On April 30, Latin American fact-checkers woke up under the effects of a video posted on social media by Juan Guaidó. The Venezuelan opposition leader asked the military and civilians to rise up against Nicolás Maduro and put an end to his government. It was time for LatamChequea — the network built by the International Fact-Checking Network’s members who are active in that part of the planet — to interact, and also a great opportunity to collaborate.
For the first time, Latin American platforms could work together and share fact-checked content about a Latin American crisis. And so they did. They launched a new hashtag — #VENfacts, which will follow what is going on in Venezuela from now on. Take a look at #VENfacts on Twitter, for example.
The work that started April 30 was done by Agência Lupa (the fact-checking platform I founded in Brazil), Ecuador Chequea (in Ecuador) and Chequeado (in Argentina). It was also replicated by many others in the continent. To join the initiative, there were some clear rules: all the content produced around the Venezuelan crisis could be freely republished by the LatamChequea members but all texts and ratings needed to be kept the same or as similar as possible to the original piece. Bylines and credits were required to be seen on every language and platforms, just like the hashtag #VENfacts.
Once every fact-checking initiative agreed with that, a Google Doc was created and a table of contents was shared. Every time a piece of information was fact-checked, it was entered into the table so other members of LatamChequea could copy the conclusions and republish it. To maintain clarity, fact-checkers needed to post the false claim, photo and/or vídeo and explain why it was misleading. Then, they were to provide the sources used to debunk it.
This is how the collaboration managed to show, for example, that Chilean President Sebastián Piñera had not threatened Nicolás Maduro that he would send Chilean troops to Venezuela if something happened to Guaidó on Tuesday. Piñera has always defended a pacifist solution for the Venezuelan crisis, and #VENfacts coalition proved this by gathering and reposting his tweets.
It was not false, but a very old video and a a very old photo that became popular on April 30, showing huge protests against and in favor of Maduro. The video, recorded in front of military headquarter in the city of Maracaibo, was, in fact, from 2014. The photo, showing people with flags, had been taken in Caracas a decade ago — in 2009.
“There is a lot of potential for collaboration between Latin American fact-checkers during Latin American crisis,” said Olivia Sohr, the Chilean journalist who coordinates LatamChequea from Chequeado, in Buenos Aires. “This initiative around Venezuela shows that fact-checkers can work in a coordinated way against different pieces of misinformation, avoiding duplicity. It makes fact-checking faster and more efficient. And, by doing so, it was possible for us to inform a much wider audience, in many countries, and to reduce the spread of hoaxes. It is clear that there is still a lot to do, but the fact that LatamChequea exists creates room for collaborations that need to be activated very fast.”
The LatamChequea network was born in Argentina in 2014, during the first Latin American fact-checking summit. On its third edition, held last year in Buenos Aires, it got bigger and stronger and the community decided it was time to create a closed Facebook group and to start having monthly calls. In April, Sohr began publishing a newsletter in Spanish and the group got even more connected. You can sign up to receive it here. Now, make sure you follow #VENfacts on social media, since the Venezuelan crisis is still a strong topic for fact-checkers and misinformation is still around.