Election coverage is perhaps one of the biggest challenges in newsrooms: processing large volumes of information in a short time and with the same team that works in everyday conditions. The rapid spread of false information with a high impact on elections has become an additional factor that makes the task difficult.
Therefore, having a group of fact-checkers during the electoral period has become almost a requirement for any newsroom. But verifying the amount of information circulating through social networks is impossible without excellent planning and collaboration, sometimes between media with different editorial lines and even with organizations outside the journalistic world.
Reverso, in Argentina, and Verificado.uy, in Uruguay, were two fact-checking projects created in the region with the objective of verifying data exclusively during elections in their respective countries. Both were created as a result of alliances – Reverso is a collaboration of more than 120 media outlets and Verificado.uy joins media, academic and civil society organizations.
Zommer considered three key lessons she was left with after months of work. The first is to always make alliances that are as plural and diverse as possible, especially in polarized countries, such as in the vast majority of Latin America. This allows you, according to Zommer, to reach a greater proportion of the population taking into account that many people will follow the outlet to which they are loyal. In this sense, it is important to include as many editorial lines as possible.
“My recommendation to anyone doing it in other countries: don't focus on other points only like who has more visits or who has a more entrenched or more popular brand. But in electoral contexts pay special attention to this issue, what the audience reads, where we are perceived to be on the political map,” Zommer said.
For Matyszczyk, "awareness of the importance of this initiative at the social level" was the main lesson. The work of Verificado.uy had great relevance for the community, she explained. From there appeared other lessons such as how work was coordinated “to be able to achieve efficient results,” and even the “political issues” that had to do with the way in which the coalition partners were treated.
Zommer coincides in these last two points. The other two lessons were clarity in the workflow between all the organizations that were part of the project, as well as the clear establishment of rules and the people in charge of enforcing them.
“It's not that we necessarily got through the first day well,” Zommer said. However, she did say that when there were violations of the agreements, they were quickly corrected. "Since that is not something usual in Argentina, it is certainly worth it that this is very clear."
Zommer believes that the biggest challenge took place before starting – precisely, reaching these agreements and convincing the allied media that the project was important and necessary. "That challenge took us more than four months," she said. "The media did not convince themselves that it was not risky, that they were not exposed too much, that they would not lose." Yet, once the project started, other media started to join, the director said.
In Uruguay, on the other hand, the greatest challenge was precisely to ensure that the verifications arrived on time to the indicated persons through a suitable tool. "To help separate the wheat from the chaff and for the population to have a tool available that allows them to access verified information to avoid believing in misleading or false data," Matyszczyk said.
For the directors of both projects, the initiatives were very positive. Both for the work developed as a team, as well as for the awareness created between the communities.
Of particular interest were some of the innovations implemented during this period, such as one in which Reverso talked to and published about the cases of ordinary people – not politicians or celebrities – who were affected by disinformation. People who went viral from false information.
"They are proof that it can happen to anyone," Zommer explained. “What we were looking for was for people to increase their care when sharing content that they don't know is true. A good strategy that emphasized with people that just like them, you could be a victim of disinformation.”
The team also carried out a series of chats with older adults, who it is believed that, together with teenagers, share misinformation the most.
"When we think about the cure for disinformation we always say that the key is for people to know more about this phenomenon and not share things they are not sure of," Zommer said.
Although Zommer does not believe that maintaining Reverso at a time when there are no elections makes a lot of sense, she does believe that it would be very interesting to rethink the possibility of replicating it when a new electoral period arrives. "Yes it is not worth it to lose what was built," she said.
"The public response also left us very satisfied," Matyszczy said. “The checks of Verificado.uy managed to permeate in different social spheres, we were cited by several political actors as guarantors of information and also, from social networks, the interaction with the audience was favorable. Together we create a citizen conscience that demands quality information.”
The Verificado.uy team is in an evaluation stage to determine which aspects can be improved, and from there to think about possibly continuing the project that depends largely on funders.
“Learning also happens, to learn from the journey and improve in the future,” Matyszczy said. “The most valuable thing was to have created a first history of data verification at the electoral political level, which could be improved in the future, like all human activity.”