For media specializing in fact-checking, collaboration has been crucial in tackling the disinformation crises that have recently broken out around the world.
This is how leading fact-checkers from Latin America and Spain see it: Laura Zommer, executive director of Chequeado (Argentina); Liliana Elósegui, editor-in-chief of Verificado (Mexico); Cristina Tardáguila, Senior Program Director of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ); and Clara Jiménez, co-founder and CEO of Maldita.es (Spain). They spoke in the panel "Fact-checking and Disinformation in Latin America and Spain" on Sunday, April 3, 2022, as part of the 15th Ibero-American Colloquium on Digital Journalism.
Collaboration facilitated important fact-checking initiatives that made a difference in the fight against disinformation around various events of global impact in recent years, such as the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19 vaccines, and Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine.
“In our case [collaboration] is what we do every day, all the time. We have an impact, but we have much more impact because we work collaboratively and we don't repeat ourselves. We don't invent the wheel over and over…”, said Zommer, who served as moderator of the panel held at the University of Texas at Austin.
One of the most important achievements of LATAMChequea, the collaborative fact-checking network created in 2014 under the coordination of Chequeado, has been its collaboration against disinformation around COVID-19. Since before SARS CoV-2 arrived in the Americas, fact-checkers from around the world organized themselves to verify the data that was popping up about the new virus. This is how the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance emerged, coordinated by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) of the Poynter Institute.
The Spanish part was led by LATAMChequea — in which 32 organizations from 15 Latin American countries are currently participating — through LATAMChequea Coronavirus, a platform with data on thousands of pieces of verified information linked to the pandemic. It also includes explanatory content about COVID-19 that any network member can use to debunk fake news in a timely manner.
Two years after its launch, the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance has generated more than 16 thousand verifications in 43 languages, on information from more than 70 countries. Three chatbots were also developed for WhatsApp (one in English, one in Spanish, and one in Portuguese). The initiative's databases are open and to date continue to be updated.
In 2021, LATAMChequea launched LATAMChequea Vacunas, with data verification on immunizations against COVID-19; and “The Misinformants,” with investigations on the actors in different countries that have systematically misinformed throughout the pandemic.
With the coronavirus crisis, Internet fact checkers learned that in global disinformation phenomena, trends and waves of misleading information emerge in one place but end up going around almost the entire world.
"Waves that were in Europe soon reached the United States and from there they went on to Latin America," Tardáguila said. “It was also very curious to see that misinformation has a local flavor: just as in India people said 'drink cow urine [to cure yourself from COVID-19],' in Spain they said 'drink wine,' in Argentina it was 'drink tea,' and in Honduras it was 'eat avocado'... These waves adapt to each country.”
When the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance started to make an impact, it caught the attention of big tech companies, who at the time were trying to come up with strategies to counter the misinformation crisis that was spreading on their platforms. This is how companies like Google supported the initiative through financing.
“Collaboration begins with a little notebook and no money. And suddenly, if it takes off, it attracts attention and social media comes, big tech comes and gives money,” Tardáguila said.
In 2022, the experience gained in verifying the pandemic was applied to Russia's invasion of Ukraine through the #UkraineFacts project, developed by Maldita.es. After the Spanish media realized that several fact-checkers in Europe were verifying the same content about the conflict, it decided to create a collaborative database and join forces with colleagues from other countries to generate digital products in different languages and help deny fake news about the conflict.
From the database, which to date contains more than 2,400 verifications carried out by 71 fact-checkers from 80 countries, in a few days a platform was created that can be embedded in any website, which shows a map that geolocates verified information about the war in Ukraine.
“What we’ve learned after this process is that we have to sit down and make a database that we can use in times of crisis. For there to be verifiers that hook the database to their APIs [Application Programming Interfaces] for the data to automatically be entered there. To use an API instead of a spreadsheet so we can launch a chatbot in 24 hours,” Jiménez said.
The panelists agreed that it is necessary to analyze and structure the lessons learned from recent advances in fact-checking so that future disinformation crises can be tackled with more optimized tools and better-defined methodologies. Zommer announced that in the next edition of the Global Fact conference, the most important global meeting of fact-checkers, they plan to discuss how to standardize joint fact-checking databases.
"That's what we have to work on, that's next year's challenge: to figure out how a common database is governed, who owns that data, who does and who does not have access to it, how to monetize it," Jiménez said.