February 11, 2021

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A fact-checker lands on Clubhouse

There is a new social media platform trending worldwide. It’s called Clubhouse and it brings together people like Tesla’s Elon Musk and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. For the moment, it seems to be beyond the reach of the broader fact-checking community, but this should change soon.

I joined Clubhouse this week. And it was only possible because I own an iPhone. The hot new network only runs on iOS.

To be accepted, I also had to deploy an invitation code. Downloading the app isn’t enough. To be a Clubhouse user you must know the right people …

As reported by tech websites and popular newspapers, Clubhouse aims to be the most exclusive social media platform ever launched. It offers its users the opportunity to enter different chat rooms (clubs) and share live audio feeds — not text or images — with thousands of other people. Rooms are divided by topic and you can even schedule your participation by scrolling through what discussions will be up in the next hours.

As a fact-checker working during the pandemic, I was eager to see if popular misinformation tropes such as anti-vax content had already landed at Clubhouse. Even though the platform’s guidelines say clearly that users “may not spread false information,” I thought I’d try to find some. So I joined a club called “All things Covid” after typing “vaccines” into the app’s search bar.

“All things Covid” brings together 5,100 people. It was launched by a physician and has the following description: “Join us for evidence-based conversations about all things related to the novel coronavirus + COVID-19: vaccines, healthcare, disparities, treatments & public health. Science first.”

Wow. “Science first.” I was impressed.

I jumped to a second club in my search for information about vaccines. It was called “A Good War” and it says it brings together “renowned public health and medical leaders” to share “knowledge & answers about COVID-19.” In the list of followers I found scholars from Johns Hopkins University, respected epidemiologists, physicians and more. It didn’t have a livestream going on when I visited it so I moved onto a third club.

In this one, I spent about 15 minutes listening to a presentation about how bacteria (not viruses) are becoming more resistant and how dangerous this could be. It sounded fact-based, and I actually learned from this experience.

I moved on to search for mis/disinformation about politics. I typed “Donald Trump” and, as of Feb. 9, there were no clubs dedicated to the former U.S president. The same was true about “Jair Bolsonaro,” Brazil’s current president. President Joe Biden’s name turned up a club called “Madame Vice Presidente.” The group has 792 followers and shows a picture of Vice President Kamala Harris.

“No COVID-19 falsehoods? No political disinformation? That is a weird platform,” I thought.

And, yes it is, but not exactly for those reasons. As noted by Forbes this week, Clubhouse’s design inherently excludes people with certain disabilities. “On the product side, the most obvious issue is there are zero affordances made for deaf or hearing impaired people. There is zero support for live captioning, which means those with less than perfect hearing (or none at all) are excluded,” reporter Steven Aquino wrote.

There is more.

Writing for online outlet GritDaily, Olivia Smith warned that on Clubhouse, “there’s no path to accountability.” She cited the fact that the app doesn’t keep old posts or audio files and doesn’t allow users to record conversations. “There is no way to prove that someone said anything controversial at all,” Smith wrote.

The lack of these features will surely produce barriers for fact-checkers. It will be not only hard to choose what club to join but Clubhouse also requires that fact-checkers listen to hours and hours of conversations before selecting what claims should be assessed.

With the myriad of other platforms fact-checkers are forced to contend with, would it be best for them to ignore Clubhouse for now? Facebook didn’t. According to The New York Times, it’s already building a product to compete with Clubhouse.

Neither did the Chinese government.

On Monday, after a rare moment of cross-border dialogue between users from mainland China and others outside the country, Chinese censors moved in. If Xi Jinping’s administration isn’t ignoring Clubhouse, why should fact-checkers? Why should you?

Cris Tardáguila


Interesting fact-checks

  • Butac: “Nutella, gender, Salvini and a salary bonus” (In Italian)
    • What a headline! And what a great topic to fact-check! The original posts mixes politics with food and labor issues. But here are the facts: Nutella did pay a 2,000-euro bonus to its employees — but it happened months ago. The anti-Salvini rainbow never existed.

Quick hits

From the news: 

From/for the community: 

  • IFCN Talks #1 happened Monday and researchers were clear: “Fact-checkers shouldn’t be shields for social media platforms.” Here is your chance to catch up with the fact-checking community and the conversation we had with Lucas Graves and Francisco Brito Cruz.
  • Africa Check launched “Le faux dans l’Info” on Monday, Feb. 8. This monthly podcast aims to debunk a hoax in the presence of its author. Oh yes! (In French)
  • At least three allegations against fact-checkers were rejected by courts this week. One in Greece, against Ellinika Hoaxes, one in Kazakhstan against Factcheck.kz, and one in Brazil, against Aos Fatos. Ellinika Hoaxes was able to win its case with help from the Fact-Checkers Legal Support Initiative.
  • MediaWise’s Teen Fact-Checking Network posted three new fact-checks to its YouTube page this week. Two about the Capitol Riot, and one about COVID-19.

Events and training

  • Is it possible to teach media literacy using just tweets? Maldita, in Spain, is trying. Its one-week course — #VerifyIn21Tweets — is up and offers bilingual content: in English and in Spanish.
  • Feb. 15 to March 14: “Disinformation and Fact-Checking in Times of COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Offered in Spanish, Portuguese and Guaraní, this free online course is produced by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas with the IFCN and the European Union.

If you are a fact-checker and you’d like your work/projects/achievements highlighted in the next edition, send us an email at factually@poynter.org by next Tuesday.

Any corrections? Tips? We’d love to hear from you: factually@poynter.org.

Thanks for reading Factually.

Cris and Harrison

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Cristina Tardáguila is the International Fact-Checking Network’s Associate Director. She was born in May 1980, in Brazil, and has lived in Rio de Janeiro for…
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