Brazilian fact-checking organization Aos Fatos celebrates one year and prepares for new challenges

Brazilian fact-checking startup Aos Fatos (translated as To the Facts) is celebrating its one-year anniversary and already making plans to expand its digital presence and to invest in publishing via video. Created in July 2015, the organization is dedicated to verifying facts and statements made by authorities, a journalistic practice that has become known as fact-checking.

“Right now, the great advantage of checking information is the ability to take an objective, investigative and analytical framework for hard news,” said Tai Nalon, executive director and cofounder of Aos Fatos, to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

This semester, Nalon plans to start publishing news reports via video on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, a practice that has become a worldwide trend.

“We want to tell the reader what is true and what is a lie. With text, it is possible to control information because it is documented,” Nalon said. “We will never abandon this format, but we need to increase the efficiency of the journalism we do, and the video generates more engagement with the user of social networks than the text format.”​

The goal also is to develop a weekly webcast with a hybrid format using text and video, but the team first needs investment. So, the organization plans to hold another round of crowdfunding before the end of the year. They were successful last year in raising $32,000 Brazilian Reales (about USD $9,800) from readers to create a publishing platform. Readers can also make sporadic donations.

“We believe that journalism has to be funded by the reader, more than by ads or corporations. Only with the financing of readers, a consistent, secure and predicable financing, can you do good journalism. This is not a detail, it is a constant concern,” Nalon said.

To expand the scope of their reporting and to supplement funding sources, the organization conducts editorial partnerships with traditional media. On example is the analysis made with UOL about the financial transfers to politicians made by Odebrecht construction company, one of the businesses investigated as part of Operation Car Wash.

Throughout its first year, Aos Fatos checked 95 statements from different political parties (of which only 23 were considered true) and produced 30 investigative reports on issues such as budget, public policies, electoral promises and campaign financing.

Nalon highlighted some of the projects published by the organization in its first year to illustrate the importance of fact-checking and verification of speeches made by public figures.

For one project, the team checked statements in which President Dilma Rousseff said she gained knowledge of the seriousness of the economic crisis in the country only after the 2014 elections. Aos Fatos disproved the statement of the president by showing a report produced by an institute attached to the Presidency that, months earlier, alerted to the scale of the crisis.

The fact-checking done by Aos Fatos reverberated in the mainstream media and, months later, the president ended up changing her discourse, recognizing that the signs of the deteriorating economic environment had already appeared in the end of 2013.

The organization also released a report about the so-called “tax pedaling,” the name given to the delay in the transfer of funds to public banks by the federal government, a strategy used to help the government meet fiscal goals.

The report showed that the balance of “pedalings” during Rousseff’s government was 35 times higher than those recorded in the sixteen years of presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The amount was considered a debt record with public banks.

“The checking of information always existed, it is a foundation of journalism. The problem is that with the increasing speed of daily journalism and the need for real-time coverage on the internet, this method has become a bit neglected,” Nalon said.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.