Guerilla fact-checkers are on the front lines in the battle against disinformation – using low-cost quick fixes to push back with immediate, expert analysis of breaking news.
What is the guerilla or DIY approach?
The guerilla or DIY (“do-it-yourself”) approach to fact-checking most often emerges in the midst of breaking news as individuals with expert or local knowledge jump into the fray, using social media or contacts with journalists and the media to provide insights into the topic at hand.
What kinds of misinformation does this approach most effectively address?
A DIY approach is most useful for specific, self-contained instances of misinformation, where existing expertise can be deployed quickly, efficiently and without prior preparation or investment.
What are the advantages of this approach?
A DIY approach expands the task of fact-checking to the widest possible range of professional and non-professional groups. Using this approach, amateurs, journalists and experts can produce fact-checking on specific topics that happen to be in the news, either through dedicated websites or more informally on social media. Since this activity is decentralized and often uncoordinated, it allows for spontaneous responses on certain topics from the most motivated or best-informed individuals, who can respond to misinformation through explainer posts on a blog or even more simply on Facebook or a Twitter thread. In Ethiopia Associated Press Journalist Elias Meseret is addressing the issue of fake news. He is a kind of central contact point for journalists and activists when it comes to checking false news in the country and publishes the results of his research on his social media channels and via messenger apps. Also the organisation GhanaFact emerged from the initiative of one individual. In an interview the founder Rabiu Alhassan said: “Specifically in Ghana there are concerns about disinformation because in the last few years, there have been increasing reports of violence against journalists. When you look at how people are losing trust in media and journalism practices in Ghana, it should be of concern to everybody.”
What are some of the challenges of this approach?
Although the DIY approach requires minimal funding, it is difficult to amplify any message, in particular when dealing with coordinated malinformation campaigns. It may be difficult for non-journalists who are fact-checking to take part in journalistic activity and to gain widespread public legitimacy based on their own fields of expertise. Without a connection to established media outlets, these initiatives will have to build an audience from scratch via social media or other non-traditional outlets, which may have a limited reach. There is also the problem of quality control and the possibility of non-professionals perpetuating fake news or failing to have the range needed to deal with complex misinformation. Finally, while DIY approaches do not require significant resources, without sustained funding it is not a reliable method in the long term.
How does it compare to other approaches?
In terms of its practitioners, the DIY approach is very flexible compared to other techniques that primarily rely on trained journalists. Guerilla fact-checking can include a wider range of experts and non-journalists than resource-intensive approaches such as investigative journalism and does not require the technical expertise of automated methods.
What are some examples of best practice?
Ghana: GhanaFact (active)
Iraq: tech4peace (active)
Nuts and Bolts:
Costs: very low – just the cost of an internet connection and the ability to post online;
Funding: none, although there are grants from NGOs and government for DIY projects seeking to professionalize;
Topics: specific events or conflicts, subjects of personal expertise.