What to expect from fact-checking in 2021

It was once a niche practice in journalism, and fact-checking is now a household name thanks to a year with a deadly pandemic and important elections in many parts of the world.

To pursue our responsibility and strive for higher standards of fact-checking, the International Fact-Checking Network announced earlier this spring an update of the set of criteria attached to our Code of Principles, and a recent update of our transparency statement in our by-laws and an extensive advisory board. (Our annual transparency document process for principle codes for 2020 can also be found here.)

2020 was probably the most chaotic year in the 21st century and certainly an overwhelming year for fact checkers. The coronavirus pandemic not only rocked the world in an unprecedented way, but also redesigned how fact investigators work, how we learn from each other and, most importantly, how we work together not only locally but also globally.

IFCN’s own CoronaVirusFacts Alliance has brought together 99 fact-checking organizations from 77 countries and built the largest fact-checking repository on the very first infodem. The collaborative project maintains its database as a resource for the wider journalistic community, for researchers and – of course – for ordinary users via chatbots we have launched in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Hindi.

As evidence of the transforming nature of 2020, IFCN was able to raise millions of US dollars from Internet companies to support innovative and collaborative fact-checking projects to deal with lies on the same platforms. While these efforts are not necessarily good enough to address our information quality issues, we all have reason to be cautiously optimistic about the future of fact-checking, and it is becoming increasingly important to those who are increasingly becoming our modern agoras.

More than 50 organizations from 21 countries have received support to help people separate facts from fiction online and to empower fact checkers to address positive changes in the attitudes of platforms towards misinformation / disinformation.

The memory of the participants’ feedback from the very first virtual Global Fact conference we organized this summer is now recognized as the intersection of fact checkers as the intersection of information and technology. This is inevitably followed by a large number of responsibilities and attacks, with accusations of censorship coming from different fields.

Just a few days before we say goodbye to this memorable year, there are some surveys about 2020 and some predictions for the state of affairs in 2021.

In the pre-pandemic world, fact checkers have already paid attention to health / disinformation related to health. In Cape Town, South Africa, during Global Fact 6 in June 2019, I personally had the opportunity to moderate a panel on health and science focused fact checking.

Immediately after receiving early signals from Chinese-speaking fact-checkers in our network, my colleague Cristina Tardáguila did not hesitate to facilitate the largest collaborative effort in the history of fact-checking – if not in the history of journalism – by the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance. pilot. Eventually recognized as a groundbreaking effort by valued initiatives such as the Paris Peace Forum, it has become a great resource for anyone in the fight against misinformation / disinformation.

Now that we are surrounded by promising news about COVID-19 vaccines, it is clear that 2021 will once again be a year for fact checkers to focus on health topics, and downplay dangerous claims that can cause. actual damage, helps people gain access to, and makes sense of, reliable and authoritative information, and stops the spread of falsehoods at the community level by providing essential signals to networks.

One of the drivers for the rise of fact-checking was the eagerness of technological platforms to work directly with fact-checkers. Facebook’s third-party fact-checking program includes more than 80 partners who publish in about 60 languages, and is the biggest attempt to tackle misinformation on the Internet.

Over the past four years, fact-checkers have reviewed countless stories – Facebook has never provided a specific number, but shared a number of statistics during the first few months of the pandemic – which spread across the platform, prompting the company of critical provided input to inform users about fraud. information and gradually reduce the reach of such content.

Such relevance and publicity has resulted in upset groups and publishers have followed fact-checkers, arguing that ‘fact-checking is censorship’. This happened because fact checks are easier targets than the big platforms and because technology companies could not communicate in them how fact checks work within their moderation of content.

So many organizations working with Facebook, for example, are accused of censoring publishers and even politicians, despite the fact that Facebook does not allow fact-checkers to judge the claims of political actors (provided it is factual). checked whether they share a previous fact-checked content).

Regardless of the complexity of defining political actors in a globally appropriate way, fact-checkers are accused and attacked for something they cannot do on a massive platform like Facebook is an example of the importance of clear messages. The program is noble, but neither by the company itself nor by the participating fact checkers feels comfortable bragging about it due to the attacks from different sides.

To discredit such accusations and attacks, we will continue to promote higher standards of accountability and transparency for fact-checkers through our code of principles, while ensuring that fact-checkers have access to legal support to mitigate the risks associated with their work. The Fact-Checkers Legal Support Initiative was an integral part of our efforts to support the community during their difficult times.

Apart from the threats and attacks they experience as a result of their work, fact checkers need to communicate better and serve as truth tellers and bridge builders in their communities. I was personally impressed by fact checkers who organize their offline communities against misinformation in Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria and in many other countries where the odds are against it. We will continue to monitor such initiatives to bring expertise back to the rest of the world to increase our ability to tackle such false accusations and smear campaigns.

The IFCN’s CoronaVirusFacts Alliance started in the first few weeks of January this year, and achieved the world’s largest collaboration between fact checkers. It spans nearly two decades of time zones and relies on early warnings, notices between fact checkers and the construction of fact check databases.

During a pandemic, the fight against misinformation / disinformation is crucial for public health. Like the virus itself, rumors and lies are spreading across the borders causing what is currently called a universal infodemia. Our international cooperation is essential in this struggle. The database of nearly 10,000 fact-checks is now the best resource an individual has access to when questioning information about the new coronavirus.

In 2021, we will see more emphasis on the importance of collaboration – not only between fact checkers, but also among health authorities, academia and storytellers – to tackle misinformation against vaccine and surrounding implications of our fragile information ecosystem.

Just four years and one month ago, the International Fact-Checking Network sent an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg to address the issue of misinformation on Facebook. Not so long after that outreach, Facebook and IFCN made the biggest effort to combat misinformation on an internet scale by launching the Third-Party Facts Program.

The program has remained the most comprehensive and effective partnership between a technology company and fact checkers.

Especially in 2020, we have seen more and more technology companies turn their attention to fact-checkers to see the challenges they can no longer ignore, given the acute impact of the infodem on our information quality.

The IFCN, as the umbrella organization for fact-checkers around the world, has facilitated this by working together for the first time or building on existing partnerships with Google, Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube. During a number of grant calls, more than 60 fact-checking organizations received support to experiment and deliver innovative fact-checking solutions. Many of these organizations inspired others during our Virtual Global Fact this summer.

Based on their accumulated knowledge and experience working with fact checkers, technology companies will continue to turn to them, not only to raise funds for innovative projects, but also to establish sustainable business models to gain expert overview and input on their pipelines for content moderation.

A group that was once some twenty organizations spread across a handful of countries that met once a year to exchange ideas and build momentum today, has become a community – institutionally stronger and more experienced in dealing with technological businesses to work together and give them essential signals and assistance. to scale quality information across platforms.

Over the past few years, especially with the increase in the number of fact-checking organizations, the need for collective decision-making has become more important for the greater role of fact-checkers in fighting for the future of the Internet, such as my predecessor and IFCN’s founding director, Alexios Mantzarlis, timely remarked during Global Fact 5 in Rome two years ago.

To fulfill the mission and address the need for collective decision making, we have made a year-long effort with Full Fact and Maldita providing resources to facilitate structured discussions within our community. The aim is to highlight common positions around our work, the data we provide and the partnerships we have with our stakeholders.

Of the more than 40 verified signatories we have interviewed so far with Phoebe Arnold of Full Fact (a former IFCN advisory board member), an overwhelming majority have made it very clear that technology companies should remunerate the work of fact-checkers, given the value of and the need for accurate and authoritative information on such large networks.

Our chatbot experiments on the COVID-19 pandemic and the US presidential election showed that the fact-checking of a group of credible fact-checking organizations has the potential to expand our work – from traditional mediums to messaging programs, where misinformation can occur. fast and unnoticed during fast news cycles.

Based on such experiments, fact checkers must invest in ways to scale their work, counteract misinformation against its origins, and determine the future of their work from a business sustainability perspective.

In 2021, the International Fact-Checking Network will place more emphasis on bringing different voices from the community together and conveying the feedback to the wider community to make informed decisions regarding our future sustainability.

If I have to underline one pick of 2020, it is important to me that the preparation and monitoring of capacity for global incidents of misinformation / disinformation is crucial. It can only serve our purpose to conduct an informed debate through cooperation and collective response. Fact checkers will need to insist on more collaboration between technology companies, researchers, public institutions and other stakeholders to address such incidents effectively and globally.

Whatever is in store for us next year, we must be ready to lead this effort as the fact-checking community through more discussions followed by collective action.