Journalism and fact-checking

08. Some fact-checking tools /

Fact-checking is a practice that can take a variety of forms. Some journalists focus on numerical data, others on rumours circulating on WhatsApp groups.

Before you start an investigation, there are a few things you can do to make sure the information you want to check, is false.

Here are some tips and advice to help you fact check like a pro!

If the info is on a website, make sure you always check the source. A host of blogs and websites out there purporting to be news sites actually help spread misinformation.

Also, journalists sometimes fall into the trap of spoof or satirical news websites, such as El Manchar in Algeria. To quickly find information about a source, you should check the site’s ‘About’ or ‘Who We Are’ section if you have the slightest doubt. You will usually find these links in the website footer, at the very bottom of the homepage. In El Manchar‘s case, things are perfectly clear:

“El Manchar is a fake and completely ridiculous news site.”

But you will sometimes need to continue your search by looking for the name of the site’s managing editor, to have a clearer idea about his or her expertise and stance.

If you have doubts about a site’s trustworthiness, don’t hesitate to check what Wikipedia says about it. In fact, this collaborative encyclopaedia is a good resource for finding out whether there is any controversy surrounding a news outlet. For instance, it is obvious from the very first line of the Wikipedia article on the Islamic Republic News Agency that it is an Iranian news agency controlled by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and is therefore pro-government.

If you have doubts about the authenticity of a photo, as we will see, you can use a search engine to do a reverse image search. That is what this French Press Agency journalist did to verify a photo of the Senegalese President Macky Sall surrounded by officials, all wearing masks, when the country had just reported its first SARS CoV-2 case. She was able to prove that the photo had been altered, but she also points out in her article that she did something we sometimes forget to do: she got on the phone!

The fact is, if you have plenty of contacts, you can easily check information without spending hours scouring the net. In this case, the journalist ascertained that the photo had been taken years before, and without masks! Her source? The president’s official photographer.

Another quick way to verify information is to do a simple copy-and-paste. Let’s take the example of these remarks attributed to the Congolese Nobel Peace Prize winner, gynaecologist Denis Mukwege.

“Africa clearly does not have the resources to fight this plague. Each of us must be willing to change our habits: avoid travel, stay at home and adopt social distancing measures. If we have to decide whether to let a patient die or administer a drug whose efficacy has not yet been fully assessed but whose safety has long been proven, I would say, we should choose the lesser of the two evils.”

The doctor seems to be promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine on Covid-19 patients, but no source is given. There is no date or context. First things first. The Medias241 website does not have an ‘About’ section. So you can’t find out who is behind the site. There is no Wikipedia entry either. But if you click on the site’s Facebook page, you’ll see it has a huge following. The social media site has an ‘About’ section. Access by clicking on ‘More’.

The site claims it is “a Gabonese pure player, Gabon’s first professional WebTV”.

So it is hard to determine whether the source is reliable. On the other hand, there is a very easy way to find out whether the Denis Mukwege quote is authentic: copy and paste!

All you have to do is copy and paste the first sentence into a search engine, such as Google,

making sure to use quotation marks. These tell the search engine to look for the exact phrase. The first search result? A Le Monde article published on March 28, 2020, in which the gynaecologist makes the remarks attributed to him by Medias241.

“We must take immediate steps, or millions will die.”

So the information is correct, and you proved it! The fact is though, the journalist should have cited his source by providing a link back to the original article. It would have saved us time!

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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