By Jamiu Folarin and Raji Rasaki
The 2022 Global Fact conference, now in its ninth year, witnessed some quality participation from fact-checkers across the globe, from information disorder researchers and other representatives of digital platforms.
Being the first in-person conference in three years, the Oslo Metropolitan University hosted hundreds of participants. Baybars Orsek, the Executive Director of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) at the Poynter’s Institute, said the conference ‘brought together 512 in-person participants from 69 different countries and more than a thousand remote participants.’
Check-in platform at Global Fact 9 in Oslo
Meta sent representatives of its subsidiaries, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp to discuss how it adopted policy frameworks to frustrate purveyors of disinformation from using its platform to spread false information.
Although commended for sending quality representatives to the conference unlike previous ones, participants did not mince words in telling Meta to do more in sanitising its platforms and stop giving immunity to politicians to use its platforms to spread political disinformation.
Baybars Orsek, the Executive Director of IFCN with representatives of Meta
Each of the representatives from Meta said their participation was part of the platform’s renewed resolve to continue to partner with stakeholders to combat information pollution in the world and build new alliances that would be resilient to the strategies adopted by purveyors of disinformation, especially on its platforms.
On the background of the open letter of International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to YouTube protesting the disturbing ways the platform was being used to spread false information, the Director of News and Civic Partnerships at YouTube, Brandon Feldman, also had the opportunity to assure participants at the conference that the platform is taking steps to address concerns of the fact-checking community.
Fact-checkers’ Grouse with Youtube
Major complaints against Youtube at the conference include but not limited to the fact that the platform has:
- No conscious efforts to check dangerous contents on the platform
- No clear and accurate information on misleading information on the platform and efforts by the platform to check them
- Dangerous reputation with the fact-checkers communities
- Youtube AI doesn’t recognise so many languages in the world
What Youtube claims to be doing
Having faced this barrage of accusations from the participants, the Youtube representative explained some of the actions the platform was putting in place to address issues bordering on the misuse of the platform by the purveyors of false content.
- Youtube peer-review to assess content on our platform
- Youtube is concerned about the issue of transparency because we know it is important to many audiences. By this, we do think to navigate transparency around privacy.
- YouTube has helped provide funding to fact-checkers in many countries for election- related misinformation, issues around COVID-19 fact-checking amongst others
- YouTube has AI to check contents
Baybars Orsek interviewing Brandon Feldmam, the Director of News and Civic Partnerships at YouTube
In summary, YouTube promised to be more committed to riding its platform of manipulated videos calculated at misleading millions of its subscribers, but the participants wanted the efforts to be more transparent and go beyond the high-level working group created to address the challenges of information pollution on its platform.
The Global Program Manager at Tiktok, Mac Bennett, also had a conversation with fact-checkers at the conference. He explained how TikTok has been working with the fact-checking community to mitigate disinformation/misinformation on its platform through community guidelines.
Mr Bennet explained that any harmful misinformation on individuals, community or the general public that violated its misinformation policy and community guidelines such as video from the platform or its feasibility was either reduced or taken down. He added that TikTok launched its partnership program with 13 fact-checkers and was working on 30 languages in April 2020 in response to COVID-19 infodemic.
Africa fact-checkers in the eyes of global information disorder
Fact-checkers and researchers from Africa were part of the global conference convened to combat information pollution.
AfricaCheck, DUBAWA, PesaCheck and researchers from Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and several other countries had presentations to highlight efforts at dealing with information disorder in the region at scale.
The Executive Director of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), Dr. Tobi Oluwatola, led the DUBAWA team to showcase the efforts of the fact-checking organisation which was established in 2018 as the first indigenous fact-checking organisation in Nigeria and now spreading its tentacles to other countries in West Africa.
The editor of DUBAWA, Kemi Busari, was part of the session moderated by Tom Trewinnard of Fathm, with Ann Wangere of Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA) and Rabiu Alhassan of FactSpace West Africa as panellists.
The panel members discussed the collaborative effort towards COVID-19 pandemic in Africa. Kemi highlighted the top seven takeaways as follows:
1. In terms of false information spread and belief, COVID-19 is a global leveller.
2. COVID-19 threw up some of the most ridiculous claims (e.g: more sex kills COVID-19 virus) mass and social media have ever experienced.
3. Facebook and WhatsApp (in particular) were mostly used to spread COVID-19-related misinformation.
4. Collaboration and multimedia contents work magic.
5. There is still a long distance to cover in local language fact-checking.
6. Although deflected by the war in Ukraine, COVID-19 misinformation is still rife and requires attention.
7. COVID-19 has brought health issues to the fore. Unfortunately, not on a significant scale in Nigeria.
Peter Cunliffe-Jones, the founder of Africa Check and Director of courses on Media Freedom/Misinformation, University of Westminster, United Kingdom, presented the findings of the study conducted in seven African countries that showed how to address the observed disconnection between media literacy and misinformation in the continent.
Representatives from different fact-checking organisations such as DUBAWA and researchers from tertiary institutions in Africa such as Crescent University in Nigeria were part of panel discussions for the executive, editorial leaders, media literacy and academic matters.
The Global Fact 9 conference also offered fact-checkers and researchers in Africa the opportunity to deliberate on the best approach to address the challenge of information pollution in the world as they shared experiences, compared notes, and formed alliances and collaborations to win the disinformation war.
Language as Major Barrier to Fact-checking
Many fact-checkers from across the world have had their own share of bottlenecks created by multiple Languages in their domains. In countries with a number of different languages, fact-checking content in such a milieu can be very challenging as fact-checkers tend to be careful not to be caught in the web of wrong contexts. In many cases, particularly during election-related campaigns, politicians use local languages to drop false or misleading information and this, most times, can be susceptible to multiple interpretations which are also denied by political actors.
This is one of the major challenges raised by participants from Pesa Check operating in the eastern part of Africa. Apart from several local languages and dialects spoken, other major languages spoken in Eastern Africa include English, French, and Swahili.
In this context, fact-checkers resort to the use of language interpreters. This apparently is the reason most stakeholders strive to operate with Artificial Intelligence that can decode misinformation shrouded in language use.
Automated Fact-Checking Solving Language Barriers
While the major consensus among fact-checking communities was that technology is not enough for solving social/political challenges such as information disorder, there were success stories shared around automated-fact checking.
While Prof. Oscar Westlund at Oslomet University concluded that “digital technology is offering unique functionalities for specific problems,” fact-checkers from Argentina’s Chequeado also affirmed that automated fact-checking was working in different countries.
In their assessment, while language remained a major challenge in the ways fact-checkers carried out their work, automated machines were being deployed to interpret languages. According to Chequeado, “speech-to-text is working with us in Chequeado as over 60% of our fact-checks were produced by machine.”
From Madrid, fact-checkers affirmed that “claim counter” was used as machine tools: “Now we have over a million claims in our database. We use a machine (AI) to monitor over 400 politicians in minutes”. They also noted that the machine enabled them to work with about 21 languages in the EU.
But because technology alone is insufficient to stem the tide of misinformation, participants were of the opinion that the world needed more fact-checkers. “We need more fact-checkers. We need to get the truth to those who don’t need it…we need to get fact-checks to the audience who are resisting it.”
Governments, politicians, and business moguls, particularly those benefiting from the scourge of information disorder won’t want the truth of the facts exposed. Yet, most audiences of fact-checking do. That is why Chequeado fact-checkers said “users of OSINT are happy to help you because they want you to use their work. However, the government (in Argentina) is not ready.”
How Academic Research is Driving Fact-checking Practice Globally
The importance of academic research was emphasised during the GlobalFact9 conference. Research helps journalists and fact-checkers evaluate their performances on the job and make necessary adjustments. This connection between fact-checkers’ community and the academics is reinforced in the volume of research papers presented at the conference.
Against this background, fact-checkers attested to how research was driving the wheel of their progress. For Code for Africa, very little research exists around information disorder, so ‘’we partner with academia to produce peer-review articles.’’ For fact-checkers in Chequeado, fact-checking is proving to be effective and so “we partner with researchers to evaluate the effectiveness of fact-checking.’’ Similarly, for AfricaCheck, there was a need to know how research could help understand underlying issues behind misinformation, and so “we were supporting over 23 fact-checking organisations in sub-Saharan Africa.’’
Part of what the participants felt could be achieved through research was the dynamics of how misinformation was affecting gender and other different social demographic groups such as old and young people. It was also suggested that academic research should evolve modalities on how media literacy and fact-checking could be integrated into academic curriculum.
Entrenching Fact-Checking Culture in Newsrooms Beyond DUBAWA Fellowship
In a joint research paper presented at the GlobalFact9 conference by DUBAWA research fellows, the major discussions centred around the fact-checking fellowship which is a novel effort by DUBAWA in raising the bar of fact-checking culture in local journalists and ensuring healthy content in the Nigerian Media environment.
The paper was presented at a session moderated by Reidun Samuelson of the Oslomet University to provide insights into media literacy and fact-checking efforts within the local media environment.
The scope of the paper was limited to the cohorts of local journalists who have participated in DUBAWA’s fact-checking fellowships between 2019-2021, with a clear objective of examining the impact of the fellowship in helping journalists entrench fact-checking culture in their respective media organisations, particularly in the post-fellowship period.
The findings of the paper include:
- Improved proficiency in fact-checking activities and verification skills particularly in the post-fellowship
- Fellows/journalists exhibited greater energy to combat misinformation during the fellowship by writing more fact-checks and media literacy articles
- Despite increased skills, fewer fact-checks were produced post the fellowship period
- Though a majority of them dropped fact-checking after fellowship, a good number admitted organising more step-down training for colleagues in the newsrooms beyond the fellowship period
- Editors and media owners perceive fact-checks and media literacy articles as unmarketable in the face of dwindling revenue to media houses. Hence, fact-checkers received less impetus from editors to entrench fact-checking desks in newsrooms.
Part of the major challenges identified by the study as revealed by journalists include;
- Excess Workload
- Time constraints
- Workplace opposition to fact-checking
- Inadequate logistics
- Political and economic interests of the owners
- Some editors lack a clear understanding between fact-checking and normal accuracy checks in news content
It was the researchers’ conclusion that journalists’ inability to educate their audiences through media information literacy beyond the fellowship tells more about their sense of social responsibility. They simply perceived media literacy as a phenomenon restricted to what must be produced more as part of the fellowship’s deliverables and less as an everyday routine.
Secondly, media owners’ perception of fact-checking activities and media literacy as unprofitable reinforces obvious mediocrity in sanitising the media space of unhealthy contents, and this smacks of deliberate perpetration of traffic-driven hoaxes in the form of news.
However, the paper suggests that journalists were becoming more keen on quality journalism given the right platform to operate.
The paper made a subtle recommendation to DUBAWA, going forward, to prioritise the engagement and commitment of media owners, publishers and editors in the future fellowship process. There is no point for journalists acquiring skills they will not deploy in their workplace.
Having realised that DUBAWA’s success stories depend more on post-fellowship activities, the researchers conclude, “we recommend that the organisation coordinate a network of its fellows, plan for, monitor and evaluate their activities and solicit funding support for independent fact-checkers while engaging them in more solid ways to widen the reach of its fact checks.”
Beyond fact-checking fellowship, DUBAWA is strategically positioned to champion the emergence of a network of fact-checking organisations in the sub-region to enhance contents- sharing and provide a formidable bloc against official bullying and unfavourable legal framework threatening the culture of truth.
Lastly, there is a need to look beyond tech-learning to combat misinformation and focus more on users of these tools. To do this, stakeholders must push towards tinkering with education curriculum that integrates media information literacy and fact-checking. The future is the generation in the ivory towers. DUBAWA is well-positioned to effect these changes.
Global Fact Conference to remember
The Global Fact 9 showed how stakeholders in the information disorder ecosystem had in-road to debunking and frustrating the efforts of the purveyors of disinformation who are weaponizing platforms for political, economic and selfish gains.
As stakeholders work towards more proactive measures in preventing rather than combating mis-disinformation on digital and non-digital public spheres, the Global Fact 10 in South Korea in 2023 is expected to highlight the results of the resolutions reached and alliances formed in Oslo.