Excavating the Truth through Fact-checking

My most favourite definition of “Fact-checking” is the process of attempting to verify or disprove assertions made in speech, print media or online content. The practice is essential for integrity in any area where claims are made, including government, journalism and business, as explained by Tech Target.

It is my favourite definition because it stresses on three related components that are key to excavating the truth. There first needs to be an availability of an assertion worthy and needs scrutiny, the second is the need to verify so as to lead to the third end target which is to observe the integrity of a publisher. As straightforward and simple the statements seems to be, what is sometimes taken for granted is knowing what information is worth exploring, what is to be ignored and most importantly — knowing the related or associated information which needs to be cross referenced.

How information for “Fact-Checking” looks like

There is an abundance of Information and news out there especially on the internet. With the increased Digital Technology at the palm of just anybody; there are a lot of information that distort, whether deliberately or not. First Draft news have identified and neatly devised a diagram that show-cases the types of Information Disorder as shown below:-

Information graphic courtesy of First Draft News

From the above diagram, there are attributes that are commonly found and identified in information/news worthy of being verified. The following is how information for fact-checkings looks like:-

• Individual facts about names, statistics (such as age, dates etc), specific attributes are missing.
• Errors of omissions whether deliberate or not, affiliations and illustrations.
• Some ingredients of truths in it but with a lot of un-collaborating parts.
• One sided or single sourcing information
• Sensitive information with no back-up evidence
• Bulk information and raw data
• Errors of omission, usually intended to pull of misinformation.
• Opinion pieces, normally sharing a point of view from a single angle/perspective.

The fundamentals of Fact-Checking

• First understand the information you are working on. One needs to scrutinise if the information has all attributes (as listed above); which needs further verification.
• Understanding the information assists in determining the type of effort to apply. If at all it’s desktop research based, the sources to reach out to, the information to access and the next step towards validation.
• It is important to have the right resources working on validating the news and information. For instance the Human resources might have different strengths depending on the type of information that needs verification.
• Its recommended to be skeptical, when something looks, sounds or seems to be too good to be true.

Necessary Skills needed for Fact-checking

• Desktop review
• Data Mining and Data as a tool
• Social Media Content Analysis
• Application of Verifications tools such as Who is, Way back, Google Maps, Google Reverse image search, Tineye, InVid, etc
• Timeline comparisons

While fact-checking is more popular at present, it has always been part of any credible and reputable establishment for years. This is a necessary culture within a news agency and most valuable when practitioners have very high discipline applied to their work. With the growth of Technology where information and news spreads at an alarming rate, the need has become a necessity and the faster the verification the more in minimising the damage.

Interested in the future of Journalism from the Tanzanian Context? I also recommend reading an article “Digital Innovation and the Future of Journalism in Tanzania

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Asha D. Abinallah

Expert at the intersection of Internet on Information, Innovation, Technology & Governance in New Media | DW Certified Trainer | CEO at Media Convergency