Fact-checking, as the term implies, is simply seeking out facts. Seeking facts to verify the authenticity of a claim, confirms the source of an information, and traces the origin of narratives linked to certain multimedia content such as pictures and videos. Fact-checking has a traditional meaning in journalism that relates to internal procedures for verifying facts prior to publication, as well as a newer sense denoting stories that publicly evaluate the truth of statements from politicians, journalists, or other public figures. Nonetheless, the problem is there is so much misinformation spread around that audiences no longer know what to believe. The concept of fake news, while often used to debase an unappealing report, is also a genuine problem. The line between journalism and other content has blurred, making it more imperative than ever for all writers, regardless of their platform, to verify their facts. However, what separates fact-checkers from other writers, especially in the field of journalism is not merely about reporting the truth or recent happenings but ‘fact-checking’ the acclaimed truths of others and providing the facts about recent happenings. Irrespective of these key functions, fact-checkers perform, here are some other reasons fact-checkers fact-check.
1. To verify facts
Facts are reliable information, something that actually exists or has verifiable reality.. This is the crux of what fact-checkers do; to uncover the fact of a thing. While Fake news and other invalid contents are published for a variety of reasons, some post it to slander a rival, others enjoy trolling forums to watch others’ reactions, while some post clickbait in order to entice potential customers to view their adverts. Regardless of the motivation, publishing inaccurate reports can have catastrophic results and that is why fact-checkers check for the facts to separate such intentions and find the reliability in every piece of information that attracts public attention. Facts remain consistent but truth about the thing may change.. There is no such thing as alternative facts. Experts can have varying viewpoints and bring out various findings about a certain data, but a fact is a fact, and it continues to remain one.
In an article for The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer who looked at a recent study by MIT into the spread of Fake News on Twitter, inclined that: “Falsehoods almost always beat out the truth on Twitter, penetrating further, faster, and deeper into the social network than accurate information.” Therefore fact checkers are key in tracing out the facts and the exact details because once a story, tweet, post etc. hits the Internet, fake or real, the damage is done but it is only fact-checkers who can amend the aftermath which explains why fact checkers seek for the fact.
Nevertheless, at its core, information is powerful; this is because it has the capacity to mold people’s beliefs and opinions. It can open a reader’s mind to experiences half a world away, construct a person’s legacy or obliterate a reputation. One statement can start a worldwide revolution; even a post on Twitter or Facebook can start a movement (the Arab spring is a good example). Therefore, fact checkers, perhaps ahead of everyone else have realised that it’s important to get the facts straight. Hence, if facts can’t be verified, no matter how much it’s trending online, it remains an unconfirmed claim. A good fact-checker understands it is important to fact-check everything.
2. To counter disinformation and misinformation
According to Dictionary.com misinformation is a false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead. While disinformation is deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts count as propaganda. While the latter is unintentionally misleading, the former is intentionally deceitful with an attempt to manipulate, influence, or even misguide and defraud unsuspecting members of the society. Such false information travels fast and easily sinks into people’s receptive perceptions. Sorting through the vast amount of information created and shared online can be challenging even for outstanding journalists. Nonetheless, fact-checkers do it to combat misinformation and disinformation.
The effects of both misinformation and disinformation in the society can be drastic. The myth of salt as a remedy for Ebola virus and the current “infodemic” of misinformation about coronavirus has made it difficult to detect authentic information from inexact and deceitful information. However, fact-checkers respond to these new challenges by countering these false ratings, clarifying the misinformation, and directing the society towards right practices. This struggle began even more practically at the time when a bunch of misinformation stories was concentrated on false cures or false preventative measures; which was widespread. One case was a video that went viral on social media, suggesting hydroxychloroquine as an active coronavirus treatment. This is despite specialists’ emphasis that it is not a proven COVID-19 treatment that can literally have fatal side effects. It took a lot of effort and dedication from fact-checkers around the world to battle this misinformation and disinformation.
Summarily, the surge of fake news highlights the erosion of long-standing institutional bulwarks against misinformation in the internet age. Still, much remains unknown regarding the exposures of individuals, institutions, and society to manipulations by ferocious actors. Hence, a new system of safeguard was needed which fact-checkers responded to with so much affability.
3. To hold leaders accountable
True leadership is accountability. It was Courtney Lynch the author of “Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success.” who said, “Leaders inspire accountability through their ability to accept responsibility before they place blame.” Fact-checkers hold leaders accountable to their responsibilities, statements, actions etc., by verifying and determining the fact and validity in their affairs. With politicians constantly attacking the integrity of journalists, and tagging every unflattering story about them as fake, accuracy is a journalist’s greatest defence, and that is achieved if leaders are held accountable to their words and actions.
On countless occasions, individuals at the helm of decision making have made statements and claims about things they have done and achievements they have made. While it is most often believed by many, fact-checkers have confirmed some of such statements to be inaccurate. Hence, to hold leaders accountable for their actions, fact-checkers monitor election debates, speech of political officeholders, and even their statements to confirm its authenticity and hold them accountable for it.
During the 2019 presidential elections in Nigeria, five vice presidential candidates competing for leadership roles met for a debate. The debate circle around societal issues and the proposed policies they hoped to carry out. Nonetheless, their statements were later found out to be a mishmash of both truth and yarns after it was fact-checked. This turnout signals a reality that even leaders at the highest level are not immune to sharing misinformation and disinformation in the society. Nonetheless, since the public is most often susceptible to what leaders say, fact-checkers hold them accountable to their words and every statement they make.
The significance of fact-checking in today’s information overflowing world is enormous, especially when looking at the potential influence and power information has on its recipients. For instance, some myths about COVID-19 were prevalent. Ranging from the view that traits of the virus–believed not to spread on surfaces–is not true has not halted unfavorable claims from surfacing online and offline, especially in Nigeria where it seems to thrive well on social media platforms.
Fact-checkers have come to terms with this reality and are doing everything to better contain the now overflowing nature of misinformation and disinformation in the society. They have realized that crises, wars, conflicts are most often started from a flicker of ideology passed through an information that may be a fact or falsity.