Fact-checkers emphasized Tuesday the importance of collaboration in protecting election integrity and fighting back against false accusations of fraud.
Speaking at Tuesday’s IFCN Talk, Gilberto Scofield Jr., business and development director for the Brazillian fact-checking organization Agência Lupa, said national elections in 2018 revealed the power of social media to attack the electoral process.
“There was a lot of misinformation popping up before and during the election saying, for example, this electoral zone is not working,” Scofield said. Another viral falsehood claimed election officials were secretly working for one party or another, so Agência Lupa partnered with Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court to train local, regional and national officials how to counter misinformation.
“The idea was to not only to make them aware of the threats of misinformation, but also (teach them) how they can produce information to counter inform the misinformation that was spreading,” Scofield said. He added a major imperative was training Brazillian officials to focus on misinformation attacking the electoral system rather than individual candidates.
“We are talking about a very different ecosystem of misinformation regarding the electoral process,” he said, adding that he’s already seeing examples of disinformation attacking Brazil’s electoral system ahead of national elections in 2022. “We need to be conscious, and we need this training of misinformation around elections.”
Ghana Fact managing editor Rabiu Alhassan said it was important for his organization to create a fact-checking network across Ghana that could be responsive to the local needs of Ghana’s 16 regions.
“We decided to make sure we decentralized whatever knowledge and skills we had by going around to the various media organizations and training and making sure these organizations had journalists (with these skills) in-house,” Alhassan said. He noted his fact-checking team did not have the bandwidth to both produce and disseminate fact checks everywhere Ghanaians get their information.
“We created a fact-checking network made up of more than 100 journalists and we created a multi-organizational collaboration, which involved credible civil society organizations, observer groups, and also the internet companies to be able to effectively deploy our resources and be able to reach the public,” Alhassan said. This network helped to both flag and distribute verified information throughout Ghana, but Alhassan noted it was not immune from political claims of election fraud.
“There will always be claims of cheating,” said Gemma Mendoza, head of digital strategy at the Philippine news outlet Rappler, as laughter broke out amongst the panelists. “Nobody likes to lose.”
However, both Mendoza and Alhassan suggested that fact-checkers should build up their capacity to be able to both explain and verify claims made about the electoral process.
“It’s all about looking at numbers, logic, and systems, and are systems supposed to work that way,” Mendoza said. She said that no election is 100% free of some kind of voter error, but countered that fact-checkers should be able to evaluate these claims in context to help their audiences understand the severity.
“Like, ‘this is concerning, but it should not be taken as representative of the entire process,’” Mendoza said. She gave an example from the 2016 election when a relatively small election system error led to widespread speculation about the legitimacy of the election. Though this complaint was eventually resolved by the Philippine supreme court, Mendoza said the seeds of the claim should have been challenged by fact-checkers, media organizations and officials much sooner.
“When you let that claim fly without challenging the source of the claim and asking them to provide more proof at the outset, you are actually fanning potential claims,” Mendoza said.