The rolling boulder
This will be my last edition of Factually. I’m moving on from the International Fact-Checking Network, and we’ll be shifting the newsletter to a monthly format while the IFCN looks for a new reporter. If you or someone you know would like to throw your hat in the ring for this position, you can use this link to apply to join our team at the IFCN.
In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for the next edition of Factually, which will come out on Sept. 30 with each subsequent edition publishing the last Thursday of the month.
I wrote in my parting email to the verified signatories of the IFCN’s Code of Principles that their work is a sisyphean task. You debunk a falsehood about something like chemical spraying helicopters in Italy only to see it pop up again in Ireland or France. Some of the details have changed, but the structure remains the same, and worse yet the repetition of the falsehood makes it easier for people to believe.
Add to that the political and financial benefits of spreading malignant falsehoods, combined with the scapegoating of fact-checking organizations for technology companies’ content moderation decisions, and you’ve got a profession that requires a healthy dose of self-care and mental health days.
There also aren’t enough fact-checkers to do the job. Facebook’s head of integrity and partnerships Keren Goldshlager told an audience at May’s United Facts of America conference that Facebook uses the work of its fact-checking partners to help train algorithms to both detect and flag potential misinformation.
“The reason we do that is because we want to use our fact-checking partners’ journalistic insight, while we take some of that technical work to look for that content at scale,” she said.
To give a sense of the scale, Justine Isola, Facebook’s head of misinformation policy, said the platform had labeled 167 million pieces of COVID-19 content alone. (Full disclosure: Facebook requires its fact-checking partners be signatories to the IFCN’s Code of Principles, and has also partnered with the IFCN on numerous grants to promote the field of fact-checking.)
But artificial intelligence is not without its flaws. During the June 23 IFCN Talk, Duke Reporters’ Lab lead technologist Christopher Guess said that while a 90% accuracy rating of matching fact checks to false claims is considered excellent in the world of machine learning, the same doesn’t hold true for the world of organic matter.
There are many noble efforts to ameliorate this deficit. The IFCN is putting a greater focus on international training to grow the global fact-checking community. MediaWise is also getting into the international training game partnering with fact-checking organizations in Turkey, Spain and Brazil to extend its media literacy prowess to those countries. They’re also looking for a coordinator for that program, so if you’re interested click here.
The point: fact-checkers need more help. Please use this list of IFCN’s verified signatories to find a fact-checking organization that works in your country, and if you feel so inclined, reach out to see how you can lend a hand.
Interesting fact checks
- Fast Check CL: “Government of Argentina rejected a donation of 15 thousand vaccines from Chile to Río Turbio City: False” (in Spanish)
- A Chilean news website published an article featuring a picture of an official-looking government document to claim the Argentine government had rejected an offer from Chile to share COVID-19 vaccines. The team at Fast Check reached out to the Chilean senator who proposed the exchange and discovered the document was actually from Chile’s health ministry rejecting the senator’s proposal.
- T Verifica/Telemundo: “No, the increase in COVID-19 cases is not the fault of immigrants” (in Spanish)
- COVID-19 cases are climbing in Texas and Florida, and the respective governors of both states have attributed this rise to undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border. However, fact-checkers at T Verifica spoke to medical experts who pointed to the low vaccination rates in both states, and restrictions on preventative measures like mask mandates as the likely culprit. The fact-check also pointed to Mississippi, which has the lowest undocumented population in the country and the third-highest per capita infection rate.
From the news:
- “The Co-Founder Of Snopes Wrote Dozens Of Plagiarized Articles For The Fact-Checking Site,” from BuzzFeed News. An investigation by BuzzFeed News discovered David Mikkelson plagiarized 54 articles between 2015-2019. His apparent justification was to use the plagiarized material during breaking news events to generate site traffic and then change the article content later.
- “Sri Lanka axes health minister over Covid misinformation as outbreak grows,” from France24. The now-former health minister had promoted a “magic potion” made by a sorcerer to cure COVID-19 and had come under fire for undercounting COVID-19 infections. Sri Lanka’s daily number of COVID-19 deaths crossed 150, outstripping the capabilities of the country’s crematoria.
- “‘Spreading like a virus’: inside the EU’s struggle to debunk Covid lies,” from The Guardian. Several former and currently serving European Union officials told The Guardian the bloc’s efforts to fight COVID-19 are being hampered by a lack of staffing, funding and political will to challenge rivals like China and Russia.
From/for the community:
- “How false content about COVID-19 is generated in the United States and reaches Latin America without major barriers,” from Univision. There have been at least six major misinformation tropes about COVID-19 that have gone viral in Latin America after originating in the United States. Some, which have been banned in English, go undetected on social media platforms after being translated into Spanish.
- “Desinformantes: A tool against the spokesmen of lies in the pandemic,” from Salud con Lupa. In partnership with the Latam Chequea network, Salud con Lupa has created a searchable directory of the most prolific spreaders of COVID-19 falsehoods in Latin America.
- “Reverso builds a culture of accountability ahead of Argentina’s midterm elections,” from Poynter. Building on the success of the 2019 partnership, Argentinian fact-checking organization Chequeado is revamping Reverso to focus on faster distribution and detection of falsehoods for this year’s midterm elections.
If you are a fact-checker and you’d like your work/projects/achievements highlighted in the next edition, send us an email at email@example.com by next Tuesday.
Any corrections? Tips? We’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading Factually.