March 4, 2021

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While the approval of a new regulation in Australia led Facebook to ban local media from the news feed, in Mexico, the government wants to be the one telling what Facebook (and other tech platforms) can ban from the internet. Discussions regarding freedom of speech, social media platforms and governmental power are taking place in different parts of the world and indicate the need to bring fact-checkers together for a moment of brainstorming.

Last night’s IFCN Talks brought together Peter Bodkin, from AAP FactCheck in Australia, and Tania L. Montalvo, from Animal Político in México. They discussed the impact of recent decisions made by platforms and governments in their counties, and argued that fact-checkers should be — in Bodkin’s words — “as vocal as possible” in discussions about regulations.

Montalvo said the Mexican government has expressed a willingness to work with civil society groups on proposed misinformation regulations, but added her organization has yet to be contacted. Past experience has also made her skeptical of the government’s willingness to work with fact-checkers.

“In other initiatives, even though we had an open parliament, it was completely a joke,” she said. “They listen to us, but they didn’t adopt anything we recommended.”

Both Bodkin and Montalvo said fact-checkers can do more to advocate for themselves both with the government and the public. They referred to fact-checkers being accused of censorship as an example of the disconnect between the fact-checking community and the public.

“Educating is a big part of being a fact-checker, and helping people understand the positive role it can play,” Bodkin said.

“I think sometimes as a community, we are very close to ourselves and we are not involved in other communities, in poorer communities,” Montalvo said. “If I’m saying that something is false because I use this methodology, and I checked all the sources, I need to clearly say it to the reader in order for them to follow that exactly the same way, and have the same conclusion.”

Cris Tardáguila, who moderated the session, added examples from her home country of Brazil, where she said the government has tried to regulate fact-checking without a clear idea of what fact-checkers do.

Ellen Tordesillas, a fact-checker from Vera Files, in the Philippines, raised awareness about her country’s new anti-terrorism law. She said that “terror” is a wide concept and that she fears this regulation could be used against fact-checkers.

Europeans, on the other hand, seem to be one step ahead. Some fact-checkers in this region have taken an active role in advising the European Commission on how to fight online falsehoods.

Carlos Hernández-Echevarría, head of public policy for the Spanish fact-checking outlet Maldita.es, told me it’s important for fact-checkers to get involved in groups like the commission to avoid ultimately harmful regulations.

“I have listened to very serious people say things like, ‘Well, why don’t these platforms make a list of reputable sources, and only let users post content from those sources,” Hernández-Echevarría said. “Obviously any fact-checker who lives in reality hears that and knows that’s going to be trouble.”

European fact-checkers have been helping the European Union on updating the bloc’s Code of Practice on Disinformation — a voluntary set of guidelines for social media companies first introduced in 2018.

Giovanni Zagni, director of the Italian fact-checking outlet Facta, argues these kinds of loose commitments are preferential to any form of government regulation that has the potential to impact freedom of speech.

“There are occasionally cases when it’s clear what is true or what is false, but the vast majority of cases are some shade of gray,” he said. “So I think inserting the category of ‘true’ or ‘false’ into some sort of regulatory mechanism, that’s not something that should be up to the authorities to decide.”

Zagni says that governments, however, could play a role in modeling good behavior for social media platforms to adopt.

Hernández-Echevarría agreed and added: Regardless of how these policies are enforced, fact-checking needs to be a part of the solution. 

Harrison Mantas 


Interesting fact-checks

  • Boom: Fake news on farmers protests led by old images and videos
    • Between Nov. 26, 2020, and Feb. 23, 2021, BOOM published 101 unique fact checks on falsehoods linked to the protests against the three contentious agricultural reform laws passed in the Indian parliament in September. The amount of visual mis/disinformation caught fact-checkers’ attention. According to this analysis, images were the most popular medium to spread falsehoods (62.5%), followed by video (33%). Around 74% of all fact checks used genuine content shared with false contextual information.
  • UT News: Asteroid Dust Found in Crater Closes Case of Dinosaur Extinction
    • All right … This isn’t a fact check but an “impactful” study that might help humanity close a historical gap. Researchers from Vrije Universiteit Brussel and The University of Texas at Austin said they have “closed the case of what killed the dinosaurs.” It was an asteroid that slammed into Earth 66 million years ago. It hit the Yucatán Peninsula, near the Gulf of Mexico. Details in the article, guys!

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Thanks for reading Factually.

Cris and Harrison

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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…
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