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Global fact-checkers find strength in numbers amid dual challenges of politics and COVID-19


Factually is a newsletter about fact-checking and misinformation from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network & the American Press Institute’s Accountability Project. Sign up here.

Fact-checking is a form of journalism, and journalism is, at heart, a competitive sport. But when faced with this year’s dual fire hoses of political and COVID-19 misinformation, fact-checkers have had little choice but to work together.

The Paris Peace Forum, a yearly gathering of world leaders and nongovernmental organizations working to solve global problems, highlighted this fact when recognizing the work of the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance in the fight against COVID-19 misinformation.

“Fake news kills, so the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance is providing one of the remedies to that,” said Justin Vaïsse, the forum’s director general, during the forum’s closing ceremony.

The alliance, a collection of more than 100 fact-checking organizations from more than 70 countries who so far have produced over 9,000 fact-checks about COVID-19, will receive ongoing mentorship from the forum to help it expand and scale up over the next year.

Over the weekend, fact-checkers in Brazil revamped their collaboration from two years ago to help cut down on the amount of mis- and disinformation in the first round of that country’s local elections.

“The defense of democracy needs to be a constant exercise. We cannot imagine this fight without this broad alliance,” Marco Faustino, editor-in-chief of the Brazilian publication e-Farsas, told IFCN Associate Director Cristina Tardáguila.

A similar collaboration is taking place in Ghana, where fact-checkers and media organizations are forming a verification network to protect that country’s December elections.

When we see multiple fact checks of the same falsehood, it’s a powerful message that reinforces the truth. At the same time, with so much misinformation out there, fact-checkers have to band together to avoid getting drowned by the tide.

– Harrison Mantas, IFCN

  • One main takeaway from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s grilling of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Tuesday is that “Washington’s scrutiny of Big Tech isn’t going away any time soon,” wrote The Washington Post’s Cat Zakrzewski. Here are some other takes from top U.S. tech journalists:
  • Speaking of content moderation, BuzzFeed News reported that Facebook’s labels on false posts from President Trump do little to slow their spread.
    • Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac quoted a company data scientist as saying that the labels decrease reshares by about 8% but that given the number of shares Trump has on any given post, “the decrease is not going to change shares by orders of magnitude.”
  • Michigan public radio reporter Kaye LaFond explained how an election error in one northwestern Michigan county was exploited by disinformation agents seeking to create doubt about the 2020 election nationally.
  • Dr. Perri Klass, a physician who writes for The New York Times, talked to a number of pediatricians about how they are dealing with patients and parents when it comes to COVID-19 myths.
    • Many of the doctors she spoke with found that their patients believed misinformation at both ends of the extreme, making them either overly fearful of the virus or overly sanguine about it to the point where they were not taking enough precautions.
  • Four political scientists found in a recent survey of U.S. adults’ beliefs regarding COVID-19 that people showed a higher level of support for conspiracy theories than they did for medical misinformation about the virus.
    • “This suggests that potentially dangerous health misinformation is more difficult to believe than abstract ideas about the nefarious intentions of governmental and political actors,” the authors wrote in the Harvard Misinformation Review.

You might have heard the one about how President Donald Trump really won the U.S. election with 410 electoral votes, including those from the reliably blue state of California, and that election servers seized by the U.S. Army in Frankfurt proved it.

It sounds outlandish because it was, but the hoax, which appears to have started with a tweet in Germany, was given oxygen by Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas on the conservative news site Newsmax and by the pro-Trump news network OANN. Then it was quickly debunked by The Associated Press, Reuters, PolitiFact, and Truth or Fiction.

But the hoax-busters at Maldita.es in Spain were there first, and thus get our pick this week for what is just the latest in a series of fact checks quashing falsehoods about the U.S. election.

Maldita.es dove into the story when it was asked about social media posts and stories from far-right media outlets falsely claiming that the U.S. Army had raided a Spanish company, Scytl, to seize equipment used in the U.S. Nov. 3 election. Scytl itself also put out a statement.

What we liked: In the time it took for the falsehood to make its way across the Atlantic, it morphed from a German hoaxer’s tweet into Trump winning California. It was like a game of telephone on top of a conspiracy theory. Fortunately, Maldita.es had already laid the groundwork for the truth.

– Susan Benkelman, API

  1. FiveThirtyEight’s Kaleigh Rogers wrote about how false information about voter fraud was seeded into the American political consciousness.
  2. PolitiFact’s Daniel Funke wrote about how a fake screenshot from Parler created a hoax about Tucker Carlson leaving Fox News.
  3. Applications are open for the next round of MediaWise’s Teen Fact-Checking Network focused on misinformation on YouTube.
  4. There have been a number of fact-checks, of sorts, of the latest season of The Crown on Netflix. This one from the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins, calls it “a cowardly abuse of artistic licence.” Ouch.
  5. Sometimes, fake news is just the result of a big mistake.

Thanks for reading. We’re going to take next week off because of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. In the meantime, feel free to send ideas and feedback to factually@poynter.org.

See you Dec. 3.

Harrison and Susan





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