August 5, 2021

Factually is a newsletter about fact-checking and misinformation from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network. Sign up here to receive it in your email every Thursday.

Birds of a feather

Twitter announced Monday it would begin working with two International Fact-Checking Network Code of Principles signatories: Reuters and The Associated Press. According to a press release from the AP, Twitter will work closely with the two organizations to surface their fact checks in Twitter Moments, trends and “other surfaces within the platform.”

This marks the first time Twitter has sought the counsel of professional fact-checkers in a bid to improve its information ecosystem. It has been piloting a community-based solution called Birdwatch, which regular readers of this newsletter have twice had the pleasure of learning more about from MediaWise’s Alex Mahadevan.

Birdwatch is a pilot program from Twitter whereby individual users (aka Birdwatchers) submit notes correcting potentially false information in a tweet. Those notes usually contain links to a verified source that Twitter users reading the note can use to assess the veracity of the information.

In an email to the IFCN, a Twitter spokesperson said feedback from AP and Reuters will help the Birdwatch team assess the helpfulness of its community contributors’ notes. However, the spokesperson stressed that feedback from fact-checkers won’t have a direct impact on which notes Birdwatch elevates.

“This collaboration is just one way we’ll use to understand how Birdwatch is performing,” the spokesperson wrote. “There’s no one perfect measure to understand this, so we’ll be gathering multiple inputs to give signal.”

Of course, it’s not the first time tech companies have turned to fact-checkers for help combating the spread of malignant falsehoods on their platforms. TikTok began partnering with fact-checkers to fight COVID-19 falsehoods, which later expanded into election coverage.

Then of course there’s Facebook’s Third-Party Fact-Checking Program whereby fact-checkers who are signatories to the IFCN’s Code of Principles are invited by Facebook to attach fact checks to content flagged by Facebook users, moderators, or its artificial intelligence.

Fact-checkers and tech companies have had a somewhat symbiotic relationship. The IFCN produced a 2020 State of Fact-Checking report that found 43% of respondents get a majority of their funding from Facebook’s fact-checking program. Tech companies get content and expertise to help tailor their responses to the spread of harmful misinformation, and fact-checkers get funding and exposure to help promote their work and their mission.

Fact-checkers are trying to find ways to diversify their funding sources. In Brazil, Agência Lupa announced a new membership program called Contexto, which enables members to get a behind-the-scenes look at the fact-checking process and discounts to special training and events. In April, several fact-checkers joined together to try to sell their work as NFTs — nonfungible tokens that enable users to “own” a piece of digital content.

But the problem persists for fact-checkers. While it is beneficial to form partnerships with the tech companies who’ve come to control vast swaths of online communication, fact-checkers know they need to maintain their independence in order to be effective.


Interesting fact checks

Photo by India Today

  • India Today: “Indian Olympic chief hits a penalty, flashes fake Olympic medal” (in English)
    • The president of the Indian Olympic Association, Narinder Dhruv Batra, shared a photo of what he claimed was a medal given out to all volunteers at the Tokyo Olympics inscribed with the word “volunteer” in 11 languages, including Hindi.  However, after a reverse image search, it turned out the medal was actually a novelty pin being sold on eBay independent of the official Olympic website merch.
  • Ellinika Hoaxes: “Pregnant woman who lost her child in Corfu was not vaccinated for COVID-19” (in Greek)
    • A couple’s tragic loss in the final month of pregnancy was used to falsely claim the COVID-19 vaccine was responsible for the miscarriage. The claim, made in a Facebook post, asserted the vaccine had caused thrombosis that ultimately ended the pregnancy. However, in separate Facebook posts, both the would-be mother and father refuted the claim saying neither had yet been vaccinated, and they were waiting on an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

Quick hits

AP Photo/Matt Dunham

From the news: 

  • “Anti-vax lies – becoming an agony aunt to broken families,” from the BBC. Specialist disinformation and social media reporter Marianna Spring recaps her experiences covering COVID-19 conspiracies and the impact of falsehoods on individuals and families. She also recounted the abuse and threats she’s received in response to her reporting.
  • “Facebook cuts off NYU researcher access, prompting rebuke from lawmakers,” from TechCrunch. Facebook banned the accounts of two researchers working with New York University’s Ad Observatory, claiming the project violated the platform’s terms of service for collecting data on political ads. The researchers had created a browser extension to enable them to better understand Facebook’s ad targeting practices.

For/from the community


Updates from the IFCN

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.

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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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