lab, Director
- Neil Brown | Poynter Institute, President
International Fact-Checking Network Director Baybars Örsek kicked off the conference by celebrating the virtual global gathering, and updating the community on its successes and challenges from the past year.
He celebrated the growth of the community and the work of the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, which has compiled over 7,000 fact-checks from 99 organizations working in over 70 countries.
He also noted fact-checking organizations are becoming increasingly reliant on grants and donations from technology companies, which Örsek cautioned would not last forever.
“Sustainability has become the elephant in the room we need to address at a time when newsrooms have been deeply impacted by layoffs and furloughs amid the economic crisis,” Örsek said.
Duke Reporters’ Lab Director Bill Adair began by light-heartedly fact-checking himself. He also celebrated the growth of the fact-checking community noting the familial nature of the group has inspired its continued growth.
Neil Brown, president of the Poynter Institute, which operates the IFCN, emphasized three main points:
- The need to go on offense preemptively against misinformation by empowering the public with tools and increased media literacy.
- The need for well resourced fact-checking media organizations to reinvest revenues into more fact-checking and to lift up and collaborate with their smaller partners.
- The need for both journalists and fact-checkers to work with humility and practice self care.
In conversation with Melissa Fleming: a UN global response to the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’
- Baybars Örsek | International Fact-Checking Network, Director
- Melissa Fleming | United Nations, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications
United Nations Under Secretary for Global Communications Melissa Fleming was interviewed by Orsek. She expressed gratitude for the work of fact-checkers dealing with the unique challenges of the COVID-19 infodemic.
“I hope that the fact-checking community is better recognized, and becomes even more robust and vital,” Fleming said.
She said the first pandemic of the social media era has been exacerbated by the proliferation of misinformation. She added that despite public demand for good information, it is increasingly becoming hard to find.
In May, the UN launched it’s Verified initiative, which Fleming described as trying to create, “information volunteers,” to help widely disseminate reliable information through friend and family networks. She added the program also aims to spread media literacy and fact-checking skills to empower a wider audience to fight misinformation.
Orsek pressed Fleming on what the UN could do to help fact-checkers facing crack downs from authoritarian governments looking to control the narrative about COVID-19. She responded that the UN has always promoted a free press, and considers the work of fact-checkers essential. She added the Verified Project has made country specific content for Brazil to help combat government spread misinformation.
How are platforms addressing mis/disinformation during the pandemic?
Moderator: Baybars Örsek | International Fact-Checking Network, Director
- Alexios Mantzarlis | Google, News and Information Credibility Lead
- Apurva Panse | YouTube, Product Manager
- Ben Supple | WhatsApp, Head of Civic Engagement
- Keren Goldshlager | Facebook, Integrity Partnerships
In the only session that was off-the-record, fact-checkers met with representatives from Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, and YouTube to discuss the role of platforms in battling misinformation.
After the panel, Alexios Mantzarlis, former IFCN director and current Google News & Information Credibility Lead, tweeted an announcement about the company’s move to attach fact-checks to google image search.
CoronaVirusFacts Alliance: Lessons learned
Moderator: Cristina Tardáguila | International Fact-Checking Network, Associate Director
- Summer Chen | Taiwan FactCheck Center, Editor-in-Chief
- Jules Darmanin | International Fact-Checking Network, Project Coordinator
- Grégoire Lemarchand | AFP, Deputy Editor in Chief and Head of Fact-Checking
- Rahul Namboori | FactCrescendo, Co-Founder
Five members of the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance discussed the ups and downs of the ambitious effort to work across so many organizations. All agreed that the alliance was a powerful force in the global fight against the COVID-19 infodemic.
“A single arrow can be easily broken, but in a bundle of 10 it is very difficult,” said FactCrescendo co-founder Rahul Namboori.
Agence France Presse Head of Fact-Checking Grégoire Lemarchand echoed that sentiment saying the alliance made him feel useful, adding, “feeling useful is our natural fuel.”
The panelists took turns recounting how the types of misinformation changed over the course of the infodemic. IFCN Associate Director Cristina Tardáguila observed that early misinformation differed from the kinds of intentional deception she’d been accustomed to. Initially, information that was inaccurate was being spread but without ill-intent, she said.
“I saw falsehoods that were trying to protect, trying to do good, trying to keep the ones that we love and care about in good shape and healthy,” Tardáguila said.
Project Coordinator Jules Darmanin said the alliance was well equipped to deal with these fact-checks, which he said mostly consisted of false cures or misinformation about the virus. However, he said fact-checkers need to adapt to more elaborate misinformation based on false narratives rather than obviously false facts.
“I think we need to keep on working both on this project and as a community at differentiating our response to a problem that has so many shapes,” Darmanin said.
All agreed a fact-checking collaboration can be adapted to face new global threats. Summer Chen from the Taiwan FactCheck Center said the future collaborations will be made stronger through the bonds developed in the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance.
Too much to handle? Fact-checking during a pandemic and a presidential election campaign
Moderator: Tom Jones | Poynter Institute, Senior Media Writer
- Angie Drobnic Holan | PolitiFact, Editor-in-chief
- Glenn Kessler | The Washington Post, Editor and Chief Writer
- Eugene Kiely | Factcheck.org, Director
- Karen Mahabir | Associated Press, Deputy Editor
In the early days of fact-checking, the world looked at what was happening in the United States for ideas and inspiration. Since Brooks Jackson started fact-checking at CNN in the 1990’s, Americans were always ahead of the game, with modern techniques.
In the last weeks, once again, the fact-checking community turned to the American fact-checking organizations to follow their effort and understand how they were being able to not only assess content regarding the COVIDO-19 pandemic but also dozens of anti-racism protests, derived from the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, and the start of the presidential campaign, with Donald Trump scheduling his first public rally in Tulsa.
“It is a lot of pressure but I like to think that I have the best and most exciting job at the AP. There is no shortage of material to work with” said Karen Mahabir, the head of the Associated Press fact-checking team, during the panel moderated by Poynter’s senior media writer, Tom Jones.
For one hour, together with Angie Holan (PolitiFact), Eugene Kiely (FactCheck.org) and Glenn Kessler (The Washington Post Fact Checker), Mahabir and Jones discussed lessons learned thus far in 2020 and talked about what the near future might bring.
While Kiely believes that falsehoods regarding election fraud will be getting a lot of attention, Kessler says his fact-checking team will surely spend time analyzing how the Trump administration responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Holan sees a lot of room for hoaxes regarding health care and climate change, besides believing that fact-checkers can benefit from working with local newsrooms.
The U.S presidential election will make 2020 an even more remarkable year for fact-checkers. “We win no matter who wins,” adds Kessler, emphasizing that either Trump or Biden usually use wrong data.
Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.