How to do fact-checking journalism?

The task of fact-checking is demanding and in the face of the era of disinformation and fake news, fact-checking is a bid for transparent public power.

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By Sasha Muñoz Vergara. Published July 19, 2021 According to "Tips for Fact-Checking: How to do fact-checking journalism" (es), the guide of Consejo de Redacción and Colombiacheck, verifying data is a methodology of journalism that seeks to determine the integrity of data. Good journalism consists of contrasting sources, asking counter-questions, and corroborating the information given in press conferences or public statements to get to the bottom of each issue.

Why perform data verification?

The work is exhaustive but necessary. Fake news is the obstacle that citizens must overcome to make free, informed, and rational decisions about public power and other issues.

Today’s highly developed audience measurement systems make it possible to analyze every behavior of audiences on the web, from reading patterns, dwell time, most viewed videos, and most visited sites to the emotions they can cause. But, according to the guide, this information, handled carelessly and unethically, can lead to the production of segmented and personalized messages that “appeal to citizens' fears and affect their freedom of choice.”

An example of this may be the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, the vote on the peace agreement in Colombia, and the U.S. presidential election, which all occurred in 2016.

How to recognize that there is disinformation?

The guide provides a series of clues to take the first step in disproving erroneous or misleading information.

  • The source of information is unclear. The WhatsApp chain that your aunt sent you with the phrases ‘they told me around,’ ‘someone told me,’ or ‘someone told my neighbor’ is unreliable. The same goes for Twitter posts or Facebook posts.

Look at this case (es) were Twitter posts with false information provoked attacks on ambulances in Colombia during the May 2021 demonstrations.

  • Sources do not verify the information. If the publication includes references, you should check those sources, call them to corroborate the data. That is also how it works with images. Some publications have sensationalist titles that do not correspond to the information they include.

Here you can read this news (es) about how some Mexican public actors spread false images about children with cancer and the shortage of medicines by the Government.

  • The information does not appear in other media. If you are suspicious of any data, the best thing to do is search the internet to see if what has been reported has been published in other media. If it was only published in one, it is a good indication that the information may be false.

This case (es) mentions a Frenchman who was offered a large sum of money to spread false information about the BioNTech vaccine.

  • The date of publication is not recent. Some media may decide to recycle a real news item years after it was published. But, even though it is real news, publishing it without historical context, without specifying that it is an old publication, can become disinformation that seeks to harm.

For example, this news (es) is about how an old and out-of-context tweet was used to misinform one of the quarantines that the city of Bogota in Colombia had during the Covid-19 pandemic.

How to perform a data verification?

Although the possibilities are varied, from Datasketch, based on the guidelines mentioned above, we offer you these recommendations to combat misinformation and make a reasonable exercise of data checking.

Don’t forget to visit here our applications and tools to create and improve your journalistic pieces.

Find the origin of an image

If the image that illustrates the news item seems suspicious to you, it is maybe because it has been reused. That is to say, the picture may be accurate, but the events narrated probably occurred at another time and place.

Google offers a service called “Reverse Image Search,” which takes an image and searches for similar ideas to find where a photo was first published.

The steps to do this are:

  1. First, download the image you want to verify.
  2. Go to this link.
  3. Drag the image or click on the camera icon and then upload the photo from your computer.
  4. Investigate the results.

Check out this tweet (es) from the former mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro, who shared a photo of a person thinking it was someone else.

Verify a piece of information

The Colombiacheck organization shares its way to check:

  1. Select a statement from the public sphere. It can be a statement, a figure, or data that impacts these issues of collective interest. If the source deletes the content from the Internet, make a screenshot or file a copy to be verified.
  2. Consult the source of information. It is essential to contact the author or the source of a piece of information that has been selected for verification. The statement may have been misquoted or quoted out of context. If the source cannot be found or is unwilling to respond, if it is the case for information found on a web page, you can visit https://who.is/ to see who has registration for that domain.
  3. Cross-check the information and data in the sentence with official and reliable sources. After verifying the source, the next step is to contrast what was said with official and reliable sources, such as governmental and state entities that produce periodic reports. From here, data or figures can be obtained to contrast. For example, in Colombia, the National Department of Statistics (DANE) figures can be reviewed.
  4. Consult alternative and expert sources. In addition to official entities, data can be checked with other reliable sources, such as respected international organizations like the UN, respected academic think tanks in your field, or a recognized individual expert in the area.
  5. Put the check-in context. In many cases, the figures or data that we verify are out of context, leading to confusion or misinformation. This step is one of the most fundamental.
  6. Reach a verdict on the integrity of the information. Here the decision is made to qualify the statement. It is the step that requires the most care and must be based on all the previous actions.