Journalism and fact-checking

11. Fact checking is a combat sport /

French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu often used to say, “Sociology is a combat sport.” Alexandre Capron could probably say the same thing about fact-checking.

Journalist for The Observers, France 24’s collaborative fact-checking platform, Alexandre has been checking news for the site’s French-language edition since 2012. He specialises in the verification of videos shot by amateurs in West Africa. He also presents the show Info ou Intox, (Debunked), which we highly recommend you watch!

Alexandre Capron – Journalist – France 24 – France

For The Observers, fact-checking doesn’t just involve checking the facts and explaining what happened. Our aim is to explain to readers and viewers how we arrived at a particular conclusion.

For more than 15 years, citizen journalism has been involved in news creation. At The Observers, a dozen journalists work daily to check amateur images.

Alexandre Capron – Journalist – France 24 – France

The first criterion is: is the false content viral? Has it been widely shared and in what context? The virality of a video in France is not the same as it is for a video in Burkina Faso, for instance.

The second criterion is: does the false content have any educational merit?

The false content is not really viral, but it teaches you things about the reflexes you should adopt when it comes to your internet consumption. 

The third point is… is the false content potentially harmful? For instance, will it stir up hatred? I’d say that’s the top criterion. The poster is trying target a particular community or to spread an ideology. That’s the most dangerous type of misinformation.

The Observers have a network of over 6,000 employees around the world, citizens who contribute to fact-checking.

Alexandre Capron – Journalist – France 24 – France

The fact is, in many places in the world, there is no journalistic presence. And it’s the citizens themselves who are the first to report what is happening in their area. But it’s very important that there are journalists on hand to help them present this information.

When you’re an image verification expert, metadata is extremely important. This is data, which is often hidden, that is associated with a photo or video and provides crucial information. It could be the date the photo or video was shot, for instance, or geographical data about where a phone took a photo. All of this data is stripped out by messaging software like WhatsApp.

For example, we have contributors in Côte d’Ivoire, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in India, who can help us verify information. They’re not journalists but simple citizens. But they’re familiar with the principle of The Observers and know we support citizen journalism, and they can help us to check what happened in their area.

A video presenting an alleged fight between the president of Guinea Alpha Condé and his Minister of Labour circulated on social networks.

The Observers took over a week to establish that the video was in fact fake.

Alexandre Capron – Journalist – France 24 – France

Firstly, it didn’t appear to be Alpha Condé. We didn’t recognise him on the video. And most importantly, the initial posts that we saw mentioned Guinea but did not specify which. When we looked closely at the video supposedly of a fight between two politicians, we could see vehicles in the background, and a number plate. After doing a quick search, we realised that it couldn’t be a Republic of Guinea number plate. Then we took a look at the surroundings. We watched and listened to the video too. We realised the people were speaking Fang, a language mainly spoken in Equatorial Guinea.

The next thing I did was go on Facebook, on Facebook groups in Equatorial Guinea, and I posted the video and asked, “Does anyone recognise this video, or the location? Does anyone know what happened? “

A lot of people replied saying, “It looks very much like the national university in Malabo.”

We contacted them to find out more. And they confirmed that the fight had occurred at the national university in Malabo but that it wasn’t recent and was between a lecturer and a student.

We were able to say with certainty that the scene had not occurred in the Republic of Guinea but in Equatorial Guinea several years previously.

According to a study published in La Revue Science, a review article will be published only 10% to 20% as often as the fake itself.

Alexandre Capron – Journalist – France 24 – France

Verifying images every day that are posted on social media is very tiring because there’s a methodology to follow whenever you check photos or videos.

If we stop doing it, then we just give more space to people who want to spread misinformation.

A Libération journalist, who works on their Checknews team, said something that’s very true: “Fact-checking is the revenge of the resourceful.”

Because fact-checking often involves the use of digital, technical tools to verify the authenticity of a photo or video. It’s a very methodical approach, very much like detective work, in fact. We use one of the many free-to-use reverse image search applications when we see a suspect image on Twitter or Facebook.

With these tools, we can check on a search engine such as Google, Yandex or TinEye, which are reverse image search engines, whether the image has been previously posted elsewhere on the Internet. And often, within 30 seconds, we find that the photo has been taken out of its original context.

And we can instantly tweet or post a comment below the content saying, “Beware, this image doesn’t have anything to do with what you’re reading,” accompanied by a link to our fact-checking article.

The main qualities required by a fact-checker: perseverance, tenacity and methodology.

Alexandre Capron – Journalist – France 24 – France

Fact checkers need to have a very suspicious nature. Whenever you receive information, a photo or video, you should have doubts. That doesn’t mean you should doubt everything you see on the Internet! But you need to have an initial reaction, a gut reaction, and think, “What I’ve just received is strange. There are codes used in this photo or video which make me suspicious and make me think I should verify it.” It often takes time to verify information. There are some checks, for instance, that I have been doing for weeks and I still haven’t reached a conclusion. I don’t know whether I will one day. But if I don’t manage with one method, I try a different method. If the door is looked, I go through the window, to find another way to authenticate and verify the photo or video.

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