Journalism and fact-checking

01. What is fact-checking? /

Fact-checking is a set of practices and tools that allow you to verify information. There are many ways to do this, and any type of content can be checked: photos, videos, rumours shared on social networks, etc.

But first, a reminder that fact-checking is the basis of good journalism. A journalist must always carry out fact-checking before publishing a story. Until a few years ago, it mainly involved verifying politicians’ statements. But due to the explosion of misinformation, often created on the internet and massively distributed via social media, fact-checking is becoming an increasingly important part of news media all over the world.

There are now more than 4.5 billion internet users in the world, so the mass of published content makes you dizzy. Here are the figures: in one minute, almost 42 million messages are exchanged on Whatsapp, 500 hours of videos are published on YouTube, and 500,000 comments appear in Facebook publications. The advent of the internet, especially via mobile phones, has allowed ordinary citizens to become casual reporters by posting photos and videos of events they witness. The problem is that among all the content shared on the net, there is false information, or information that deserves to be substantiated. And even if it’s a tiny fraction of what people publish worldwide, the verification work is colossal. The situation is the same in every country in the world: misinformation affects the United States as much as it does African countries; it spreads as much in Europe as it does in the Near and Middle East. The situation has some peculiarities in the Arabic-speaking world, where media, although very diverse, remains dominated by authoritarian governments hostile to press freedom. The population, already reluctant to trust the media in general, has nevertheless benefited for some years now from satellite television channels with stronger professional ethics. And the internet has let many players emerge, including sites specializing in fact-checking.

But in countries where citizens are used to a form of media propaganda, the work of fact-checking specialists is sometimes complicated and can be like emptying the ocean of fake news with a spoon.

Fact-checking is also a gruelling task and can be repetitive, but it is essential: some misinformation has a negative impact on society. From anti-vaxxers that refuse essential treatment to the most far-fetched conspiracy theorists, misinformation and its dissemination are at the heart of what some experts call “the post-truth era”. This refers to an evolution of our societies in which emotion takes precedence over reason, and where established facts are constantly being challenged by part of the population who use social media to make themselves heard. Some politicians play with it, ignoring the facts and the need to submit their arguments. And some media occasionally feed this new form of confusion: when Al-Jazeera and other satellite channels did not contradict the blatant propaganda of Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf at the start of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, they facilitated the spread of misinformation and fake news in the Arab information ecosystem and public debate.

At a time when scientists, academics and journalists are being rejected, all information is subject to doubt. Fact-checkers can then be seen as the first fighters on the front line of information. And sometimes they save lives, such as when it comes to curbing false rumours shared in India about child abduction gangs that lead to lynchings. Or dismantling conspiracy theories that are very much in vogue in Arabic-speaking countries: a 2011 Pew Research Center (PRC) survey estimated that the conspiracy theories around September 11 are very prevalent in the region: less than 30 percent of respondents admit that the attacks were perpetrated by Muslims and Arabs. So, giving ourselves the means to fight misniformation is a major challenge for the coming century, as underlined by the Washington Post’s new slogan: “Democracy dies in darkness”.

And that’s just as well, since during this course, we will give you the essential elements to understand what misnformation is and, above all, how to track it down and check it.

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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