Media literacy and fact-checking in encrypted apps

Global Fact 7, Day 4

Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

Day four of Global Fact 7 featured two additional regional panels of fact-checkers – in Africa and Latin America, a discussion about how fact-checkers use WhatsApp, and a look at two approaches to teaching media literacy to both teens and adults.

Here are some Day Four highlights:

Fact-checking: African experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic

 

Moderator: Lee Mwiti | Africa Check, Chief Editor

Panelists:

  • Ebele Oputa | Dubawa, Programme Officer, Partnerships
  • Eric Mugendi | Pesa Check, Managing Editor
  • Rabiu Alhassan | GhanaFact, Founder/Managing Editor
  • Sammy Mupfuni | Congo Check, Managing Director

The day began with a panel of African fact-checkers discussing their approaches to the cultural, historical and political challenges of fighting COVID-19 misinformation, and how that has impacted their fact-checking work more broadly.

Each panelist began by sharing their individual organization’s approach to fighting COVID-19 misinformation.

Congo Check Managing Director Sammy Mupfuni was unable to join the panel in person, but in a pre-recorded video talked about how his organization is now distributing fact-checks by SMS to people without internet access.

“The reality here in the Congo is that people don’t have access to the internet, but they are directly affected by the misinformation and false rumors coming from the internet,” he said.

Ebele Oputa, program officer for Nigerian fact-checking organization Dubawa, said she and her colleagues tried to be proactive about COVID-19 misinformation. In response to the volume of misinformation, Dubawa started producing more explainer articles. Oputa said this was a deliberate shift to focus on the consumers of misinformation and empower them with the ability to discern accurate information.

Eric Mugendi, managing editor of PesaCheck, said one of the biggest changes during the COVID-19 infodemic was the willingness of government agencies to share information with fact-checkers. He said that before COVID-19, agencies would slow walk information requests, but the life-and-death consequences of misinformation changed that.

The panelists also spoke about how Africa’s colonial past influenced the types of misinformation they were seeing as well as the responses to their fact-checks.

“From history we had a lot of cases where our cures were demonized by our colonial masters,” Oputa said. She explained some used this as a justification to reject fact-checks about false cures and traditional remedies.

The panel wrapped up with a discussion of the future of fact-checking in Africa. Panelists noted that  they are receiving a lot of support from tech companies like Facebook, but each discussed the need for more financial independence. Rabiu Alhassan, founder and managing editor of GhanaFact, said there needs to be more domestic investment for fact-checking in Africa.

“Africans must appreciate (that) for good journalism to thrive, they must invest in it,” he said. Mugundi echoed Alhassan’s sentiments, saying Africans across the continent are looking for an information savior.

 

The evolution of fact-checking on WhatsApp

 

Moderator: Shalini Joshi | Meedan, Program Director, APAC

Panelists:

  • Baybars Örsek | International Fact-Checking Network, Director
  • Kate Wilkinson | Africa Check, Deputy Chief Editor
  • Louis Moynihan | WhatsApp, Product Business Development
  • Govindiraj Ethiraj | Boom, Founder

Fact-checking in encrypted apps like WhatsApp demands creativity and collaboration. This is what the Global Fact 7 audience learned in the second session of the day, moderated by Shalini Joshi, from Meedan.

“There is architecture and there is design behind the stuff that is being created and pushed into WhatsApp,” said Govindiraj Ethiraj, founder of the Indian fact-checking organization Boom and one of IFCN’s board members. “For this reason we need to be intelligent, to collaborate and to have the right technology. We must come together and combine all this to fight back misinformation in encrypted platforms.”

In South Africa, Kate Wilkinson, from Africa Check, has decided to launch many WhatsApp numbers to address the issue. One of them is dedicated to What’s Crap on WhatsApp?,  a 5-minute long audio show that reaches more than 5,000 subscribers with the most impressive hoaxes seen on the app. (Disclaimer: The project received funding from the IFCN in 2019). 

But how does Africa Check know what is trending on WhatsApp since its system doesn’t allow fact-checkers (or anyone else) to see the content and, therefore, to rank what is more viral? 

They have been using Check, a system developed by Meedan that allows fact-checkers to organize the number of queries they receive from their audience, which also helps them distribute their fact-checks back to people who had similar questions.

“It is important to know that what we choose to fact-check on WhatsApp will have the greatest impact. And this is what we do. First, we see on Check how many times a piece of content has been submitted. Then we look for it outside of Whatsapp. What do other metrics tell us?,” asked Wilkinson, emphasizing the importance of methodology.

Baybars Orsek, IFCN’s director, joined the panel and shared lessons learned during the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance. Orsek said that based on the database created by the participants of this collaborative project, the IFCN was able to launch a WhatsApp chatbot that is already active in English, Spanish and Hindi.

“This can provide a case of study of how fact-checks can be displayed and shared on encrypted apps,” he said, noting that there is future potential for other collaborations like the one seen during the pandemic.  

Louis Moynihan from WhatsApp said that it’s been two years since the company started working with fact-checkers. According to him, the first phase happened in 2018, during the Brazilian presidential election, with a partnership with a collaborative project called Comprova. The project tested WhatsApp’s API. The second phase lasted through 2019, when the company grew its products. The third phase is now. Moynihan said that WhatsApp expects to have 17 fact-checking organizations using its API in the upcoming months. 

The WhatsApp API was designed for very large enterprises that need to handle thousands to millions of messages per day.

 

Fact-checking in school: Best practices from around the world

 

Moderator: Sølve Kuraas Karlsen | Faktisk, Project Manager

Panelists:

  • Alex Mahadevan | MediaWise, Senior Multimedia Reporter
  • Marie Samuelsen | Faktisk, Teacher
  • Nira Dinerstein | Chequeado, Special Projects Coordinator Education Program

This third panel looked at teaching media literacy both through developing classroom curriculum, and directly training teenage students.

Alex Mahadevan, MediaWise’s senior multimedia reporter, explained how the organization’s effort to train 5 million teens in basic media literacy blossomed into a program that now teaches teens, first-time voters and older adults.

MediaWise structures its efforts around its four pillars of curriculum development, in-person training, its Teen Fact-Checking Network, and media ambassador program.

Before COVID-19, Mahadevan traveled to schools across the country to teach 90-minute seminars to school-age children unfamiliar with the basics of fact-checking. He said students get a kick out of learning new techniques like lateral reading and reverse image search, which help them become more discerning consumers of online misinformation.

“A great many of those students come away as better digital citizens and less likely to share suspect things they see on their timelines,” he said.

Marie Samuelsen, a teacher with Norwegian media literacy non-profit Faktisk, explained her organization’s approach to empower school teachers with media literacy lesson plans. She said this helps the students develop their ability to think critically, and fits in well with a new nationwide curriculum rolling out in Norway this fall.

Faktisk’s approach, Samuelsen explained, is to help teachers engage with students in a digital culture they may not be familiar with themselves. She said Faktisk has collaborated with both teachers and librarians across Norway to tweak its curriculum, and find the best methods to teach digital literacy to Norwegian youth.

Technical difficulties prevented Chequeado’s Nira Dinerstein from participating, so the conversation turned to MediaWise’s Teen Fact-Checking Network. Mahadevan explained the process of recruiting a diverse group of teens to help educate their peers on the importance of media literacy. Students are trained in the basics of fact-checking, and compensated with an Amazon gift card for taking part in the program.

“Even the ones who seem to come on just for the summer money, once they start doing the fact-checking, I think they’re able to impress their friends,” Mahadevan said. He added that teens stay in the program for 12- to 15-week terms, but many are motivated to stay on after the end of the program, with some staying up to a year.

Both Mahadevan and Samuelsen said their approaches are intended to teach critical thinking, which empowers teens to think for themselves instead of following the wishes of others.

Why regional alliances matter to fight disinformation: LatamChequea during COVID-19

 

Moderator: Olivia Sohr | Chequeado, Special Projects Coordinator and Coordinator of the LatamChequea network

Panelists:

  • Fabiola Torres | Salud con Lupa, Founder and Director
  • Juan Heilborn | El Surti, Visual Editor
  • Tania L. Montalvo | Animal Politico, Deputy Editorial Director

Since 2014, fact-checkers in Latin America have been closely connected through LatamChequea, a group coordinated by the Argentinean fact-checking organization Chequeado. Some months ago, inspired by the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, they launched a regional collaborative project to fight COVID-19 hoaxes. Based on the work of 35 organizations in 19 countries, Latam Chequea built a database of fact-checks related to the new coronavirus and managed to not only strengthen the relationship between fact-checkers but also reach larger audiences.

“We live in a region that is not considered central. If many of us come together, it is easier to make our voices be heard; we have a stronger presence,” said Olivia Sohr, who is coordinating the project at Chequeado.

Tania Montalvo from the Mexican fact-checking organization Animal Político shared with Global Fact 7 audiences a few tips her team learned while fighting against COVID-19 mis/disinformation. She said it is important to know what contents are moving fast in each country, to create templates to be used for distributing fact-checks and also to establish a trusted network of local, national and international sources of information.

“Beauty is a tool,” said Juan Heilborn from El Surti in Paraguay.

During the pandemic, his fact-checking team partnered with illustrators to create pieces capable of reaching different audiences and informing with great impact.

“Why do we illustrate fact-checking? Because we seek an emotion,” he explained. “And in our region, where internet connectivity is expensive, compressing an information might make it easy to spread.”

The challenges, however, will always be there.

“Latin American is extremely diverse in colors, shapes and clothes,” Heilborn said. “That needs to be reflected in illustrations.

In the last panel of the day, Fabíola Torres, from Salud con lupa (Peru), raised another interesting point of view: the importance of explainers. During the COVID-19 crisis, the lack of data became obvious and, in many situations, fact-checkers had to simply opt to publish detailed articles giving all the information they had — not a verdict.

“We tried to give people the context because we didn’t have certain answers,” she said.

For Torres and all other fact-checkers in the panel, the COVID-19 outbreak has proven the need for even more connection between Latin American fact-checkers.

The idea of setting up an “alarm system” to share harmful content that is trending in one country to avoid it from crossing borders was presented at the end of the session and was very well received.

 

Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering fact-checking and misinformation. Reach him at hmantas@poynter.org or on Twitter at @HarrisonMantas

Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa. She can be reached at ctardaguila@poynter.org.

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