Fact-checking journalism projects grow in Latin America and around the world

By Giovana Sanchez

The number of fact-checking journalistic projects around the world has almost doubled between 2015 and 2016, according to an annual census of the Duke Reporters' Lab. According to the study, there are now 96 active fact-checking projects in 37 countries - in 2015, there were 64 projects, and 44 the previous year.

In just the last year, the study found seven new projects in Latin America, which they recorded on an interactive map available on their site.

In Brazil, one of these projects has just been launched. Agência Lupa, which began operating officially in February, investigates the promises made ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

OjoBionico in Peru is also among the new projects in Latin America. The initiative arose within digital portal OjoPúblico "to promote journalistic rigor, transparency, open data and democratic standards in Peru," said news director David Hidalgo in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

Hidalgo said that the group’s first experience with fact-checking took place in an event organized by Argentinian fact-checking organization Chequeado in Buenos Aires.

"We saw that perfectly matched our objectives and the character at OjoPúblico, which is to practice deep investigative journalism on important issues of citizen interest that are not made in the traditional media," Hidalgo said.

This exchange of ideas and experiences between groups of different countries is one of the characteristics of fact-checking projects, according to the head of the International Fact-Checking Network, Alexios Mantzarlis.

"Fact-checking is unique because it translates well across contexts. When we look at initiatives in New Zealand, Spain and Iran, for example, they are very similar, they are all about comparing claims with a source that is reliable," Mantzarlis told the Knight Center.

Another common feature of fact-checking projects is the use of electoral contexts for launching or even testing initiatives. According to the Duke Reporter's Lab study, in 2016 nine countries have elections information analyzed by checking sites.

This happens, according Mantzarlis, due to a combination of factors.

"One is the fact that in election periods there are many readers interested [in confirmation of statements]. There are also more events to check: debates, speeches etc.,” Mantzarlis said.  “There is a wider audience of people wanting to know the truth, a great demand. The elections are also useful as pilot projects so that the projects become known, assert credibility. But I want to stress that I don’t think it is right that they abandon the projects after the elections."

OjoBiónico is also being reinforced during the presidential elections in Peru, Hidalgo explained.


According to Hidalgo, the biggest difficulty of fact-checking projects is accessing certain data that is "not always available."

"In Peru, there is an Access to Information Act that should guarantee the exercise of this right, but it collides with interpretive restrictions by public agencies," Hidalgo said.

The Duke Reporter's Lab also monitored inactive fact-checking projects. At the moment, according to the report, 47 initiatives are stalled.

Daniel Moreno, director of Mexican news portal Animal Político, explained that the organization had wanted to launch its fact-checking initiative El Sabueso since 2013, but the project only got off the ground in 2015 because of financial difficulties.

"The main difficulty is accessing information that allows us to know if the statement is correct or not. I would like to add another element: not all journalists have the expertise to investigate databases with which to make a thorough assessment," Moreno said.

To try to work around the financial maintenance of the projects, most of the fact-checking initiatives in the United States registered by Duke Reporter’s Lab (64%) “are directly affiliated with a news organization”.

But outside United States, the reality is different — only 44 percent of the projects have that affiliation.

“The other fact-checkers are typically associated with non-governmental, non-profit and activist groups focused on civic engagement, government transparency and accountability,” according to the study.

In addition to the common methodology for checking — selecting a phrase to analyze, checking the original source, contacting the official source, checking alternatives sources, contextualizing and deciding whether to confirm the statement — El Sabueso also guarantees a second chance to explain for the source that made the statement.

"The person traced is the first to know we are checking him or her and obviously has the opportunity to show the source of his speech. When the checking ends, we contact the person again to give them a new chance to explain," Moreno said.

For those who are thinking of starting a fact-checking project, Mantzarlis first recommends finding a good and reliable team.

In a text published by Poynter in February, Mantzarlis put together seven tips for journalists to consider before starting a fact-checking project: “learn how misperceptions spread, determine what and whom you want to fact-check, establish a methodology and make it public, fact-check everything — but be ready to admit ignorance, consider which formats will help you have impact, decouple your funding from the electoral cycle and build a great team.”

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.