Fairness, Transparency, and Independence are crucial in fact-checking politicians

Fairness, Transparency, and Independence are crucial in fact-checking politicians

Fact-checking claims made by politicians fairly and squarely in a politically polarized society is a necessary but difficult task. 

Fact-checking specialists from Argentina, Brazil, and the U.S. shared their experiences and skills in verifying political messages and communicating with the public on the first panel of the Forum on Fact-checking in Asia 2023: Global Perspectives, a two-day event held by the Taiwan FactCheck Center this July in Taiwan for the fifth year.

Image: From left: Foundation for Excellent Journalism Award Chairman Tzen-ping Su, former Editor-in-Chief, New-appointed IFCN director Angie Drobnic Holan, Aos Fatos’ Executive Director Tai Nalon, and Executive Director of Chequeado Pablo M. Fernandez. (Photo/ Yuan-Bin Zhao)

Fairness in Campaign Fact-Checking

With over a decade of experience at PolitiFact in fact-checking, focusing on U.S. politics and political campaigns, Angie D. Holan was named to lead the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) as its new director in late June.

She cited the U.S. presidential election as an example and listed several essential principles of election fact-checking. First and foremost is fairness, she said, which means that all presidential candidates should be fact-checked, regardless of the amount of media attention each attracts. 

Others include that fact-checking should start early with the candidates’ election campaign so a “database” of misinformation could be established early, investigating candidates’ dark money and providing additional explanatory content to the public.

Image: The former Editor-in-Chief, now New-appointed IFCN director Angie Drobnic Holan. (Photo/ Yuan-Bin Zhao)

Working with Media to Expand the Audience

Argentina-based Chequeado, established in 2010, is the first fact-checking initiative in Latin America and the Global South and has since become a leading organization in the field. They work to improve the quality of the public debate (and to raise the cost of lying for politicians) and encourage civic participation based on data journalism, education, and innovation.

Pablo M. Fernandez, executive director of Chequeado, told the audience that as Argentina is a vast country, Chequeado works with many fact-checking organizations to combat disinformation. 

Starting to engage in political fact-checking in 2016, Chequeado led a project called Reverso in the 2019 and 2021 election period, calling on media outlets to cite their fact-checking results. The project in the end garnered citations from close to a hundred media outlets.

Fernandez stressed that fact-checking organizations must remain transparent to obtain public trust. The composition of the organization and the source of funding should be open to the public, and it is also advised that the funding should be multi-sourced.

Image: Pablo M. Fernandez, executive director of the Argentina-based fact-checker Chequeado. (Photo/ Yuan-Bin Zhao)

Transparency Matters in Polarized Society

Tai Nalon, executive director of Aos Fatos from Brazil, echoed Fernandez on the importance of transparency. As Aos Fatos is a fact-checking group that aims to “inform about the lies politicians tell, the disinformation campaigns coordinated by the powerful, and the influence of technology companies in this environment,” being independent and transparent is especially crucial in the highly polarized Brazil.

Nalon said fact-checkers in Brazil face many challenges, as they have been harassed, discredited, or even sued against. Far rights groups, for example, aiming to destroy the public trust in fact-checkers, claimed that fact-checking was a form of repression against freedom of speech.

Disinformation can be spread for the sake of swindling, profiting from advertising, or promoting a certain ideology or worldview; there is also information made particularly to create controversies and gain notoriety, Nalon said. Facing a sea of unverified information, Aos Fatos has utilized AI to monitor and produce transcriptions to improve the journalists’ real-time fact-checking efficiency.

Image: Executive director of Aos Fatos Tai Nalon. (Photo/ Yuan-Bin Zhao) 

Breaking Echo Chamber and Gaining Public Trust

As societies become more polarized with the development of social media, how do we break possible echo chambers and reach out to those who disagree with us?

To this question raised by the audience, Holan said fact-checkers alone would not be able to change this informational ecosystem but should try cooperating with media outlets to spread the correct information. 

Fernandez also emphasized the importance of working with the news media, adding that using AI technology to set up a chatbot is also a way worth trying.

 Working with net influencers or key opinion leaders would also amplify fact-checkers influence and reach, Nalon added. 

Foundation for Excellent Journalism Award Chairman Tzen-ping Su, acting as moderator of the panel, cited a survey – commissioned by the TFC and published this May – that found Taiwanese people’s view of political fact-checking is swayed by their partisan stance and asked what fact-checking could do to gain public trust.

Image: Foundation for Excellent Journalism Award Chairman Tzen-ping Su. (Photo/ Yuan-Bin Zhao) 

Choosing the topic for political fact-checking wisely, Holan advised. Fact-checking groups should not chase what is trending or follow politicians’ remarks blindly but focus on what is relevant to people’s daily lives, she said.

Fernandez added that rendering seemingly complex issues more relevant to the public and spending more time communicating with the public also help.


You can read the Chinese version of this article here.