In April the International Fact-Checking Network partnered with Facebook to dole out more than half a million dollars in grant funding to fact-checking organizations fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The first round of Coronavirus Fact-Checking Grants helped some organizations develop new tools and formats to extend their reach, while others were able to increase their staffing and output in the face of an onslaught of falsehoods caused by the global pandemic.
Eight months later, the 13 selected organizations reported back on how well their projects helped curb mis/disinformation about the virus and improved their fact-checking work as a whole.
Pagella Politica – Italy | $48,011
Chatbot for Q&A on COVID-19
Vera, a play on the Italian word for truth, is the name of the character personifying Pagella Politica’s COVID-19 chatbot. By using artificial intelligence natural language technology, Vera is able to simulate real conversations with everyday Italians connecting them to fact checks about COVID-19 hoaxes or to medical fact sheets with authoritative information about the virus.
Vera has received 30,000 messages since launching Sept. 15, and received a lot of positive press coverage and feedback from its user base. Pagella Politica is now evaluating whether to make Vera an expert in topics besides COVID-19. Its sister project, Facta, already has a chatbot that operates on a menu structure as opposed to imitating human conversation, and Pagella Politica will need to decide whether this chatbot is sufficient to help Italians access the organization’s fact checks.
Congo Check – Congo | $43,000
Project: SMS Covid19
This project aimed to connect people in the Democratic Republic of Congo without reliable internet access to fact checks by sending them directly to their mobile phones. Congo Check held in-person sign-up drives, along with digital and radio advertisements, to help promote the service in rural parts of the DRC.
Overall, Congo Check was able to sign up 157,000 subscribers, which was short of its goal of 250,000. It reported that limits on movement and technical difficulties hampered the project. However, Congo Check also said it was able to translate fact checks into a number or local languages, and it plans to redouble its efforts to connect to more rural parts of the country.
Newschecker.in – India | $50,000
Project: Chat/Voice-based Dissemination of Information
Newschecker.in developed voice bots for Google Assistant and Alexa, automated its WhatsApp chatbot, and created social media content for Facebook, Twitter and TikTok that greatly increased its reach fighting misinformation.
Its report showed that by automating some processes in its WhatsApp chatbot, Newschecker.in was able to communicate more regularly, helping it to build a user base that advocated for more verified information. Its TikTok videos received over 2 million views, and its COVID-19 videos were seen over 3 million times on Facebook and Instagram.
Newschecker.in reported it plans to continue this work, and will self fund these projects now that the grant period has ended.
Raskrinkavanje.ba – Bosnia & Herzegovina | $49,530
Project: Emergency Fact-checking Response to SARS-CoV-2
The grant funding helped Raskrinkavanje.ba increase its output and its reach dramatically. It produced over 300 fact checks and increased the reach of its work on Facebook and Instagram by 73.6% and 20.4% respectively. It also helped Raskrinkavanje.ba establish a presence on the regionally popular messaging platform Viber, connecting 6,500 people to its fact checks.
Raskrinkavanje.ba said the increased output helped increase the organization’s profile. It reported being consulted by media outlets in Bosnia-Herzegovina to advise on coverage of misinformation about COVID-19. Going forward, it plans to expand its fact-checking work into video and podcasting.
Ellinika Hoaxes – Greece | $34,400
Project: CoronaFacts Initiative
Ellinika Hoaxes produced a series of infographics and animated videos to help sum up some of its written fact checks about COVID-19. It did this to counter similar content from groups spreading conspiracy theories and false content, and to make verified information more accessible to its audience.
The result was increased traffic and readership on its website, as well as increased traffic to its social media channels. Ellinika Hoaxes reported that the project helped it build workflows to incorporate more animation and infographics into its regular fact-checking work, which it hopes to continue going forward.
Doğruluk Payı – Turkey | $24,600
Project: Truth Against COVID-19 Misinformation
The team at Doğruluk Payı used the grant period to increase their output and develop more engaging content about COVID-19 to help inform the Turkish audience about the virus. Over the course of the grant period, Doğruluk Payı produced an additional 43 informational articles and fact checks related to the pandemic, along with a quiz and four videos helping to inform Turks about the coronavirus pandemic.
As a result, Doğruluk Payı saw increased traffic to its website with 1.3 million unique visitors between April and September, and 2.2 million page views. Its engagement on social media also grew with an additional 8,000 followers on Instagram, and an additional 46,500 impressions on its posts. The team intends to continue to experiment with new formats and posts to increase their reach to a wider audience.
Raskrinkavanje.me – Montenegro | $39,840
Project: Combating COVID19 infodemic in Montenegro
Raskrinkavanje.me met its goal of not only publishing additional fact checks to meet the needs of a public coming to grips with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also producing 60 radio podcasts to increase its reach beyond written articles.
The team also created 60 animated videos about the pandemic and forged a partnership with a popular Montenegrin Instagram influencer Nataša Kovačević who helped surface the work to a wider audience. Similar to its sister organization in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Raskrinkavanje.me also established itself on the regionally popular messaging app Viber, which connected nearly 7,000 people to Raskrinkavanje.me’s fact-checking work.
15min.lt – Lithuania | $48,000
Project: Info-vaccine: fighting COVID-19 misinformation outbreak
15min.lt exceeded its own expectations during this grant funding period. Its final report states it had planned to publish 18 videos and infographics along with 24 articles in Lithuania, Estonian and Latvian, however, by the end of the six-month grant period it had produced 33 videos, 24 infographics and 24 articles about COVID-19.
15min.lt reported it was able to foster partnerships with local health professionals, enabling them to disseminate authoritative information about the pandemic to a wider regional audience. Its report said these partnerships will be key going forward as misinformation about the virus and a potential vaccine refuses to abate.
Newtral – Spain | $50,000
Project: Automation for WhatsApp
Newtral used this project to increase its efficiency by automating fact check inquiries sent to its WhatsApp chatbot and free up its workforce to do more fact-checking rather than monitoring the submission service.
After tweaking and perfecting the process, Newtral was able to improve its response time by 60%, helping the organization to quash falsehoods faster than before. Thanks to the automated bot, Newtral can produce more fact checks per day, which will make it easier for the team to handle large waves of misinformation.
La Silla Vacia – Colombia | $35,400
Project: Special Covid-19 microsite
The grant helped La Silla Vacia develop a microsite dedicated exclusively to its COVID-19 coverage. This helped grow its pageviews from an average of 4,000 per month over the summer to 25,000 per month in August and September.
The team at La Silla Vacia published posts on Instagram that gave followers tools to help refute common forms of misinformation about the virus they may encounter in everyday conversations. They also created a video series interviewing experts to help the audience learn more about COVID-19.
Animal Político / El Sabueso – Mexico | $49,728
Project: El Sabueso: combating COVID-19 disinformation
This project not only helped Animal Politico perfect its video and infographic production workflow, but also helped it learn more about what kinds of videos make the most impact on its audience. The team discovered that in-depth explainers and videos that compiled discussed misinformation narratives through a series of fact-checks got the most audience engagement.
Animal Politico’s final report said there is a deep need for understanding about these complex topics, and the project helped Animal Politico better understand its audience’s needs. The infographics have also been picked up by other media outlets, helping to spread the verified information further. Going forward, the team plans to create at least one video about disinformation per week.
Agência Lupa – Brazil | $49,900
Project: Fighting Coronavirus Misinformation
During the grant period, Agência Lupa produced two separate newsletters (one for health professionals and one for the public) and a podcast, and formed a partnership with digital influencers that expanded the reach of its fact-checking work on social media.
In its final report, Lupa reported the newsletters helped bring the organization closer to its audience, further adding that both served as a “vaccine against misinformation.” Its work with media education project Redes Cordiais helped expand its social media presence and make it one of the most followed fact-checking organizations in the world on Instagram, with 134,000 followers. Lupa looks to build on that success going forward and invest more in techniques to help grow its reach in 2021.
PolitiFact – United States | $39,319
Project: PolitiFact video fact-checking on coronavirus
PolitiFact built its video fact-checking from the ground up with the help of this grant. Over the course of the year, PolitiFact published 40 fact-checking videos to Facebook, and helped establish its Truth-O-Meter minute series in which PolitiFact reporters break down their fact checks into easily digestible segments. It also grew its YouTube following and established a workflow that easily allowed its team of mostly print reporters to pivot to video.
PolitiFact plans to continue making these videos going forward, and will try to find to monetize them. Sustaining the project shouldn’t be a problem, as most of the grant money went toward the initial equipment purchases to get the video series off the ground.