June 24, 2021

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The bots are back in town

Wednesday’s IFCN Talk highlighted the work of the Duke Reporters’ Lab’s automated fact-checking project, Squash, but as director Bill Adair noted, it’s far from the only fact-checking project using automation to fight falsehoods.

Argentine fact-checking network Chequeado launched its automated fact-checking bot Chequeabot in 2018, which uses scans of transcripts from media organizations to help identify claims for fact-checkers. A 2019 Poynter article found that roughly one of five fact checks written by Chequado started from a claim detected by its chatbot.

British fact-checking organization Full Fact, which has collaborated with Chequado on a number of automated fact-checking projects, has been researching this technology since 2015. In addition to detection, Full Fact has used automation to keep track of how many times a false claim has been repeated, and help fact-checkers respond to claims in real time. In 2019, a collaboration between Full Fact, Chequeado and Africa Check was recognized by Google’s AI Impact challenge out of a field of 2,600 applicants.

More recently, Spanish fact-checker Maldita.es has used automation to both speed up responses to fact-checking requests from its audience, and detect potential patterns in the types of falsehoods most commonly spread. This was especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic when requests for fact-checking skyrocketed on Maldita.es’ WhatsApp tipline.

Aos Fatos in Brazil has had similar success using automation to both detect falsehoods and disseminate fact-checks.

But for automation to really work, fact-checkers need help both in growing their ranks and in growing their audience.

Adair identified the need for more fact checks and more fact-checkers as a limiting factor on the effectiveness of Squash’s detection powers. In Spain, Maldita.es co-founder and CEO Clara Jiménez Cruz said her organization’s chatbot is only as powerful as its audience since it requires user submissions to pick up on patterns of falsehoods.

That’s why media literacy has been so crucial, with organizations like Chequeado, MediaWise and a host of other fact-checkers around the world putting an emphasis on training the public on the basics of fighting online falsehoods. Automation can enhance fact-checkers’ work, but only public buy-in can defeat disinformation.

Interesting fact-checks

Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP

  • Africa Check: “Social media keeps killing Rowan Atkinson – but he’s still not dead” (in English)
    • Africa Check chronicled the various attempts to virtually shuffle off the British comedian’s mortal coil to no avail. He was first pronounced virtually dead in 2012. Africa Check completed its debunk by referencing an AFP fact check where Atkinson’s talent management confirmed he’s not dead.
  • ColombiaCheck: “The message stating that ‘WhatsApp changed its privacy without prior notice’ is false” (in Spanish)
    • A message went viral stating (falsely) that WhatsApp had changed its privacy settings to allow users to be added to group messages without their consent or knowledge. ColombiaCheck and Spanish fact-checker Newtral discovered the opposite was true. In April 2019, WhatsApp gave users the option to limit who can add them to group messages to just their contacts.

Quick hits

Screenshot from the June 24th IFCN Talk

From the news: 

From/for the community: 

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Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering the wide world of misinformation. He previously worked in Arizona and Washington D.C. for…
Harrison Mantas

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