Richard Zack is the founder & CEO of Our.News.
In mid-March, a mockup of a character with a cluster of germs in its throat went viral on social media. Its big claim: coronavirus begins in the throat, and if an infected person “drinks water a lot and [gargles] with warm water & salt or vinegar,” that will kill the virus before it can enter the lungs and do real damage.
Given what we’ve learned about the virus these past few months, this claim is laughably implausible. Back then, though, it was just plausible enough to inspire thousands of people to share this dangerously incorrect hedge against the spread of the disease.
Thankfully, the fact-checking community didn’t hesitate to nip this viral falsehood in the bud. Fact-checkers like Angelo Fichera with FactCheck.org—a verified signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN)—worked quickly to debunk the claim and keep it from duping readers into thinking they were safe when they weren’t.
This is one small example of the many ways fact-checkers have protected us all from misinformation these past few months. Now, as more and more communities reopen, the need for fact-checking has gotten even more intense. We need more information we can trust — not less — to make wise decisions about how to protect ourselves and others.
How Our.News supports the fact-checking community
With the recent infodemic of misinformation surrounding topics like COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the upcoming 2020 elections, the critical work of fact- checking is more important than ever. The problem fact-checkers face, though, is scale.
At best, a human being can only check a handful of articles per day without rushing or cutting corners. How, then, can the fact-checking community keep up with the torrent of news that’s released every minute — especially when most of the large platforms responsible for this deluge of information have declined to pay for fact-checking?
This is a multi-faceted question that I couldn’t hope to answer in a post like this, but there are at least two ways my company, Our.News, is working to help the fact-checking community:
Last week, I joined a panel of tech entrepreneurs at Global Fact 7 to discuss what each of our companies is doing to support the fact-checking community and the quality of information shared on the internet. When the moderator asked for my closing thought, I shared my conviction that technology is fundamental to the future of fact-checking.
If we’re going to keep up with demand, we need to innovate our way forward. To that end, Our.News is looking to explore innovative uses of our technology and partner with fact-checkers who’re interested in building technological solutions for fact-checking.
Grants, and free access to technology and support
Our Newstrition platform contains a massive, ever-expanding database of fact-checks (sourced from IFCN verified signatories), claims, sources, ratings, reviews, and more. Each is associated by URL or text claim and can be accessed anytime via our REST API.
This enables fact-checkers to instantly determine if any particular URL or claim has already been checked. If it has, they can grab all the important information associated with the URL/claim—saving hours of research time and reducing duplication of effort.
- Free access to our global API for verified signatories of IFCN
- Cash grants between $1,000 and $5,000 to help fact-checkers integrate our API and use our data to help expand their capacity
- Free, unlimited developer resources to facilitate integration
Working together to connect fact-checkers with fact seekers
News consumers want solid, substantiated facts they can use to make informed decisions about how they live and move in the world. They also want the ability to verify controversial claims quickly, without having to spend hours on research.
That’s why Our.News has developed a browser extension and mobile app: Newstrition. Drawing on aggregated fact-checking data from our API and a robust user-rating system, Newstrition provides “nutrition labels” to the content users read on the web.
Just like the label on a box of Cheerios, Newstrition doesn’t tell you whether or not to buy what the writer is selling. It merely shows what’s “inside the box,” so you can know about the article’s publisher and whether what you’re reading is based on fact or fiction.
We know you can’t gargle away coronavirus. What we don’t know is what the next plausible falsehood to infect our timelines will be. In the middle of a pandemic and a civil rights movement and an election season, the stakes are incredibly high. The next viral falsehood just might impact legislation, sway the election, or cost people their lives.
That’s why we need a vibrant fact-checking community, and it’s on leaders in tech to provide ways for checkers to keep providing this valuable service to us all.
Our.News is a technology company founded in 2016 to fight back on misinformation. We designed and developed the world’s first “nutrition label for news” to provide online news consumers with the facts they need to make informed decisions. With quick and easy-to-read information on the publishers, authors, editors, article sources, third-party fact checks, AI ratings, public ratings, and more, we’ve made it easier than ever to separate real from junk news, article by article.