Journalism and fact-checking

12. Towards a world without fake news? /

Fact-checking already has a long history behind it. An integral part of journalism, it has evolved in recent years and has spread around the world, in mainstream and specialised media outlets.

An effective weapon against misinformation, and therefore in the fight to better inform the public, it is impacted by the negative perception of journalism. And by the news industry crisis, which has hit every continent and means hiring new journalists and training professionals to use new tools, isn’t possible.

That said, it’s hard to imagine it disappearing. At a time when conspiracy theories are gaining ground and the ongoing pandemic crisis has given rise to false claims that can impact our health, fact-checkers are essential. The World Health Organisation, which warned of an “infodemic”, recently urged social media platforms to take steps to limit the spread of misinformation. The aim is to promote information from authoritative sources and remove posts touting miracle cures.

Such appeals to major platforms, like Facebook and Google, have become frequent. Many initiatives have been launched. Facebook has teamed up with more than fifty partners around the world, with expertise in 40 languages, to fact-check false news on its platform and automatically alert users.

WhatsApp is also trying to curb the flow of false news on its messaging service while YouTube is relying on automatic detection algorithms and account removal but still continuing to promote conspiracy theory videos in its “recommendations”.

Making platforms responsible for controlling the spread of false news is not enough and could well prove to be a dangerous game. 

What if Mark Zuckerberg suddenly decided that all messages containing the term “Allah” should be automatically deleted from his platform?

To combat this very 21st-century scourge, some people recommend enlisting the help of top social media influencers.

Or systematically reaching out to the administrators of the most popular WhatsApp and Facebook groups to raise their awareness and train them.

Until this enormous task is completed and citizens around the world understand how to consume news critically, fact-checkers will have to carry on their painstaking work. Even if it is hard and some specialised journalists admit the constant onslaught of attacks from activists on social media, is wearing.

Another approach, explored by researcher Tom Rosenstiel, could prove interesting. He is campaigning for fact-checking that focuses more on the context that prompts a politician to make a false claim. He believes fact-checkers should look at the bigger picture and avoid fact-checking around absurd theories or claims.

The fact-checker journalist could then be more proactive, by identifying areas of confusion over important issues.

This model of fact-checking would tie in with one of the principles of journalism, which can be summed up by the phrase “context is king”.

All of these approaches will, we hope, little by little, fact check by fact-check, give everyone the tools to navigate a world where misinformation and conspiracy theories have less impact than they do today.


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