Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, fact-checking was a vital counterweight to misinformation. Here is a curated resource guide to help anyone – from journalist to news consumer – get started.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, fact-checking was having a moment in the spotlight. As the internet proliferates in nearly every corner of the globe, as politicians increasingly harness the power of social media in their election campaigns and the daily work of government, and individuals have the ability to both communicate and spread confusion, fact-checking has become a vital bulwark against misinformation, “fake news” and disinformation. If fact-checking has a secret power, it is that anyone can do it. Journalists and tech experts might have access to different resources than citizen journalists and interested consumers, but everyone can use the resources and tools below to inform themselves, better understand the events of the day, or debunk the latest viral rumor or misinformation campaign.
If you’re brand new to fact-checking, Full Fact has a simple primer on how to quickly spot misinformation in the wild, whereas the Freedom Forum Institute has published a “Quick Guide to Spotting Fake News.” OSINT Essentials, which stands for Open Source Intelligence, has a simple checklist – in numerous languages – to help identify possible “infohazards” on social media and in the news. First Draft News also has a few suggestions on how to get started with online investigations. Ballotpedia has analyzed the various methodologies of the major fact-checking organizations in order to compare and contrast their strategies and verdicts.
To directly check a rumor or viral story, try What’s Crap on WhatsApp (South Africa), which won the 2019 Poynter Institute’s #FactForward Innovation Fund, Snopes (which started as a website debunking hoaxes and urban legends, but has in recent years branched out into political and economic topics), AfricaCheck, Africa’s largest fact-checking NGO, Comprova in Brazil, Chequeado from Argentina, MythDetector in Georgia, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, or one of the many regional fact-checking sites listed below.
From there, a number of guides and handbooks are available that explain the basics of the craft, encourage best practice and provide a number of clear, concise and actionable resources. The major ones include: Poynter’s "Hands-On Fact-Checking: A Short Course,” OSINT Essentials’s Starter Toolkit, the European Journalism Centre’s "Verification Handbook: A definitive guide to verifying digital content for emergency coverage," and First Draft News’s Essential Guides.
First Draft has a data journalism primer on using basic data journalism techniques and the CrowdTangle database to analyse misinformation trends and narratives on Facebook, Reddit and Instagram.
For analyzing video materials, Witness has created a Video as Evidence toolkit for verifying eyewitness video materials, while the Washington Post published a “Guide to Manipulated Videos.” The Global Investigative Journalism Network provides a guide to spotting "deep fake" videos. To try your own hand at looking for inconsistencies in video footage, Watch Frame by Frame allows you to do just that (and in slow motion). For static images, TinEye is a reverse-image search to confirm if an image has been posted elsewhere or at an earlier date. FotoForensics makes it possible to see how much an image has been edited.
Another favoured fact-checking technique, used especially in war reporting, is geolocation. Bellingcat has a useful “Beginner’s Guide to Geolocation.”
Bellingcat’s online investigation toolkit has a multitude of resources for data journalism, open source verification and “digital forensics.”
One of the most exciting trends in fact-checking is the rise of software solutions to help stem the tide against viral misinformation, including Chequeado’s Chequeabot. Software such as ClaimReview allows for easy tagging of fact-checks and of misinformation, simplifying the creation of collaborative, international databases. Full Fact has developed its Trends, a software that “records every repetition of a claim we know is wrong, as well as where it comes from, so we can keep track of who or what is persistently pushing misleading claims out into the world.” The Duke Reporters’ Lab is working on the Tech & Check cooperative which hopes to find tech solutions to automate fact-checking in real time. FakerFact is a Chrome browser extension that functions as an AI fact-checking tool.
Research on misinformation
Academics and university researchers are also attempting to better understand the nature of misinformation, its spread and our reactions to it. Journalist’s Resource (a project out of Harvard University) has summarized some of the major research papers written on social media and digital media studies in 2019, 2018 and 2017, many of which have implications for how we understand and combat misinformation and debunk false narratives. Researchers are also starting to analyze the interconnections between fact-checking organizations and legacy newsrooms in specific regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, or within the media landscape as a whole. We can also see a rise in inter-disciplinary research, such as a project at Stanford University, which is deploying models typically used to track viruses to replicate the spread of false information.
The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) at the Poynter Institute has created several infographics, interactive maps and a large database as part of the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, which – in English, Spanish and Portuguese – allows users to quickly and effectively find accurate information about the infodemic around the world.
Through its Journalism Now platform, the Thomson Foundation is providing a series of free online courses that cover safety while reporting on COVID-19, the verification of facts (in partnership with First Draft), and content production – in English, Spanish, Arabic, French, Ukrainian and Russian.
The World Health Organization is offering a Mythbuster page dedicated to rebutting the fake medical information and rumors spreading internationally.
From safety for journalists, to #mediaviability and dealing with #disinformation on the #coronavirus: DW Akademie has put together a short list of resources for media workers in the #COVID19 crisis.
A project by Radio Sonica in Guatemala, supported by Deutsche Welle, is fighting disinformation addressed at young people through social media.
COVID19Misinfo.org is a Canadian research project at Ryerson University that both attempts to directly address the current pandemic and to study it in order to better prepare for the next public health crisis.
MythDetector is a fact-checking NGO based in Georgia founded in response to Russian disinformation campaigns circulating in the region. It has now expanded to include debunking misinformation about COVID-19.
Latam Chequea Coronavirus Project unites 28 fact-checking organizations from 16 Latin American countries and Spain and aims to help journalists and fact-checkers covering the coronavirus pandemic find reliable information quickly and simply.
Fact-checking in action: a selection of regional and national fact-checking sites
Fact-checking projects are often created to tackle misinformation related to a single event scheduled well in advance, such as elections or referenda, or due to a specific crisis or political situation. DW Akademie, for example, is currently supporting projects in Myanmar and Mongolia related to their upcoming elections in 2020 and 2021. Some organizations subsequently professionalize and branch out to cover disinformation more generally, others remain dormant until the next major event, and some – especially those run by volunteers – become inactive. Here is a non-comprehensive list of active projects throughout the world. The Duke Reporter’s Lab does an annual census of active and inactive fact-checking projects, as does the Poynter Institute.
AfricaCheck: Africa’s largest fact-checking NGO
BoliviaVerifica in Bolivia
FactsCan in Canada
FaktaBaari in Finland
Correctiv in Germany
GhanaFact in Ghana
Boom Live in India
Checkfacta in Indonesia
tech4peace in Iraq
Factnameh in Iran
PesaCheck: East Africa’s first public finance fact-checking initiative
Rappler in the Philippines
NamibiaFactCheck in Namibia
FullFact in the United Kingdom
Politifact in the United States
There are also a number of fact-checking consortiums and cooperative projects, including the Global Investigative Journalism Network , the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and Truly Media (a Deutsche Welle and Athens Technology Center joint project). The most prominent, the International Fact-Checking Network (ICFN), is a unit of the Poynter Institute. The IFCN has a Code of Principles and organizations can have the IFCN perform a fact-check audit to evaluate the extent to which they conform to these principles.