OSLO, Norway — Academic and practical attention to the discipline of fact-checking has burst into the mainstream. Many fact-checkers got their start in 2016, scrutinizing the U.S. presidential election, and the International Fact-Checking Network was founded just one year earlier.
With the coinciding emergence of thousands of research articles on misinformation, disinformation and fact-checking, many academics and fact-checkers are asking one question: How does this help?
To kick off the ninth iteration of the fact-checking conference GlobalFact, a panel of researchers, professors and working fact-checkers gathered Wednesday in Oslo to discuss the divide between research and practice.
“Academic research is not always written in a language that is easy to understand or that’s very illuminating,” said Lucas Graves, a professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Academics don’t always focus their research on the kinds of practical questions that are really, urgently important to real-world organizations in the field.”
Fact-checkers on the panel expressed a desire for replications of some of the studies that have been carried out in the United States and Western Europe, but not in the rest of the world.
“Don’t assume that results will be the same in different political and cultural contexts,” Graves tweeted shortly after the discussion. “More research on misinformation and fact-checking in offline media remain hugely important across the global south and global north. Don’t look for answers only under the lamppost, I.e. social media.”
“Having these kinds of conversations — between academics and people who are doing the work — is really worthwhile,” said Georgetown professor Leticia Bode, who studies misinformation on social media.
Another theme of discussion, in addition to extracting practical use from academic studies, was how much more research needs to be done.
“In addition to having very little information about sustained impacts (of fact-checking) and impacts on groups of people over time, we have almost nothing on how often particular people encounter fact checks in the wild,” Graves said.
Other panelists included Olivia Sohr, impact director at Chequeado;, Hlalani Gumpo, impact manager at Africa Check; Hlalani Gumpo; and Tijana Cvjetićanin, head of research at Zašto ne.
Joan Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, kicked off the day’s events with a keynote about what facts actually are and how they pertain to power and politics. Donovan discussed the importance of in-group symbology in online memes as well as the far-right group the Proud Boys and the comedian Sam Hyde, who is known for internet hoaxes following mass shootings.
A group of lecturers also spoke successively about technology and fact-checking, presenting interesting data on factors that determine engagement success among publications that publish variations on the same story, as well as on automated fact-checking research.
In the afternoon, there were panels on the influence of social media platforms on the ability to identify, verify and disseminate fact checks; an examination of future fact-checking research necessities; and a panel discussing fact-checking as a discipline from multiple angles, including “contexts, actors, practices tools, funding and regions.”
GlobalFact 9 continues on Thursday with an opening keynote conversation between Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer-winning journalist and historian, and Neil Brown, president of The Poynter Institute, with introductory comments from International Fact-Checking director Baybars Örsek.