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How Do You Fact-Check The Fact-Checkers?

2 mins read Researchers should do independent fact-checks on themselves to be sure that they are better informed about the issues they fact-check!

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As an editor, you develop a B.S. meter—an internal warning system that signals caution about journalism that doesn’t feel trustworthy. Sometimes it’s a quote or incident that’s too perfect. Sometimes it’s too many errors of fact, the overuse of anonymous sources, or signs that a reporter hasn’t dealt fairly with people or evidence. And sometimes it’s a combination of flaws that produces a ring of falsity, the whiff of a bad egg.” – Jacob Weisberg

Fact checking is the process of cross-checking assertions or claims made by individuals, groups or institutions in order to determine the correctness of the statements.

Several media outfits are already showing interest in the practice of fact-checking claims and in fact, fact-checking has now been promoted to the extent that fact-checkers show interest in fact-checking newspaper reports suspected to be untrue.

The reason for this is to correct misconceptions and curb misinformation among citizens, as well as discourage politicians from spreading misinformation.

Who then checks the Fact-Checkers?

In recent times, particularly during the electioneering period, fact-checkers focus more on debunking claims made by politicians and these fact-checkers are supposed to be unbiased authorities who dispense truth without fear or favour. Naturally, there is no regulation to govern the practice of fact-checking, however, there is an international body whose members commit to abide by a number of codes of conduct hinged on excellence and transparency.

Can we then say Fact-Checkers don’t make mistakes?

Of course, fact-checking platforms make mistakes and sometimes get their rating wrong. For example, Snopes, a fact-checking platform, in April 2018 published that a business newspaper, Investors Business Daily, had “resuscitated” a “false” claim about 3.5 million more registered voters than eligible voters. It was shared virally on social media and when the platform realized that its fact-check was not accurate, Snopes later rewrote that section of its fact-check. It changed the ruling on the underlying claims from “false” to “mixture.” 

Sometimes, these mistakes don’t happen deliberately but because of work overload and simple human errors. For example, during the Saturday, February 23rd election, there was a mix up with links on Twitter in a check done by Dubawa. A Twitter user uploaded two videos of election irregularities, we fact-checked one of the videos but unfortunately, put the link of another video that was not fact-checked. Having realized this, a quick rectification was done and we alerted the people involved. Mistakes are inevitable but a fact-check platform must be proactive in its response to errors.

Corrections are not the only requirements of fact-checkers; originality is also paramount. Some newsrooms with supposed fact-checking units prefer to only republish fact-checks from other platforms without doing their own independent verification, apparently forgetting that journalists get their facts wrong almost as often as politicians.

Researchers sometimes may be biased with their judgement and that’s why a fact-checking platform needs to do an integrity test for their staff before employing them. A review of all fact-checks must go through necessary steps in order not to further mislead the public who rush to you to get their claims right.

Since, a fact-checking platform is like a mirror of the people, those in the best position to fact-check the fact-checkers are the principal officers of any fact-checking platform who must make sure that researchers with no experience do not pass judgments on statements from the public that are unverifiable.

Researchers should also do an independent fact-check on themselves to be sure that they are better informed about the issues they fact-check.

Adejumo Kabir is a student journalist at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He is a great researcher with many investigative journalism awards to his name. He loves community journalism and supports all aspects of public enlightenment. He has experience writing well-researched papers for online publications. He was Finalist for Best Student Fact Checker category of the African Fact Checking Awards, South Africa in 2018.

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