New fact-checking site in Ecuador seeks to help citizens look beyond the lies of the upcoming presidential election

For journalist Iván Flores Poveda, the presidential elections that will take place in Ecuador in February 2017 represent “a democratic transition.” After 10 years in power, President Rafael Correa decided not to put his hat in the ring for the position. However, according to Flores, the president has become a kind of campaign manager for the ticket of Lenín Moreno and Jorge Glass, the former and current vice presidents under Correa.

But the fight for the presidency is not easy. The serious economic crisis, high unemployment and “significant loss of political capital” that has generated discontent among citizens has weakened the ruling party, the journalist explained.

In this context, it’s not surprising to Flores that the confrontation characteristic of previous elections has grown, increasing the use of misleading information or lies. Hence the importance of Ecuador Chequea, the first digital site in the country dedicated to fact-checking electoral discourse, which was launched Oct. 26.

“The task we signed up for is somewhat complex because the political culture in Ecuador is determined by emotion, charisma and passion. And these elements often clutter public and social conversations; and this saturation causes people to lose sight of the power of data,” Flores, who leads the team at Ecuador Chequea, told the Knight Center. “In that sense we see that the challenge is very important, very motivating and complex, but the purpose is exactly to reaffirm the basic tools of this profession. […] To provide the highest quality information to have a context most favorable to making decisions in the election.”

The work of Ecuador Chequea, composed of Flores and three journalists, began in August of this year. They since have been able to analyze aspects of regional experiences that can be used in the Ecuadorian context, and under the guidance of the Chequeado team in Argentina, they have been trained in the methodological, procedural and ethical aspects of data verification.

During the presentation of the platform on Wednesday, the team presented its first exercises on the seven candidates who have already announced their intentions to be president.

According to Flores, the verification process involves three reporting processes: the first is the verification of statements made by the candidates; the second deals with a review of public life (which includes their assets) and their plans for governing. The third looks at using new narratives that influence the youngest electorate (people between 18 and 29, which are the electoral majority for this campaign) so that they can understand the “most serious” issues of the campaign. In this sense, the plan includes memes, cartoons, animated infographics, “without sparing the rigor and robustness of the data we analyzed in this open, collective and collaborative way.”

For Flores, the course on digital tools for data journalism from the Knight Center was very useful when implementing this project. He also insists that his work is not based on speed, but in accurate analysis and verification of information provided by political actors.

“We will not work, per sé, with the news cycle, because we must recognize that in the case of Ecuadorian society, there is no attachment to figures or to data. Unfortunately, Ecuadorian society is not a society that has been characterized by documenting the milestones of its public life,” Flores explained. “In that sense, we insist that we will not work in a hurry or with the news cycle because a statement from a politician requires time for analysis.”

However, he recognizes that for the debates between candidates, they should develop methods for verifying in real-time. For this, they have the support of university students as well as academics and experts.

Although Ecuador Chequea was born with the specific purpose of verifying electoral discourse of this campaign, Flores expects that the efforts of this team will allow them to have “second and third editions.”

"To build a type of social demand for spaces like this and that this social demand leads us to be more creative when it comes to funding initiatives like these,” said Flores, for whom the most important part of the initiative is to spread the idea to other newsrooms to the benefit of their readers.

Ecuador Chequea is supported by more than 13 universities, social organizations and media outlets in the country. In addition to its digital site, it also publishes through TwitterFacebook and YouTube. The official launch will be on Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hotel Hilton Colón in Quito, in a free and public event.

Team members from Chequeado of Argentina, Detector de Mentiras of Univisión, Politifact of the U.S. and Colombiacheck will be present via videoconference.

“We will discuss the content of our website, our methodologies, our rating system, and at the end, we will have a brief conversation with some academics about something that might be obvious but is important in the context of what we have discussed: the role of data to make better decisions, the role of data to strengthen the public debate.”

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.