February 24, 2023

As interest and concern grow over generative artificial intelligence and its unrivaled ability to rapidly spread misinformation, some are harnessing AI to promote healthy information ecosystems.

Ahead of Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election — which will take place Saturday, Feb. 25 — the UK-based fact-checking organization Full Fact is partnering with several African fact-checking agencies operating out of Nigeria. Full Fact is offering its artificial intelligence suite — consisting of three tools that work in unison to automate lengthy fact-checking processes — to greatly expand fact-checking capacity in Nigeria, a highly populated country that is teeming with misinformation.

“The tools are not intended to replace fact-checkers and the important work that they do,” said Kate Wilkinson, senior product manager at Full Fact. “Rather, they assist with time-consuming, manual monitoring and reviewing. This leaves fact-checkers more time to do the things they’re best at: understanding what’s important in public debate, interrogating claims, reviewing data, speaking with experts and sharing their findings.”

The three tools from Full Fact — search, alerts and live functions — work in real time to detect claims, alert fact-checkers when false claims are repeated, and instantly transcribe television or radio interviews (cross-referencing things said with existing fact checks).

“This means team members don’t have to allocate time to transcribe events or identify claims to fact-check,” Wilkinson said.

The scalable tools are of particular interest to fact-checking organizations in Nigeria, which — given the population of over 200 million (and a commensurate level of fake narratives) — can sometimes struggle to counter the sheer volume of misinformation they encounter.

Outlandish claims range in subject matter from false endorsements to cosmological events controlling the weather to election collusion. One Nigerian fact-checker mentioned an AFP fact check that received outsized pushback when it was called out by the labor party presidential candidate, Peter Obi.

“Politicians do push back and resist efforts by fact-checkers to evaluate political claims,” said David Ajikobi, editor of Africa Check. “Some double down on claims that have been debunked multiple times, and there are also cases where politicians and their supporters mount media attacks to discredit fact-checkers, either based on what they consider an error in a fact-check or evidence of bias.”

“Full Fact’s AI Tools — which Africa Check helped develop — allow the coalition to monitor news websites, social media pages and transcribe live TV or radio to find claims to fact check,” Ajikobi said. “This has boosted the coalition’s resolve to significantly reduce the spread and impact of election-related misinformation and disinformation.”

“Full Fact AI has been very helpful in the lead-up to the 2023 elections in Nigeria,” said Kemi Busari, editor of Dubawa, an independent fact-checking organization in West Africa. “I use the tools searching for claims and even identifying persistent spreaders of falsehood. These tools, combined, would further help us as fact-checkers to hold politicians accountable and help people access accurate information about the election.”

The project is funded by a $2 million Google grant, Full Fact representatives said.

“Before the grant, Full Fact was detecting around 100 claims each day,” Wilkinson said. “With support from Google.org, our AI tools now allow us to identify and review 100,000 per day, a 1,000x increase.”

An open letter, authored by fact-checkers ahead of the 2023 election and directed to Nigerian politicians, states that “the media, especially social media, is awash with loads of information aimed at pushing one political agenda or the other. There are claims and counter-claims, some of which advance existing ethnic and religious narratives, and engender distrust among Nigerians.”

Signatories of the letter include national and regional fact-checking organizations in Africa: AfricaCheck, Dubawa, FactCheckHub, FactsMatterNG, Daily Trust, TheCable, International Center for Investigative Reporting and the Center for Journalism Innovation and Development.

Wilkinson said that Africa Check was involved in the creation of the tools suite but that access has expanded to Dubawa, the West African-based fact-checking group, and FactCheckHub, the verification arm of the International Center for Investigative Reporting.

“We’ve had amazing support and interest from the fact-checking teams in Nigeria. We’ve onboarded 23 new fact-checkers onto the tool. So far, they have identified over 30 fact-checkable claims in the lead-up to the election,” Wilkinson said.

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Seth Smalley is a reporter at Poynter and the IFCN. Get in touch at seth@poynter.org or on Twitter @sethsalex.
Seth Smalley

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