What’s Crap on WhatsApp? is the winner of the 2019 Fact Forward Fund

June 3, 2019
Category: IFCN

A grant of $50,000 from the International Fact-Checking Network is on its way to South Africa. “What’s Crap on WhatsApp?,” a voice note show created by Africa Check in partnership with Volume to fight mis/disinformation that’s spread on WhatsApp is the winner of the 2019 Fact Forward Innovation Fund.

For the next 12 months, a team led by Africa Check’s Deputy Chief Editor Kate Wilkinson and Volume’s co-founder Paul McNally, will work to expand the success achieved by the pilot of “What’s Crap on WhatsApp?.” Launched May 3, the voice note show was 5 minutes long and dealt with different false stories that were going viral on WhatsApp in South Africa the previous month. One falsity, for example, was an image that showed Zimbabweans burning South African trucks in the border. Using the audio sharing feature, professional fact-checkers were able to debunk it.

The pilot was only 3.5 MB big, so it didn’t consume a lot of data.

“So it was easy for people to share. We encourage our subscribers to forward the message into their WhatsApp groups. In this way we expect the show will grow organically,” wrote Wilkinson on Africa Check’s application for the 2019 Fact Forward Fund.

“Africa Check has been a leader in fact-checking, not only with its reporting and coverage but also with its dedication to innovation in fact-checking,” said Baybars Örsek, director of the International Fact-Checking Network.

Volume is a start-up dedicated to producing innovative audio formats and stories across Africa.

The idea behind “What’s Crap on WhatsApp?” is to test a new fact-checking format — one that was born, developed and will be entirely distributed inside WhatsApp. According to the project, subscribers will be able to forward false information they receive on their mobile phones to Africa Check and Volume and receive a monthly voice show with all fact-checked content, all without having to leave WhatsApp. Wilkinson’s team believes that when subscribers receive a story that’s debunked in the show, there’s a high chance they will simply forward the program as an audio file within other WhatsApp groups, generating a new wave of good information inside the app.

Africa Check and Volume will partner with an academic or research organization to analyze the type of mis/disinformation shared with them. They plan to release reports on trends and types of WhatsApp misinformation in South Africa.

“Africa Check has had success fact-checking claims on open social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. But we’ve struggled to tackle misinformation on WhatsApp — we didn’t know what was being shared. This grant from the IFCN will help us to expand the show and reach more people,” said Wilkinson. “False information will have one less place to hide.”

McNally said, “The audio sharing feature on WhatsApp lends itself perfectly to delivering a compact and easily shareable radio show. And we see this as an exciting and innovative way for people to consume useful audio content.”

Twenty-five projects registered in the first round and 10 of them passed to the second round. An advisory panel graded all of them. The panelists were Mark Stencel (co-director of the Duke Reporters’ Lab and its Tech & Check Cooperative); Mariano Blejman (founder of Media Factory news accelerator and Media Party, the biggest mediathon in Latin America; Laura Hazard Owen (deputy editor of Nieman Journalism Lab at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University); Mariana Santos (founder and CEO of Chicas Poderosas); and Janine Warner (co-founder of Sembramedia and Knight Fellow for the International Center for Journalists).

“The appcast (since it’s not a podcast) is terrific,” wrote Stencel in his analysis. “The proposed distribution system is ingenious and involves debunking misinformation on a critically important platform.”

“I was immediately drawn into the sample podcast they shared in their application,” wrote Warner. “I like their tone and their approach, and I think they are using WhatsApp in a highly innovative way. If this works in South Africa, I can imagine it could serve as a model for many other countries, as well.”

Owen and Santos noted that the project might have some difficulties in scaling up since it depends on the subscribers’ will to share the audio file.

“What’s Crap on WhatsApp?” got 65 points out of 75 and stood out as the No. 1 project.

In the first edition of Fact Forward, the fund went to CheckNews, an “on demand fact-checking platform” created by the French media outlet Libération. CheckNews also served as a seed of the collaborative project FactcheckEU, built around the 2019 European parliamentary election and active until last week.

“Given the success and the instrumental role of CheckNews in IFCN’s FactCheckEU project, I hope ‘What’s Crap on WhatsApp?’ will follow the steps of last year’s Fact Forward Fund winner, Örsek added.