FAKE NEWS & FACT CHECKING
Fact checking is a technique that involves verifying in real time whether the facts politicians and experts present to the media are true and their numbers are accurate. Fact checking is also a way of assessing the level of objectivity in the media’s treatment of information.
Fact checking has become a ubiquitous practice in recent years as it has come to be seen as a means of fighting the spread of fake news. Verifying facts has proven to be indispensable given the exponential growth of digital technologies and social networks; with the tidal wave of posts generated by users (350,000 tweets are posted every minute on Twitter), fact checking is a way of distinguishing truth from fiction.
The practice of fact checking has become democratised nowadays thanks to software that helps private individuals to do it. It even became automated in 2013 with the release of an algorithm designed to perform the checks with no human intervention. Since most fake news, ‘troll farms’, and hoaxes are spread on social media, tech giants such as Facebook have been employing fact checking since 2016.
One of the top global fact-checking platforms is the NGO Science Feedback, known for being a member of the International Fact-Checking Network as well of the World Health Organisation’s ‘Vaccine Safety Net’. The platform’s aim is to put scientists on the front line in the fight against disinformation. The organisation’s mission is to strive towards an internet where users have easy access to reliable scientific information, especially in the areas of health and the climate, two urgent societal issues that attract an endless influx of fake news. To fulfil this mission, the NGO runs a community of 400 scientists that use a rigorous verification method to check the most popular articles. Science Feedback’s two websites, Climate feedback & Health Feedback, totalled 1.8 million views from 2018–2020.
CASE IN POINT: FACT CHECKING IN THE BALKANS
A report by the Council of Europe on the media landscape of the Balkans shows that the region is mired in masses of “fake news, hate speech, and clickbait, which has resulted in a dramatic decrease in people’s trust in the media”.
The Center for Democratic Transition (CDT) confirms the pervasiveness of fake news: after analysing more than 500 articles from 200 regional media outlets, the organisation concluded that nearly every online media outlet had published at least one fake news item in the past six months.
The Balkans have 4 main fact-checking bodies, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia:
These four bodies have redoubled their efforts and cooperation after a wave of fake news was unleashed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Together, they now form part of Facebook’s programme for fact checking and fighting disinformation. In the programme, which includes 70 certified fact-checking bodies worldwide, articles identified as fake are demoted to the bottom of the newsfeed. Once demoted, the average number of views for these fake news items decreases by over 80%.