Univision and Latin American journalists collaborate to fact-check final U.S. presidential debate

For Borja Echevarria, vice president and digital editor-in-chief at Univision, the way forward at the legacy media company involves collaboration and diversity.

“Our vision of the digital space is a very collaborative way of working,” Echevarria explained to the Knight Center. This collaboration involves building a diverse team and learning from other media and academics.

That’s the idea behind the Spanish-language news network’s recent project with Latin American journalists. About 11 fact-checkers from eight countries in Latin America, as well as Spain and the U.S., will join the Univision fact-checking team in Miami to monitor the third and final U.S. presidential debate on Oct. 19.

The fact-checkers are coming from big media groups – La Nación in Argentina or The New York Times en Español – but also smaller digital native sites – Lupa in Brazil or Ojo Público in Peru.

“What we wanted to do is take advantage of a very important event that is happening here in the U.S. that is important for us and also for the region,” said José Zamora, senior vice president for strategic communications at Univision Network. He explained that this collaborative process will allow the journalists to share best practices and to “build a network through which we can all support each other.”

The project provided an opportunity to share knowledge about Univision’s recent-launched project, Detector de Mentiras (Lie Detector), and the other journalists’ experiments in fact-checking, Echevarria explained.

Univision Data started its fact-checking project Detector de Mentiras in February 2016 to monitor the U.S. presidential elections. The team is looking for statements from presidential candidates, political party leaders, opinion leaders, analysts and other organizations, according to its site. Citizens also are invited to send the Univision team information that they want to be fact-checked. After their investigations, the journalists rate the statements as following: truth, almost truth, half-truth, almost lie, lie.

Additionally, Univision is releasing a fact-checking bot that works within Facebook messenger. The bot presents users with statements made during the campaign and asks them to decide whether or not they are true.

For the fact-checking project on the upcoming presidential debate, Echevarria said that the two-way, collaborative approach involves learning from other media, but also sharing strengths, like Univision’s experience with video and visual journalism.

Working in a network and collaborating is not part of the culture at many legacy companies, he explained, but, “we want to bring this kind of culture [of collaboration] to Univision.”

“I think journalism in Latin America is amazing,” Echevarria said. “I think the best journalism that is being done in the Spanish-language is being done by small media in Latin America.”

Univision also has recently worked with Latin American media, like El Faro from El Salvador or Periodismo del Barrio in Cuba, to bring content to the U.S. and inform that audience about what is happening in Latin America.

Looking forward, Echevarria said Univision not only wants to be part of the U.S. media landscape, but also media that addresses Latin America: “We try to be in both spaces.”

Mael Vallejo, general editor of Mexican news site Animal Político, is one of the journalists collaborating with the Univision Data team this week. The site’s fact-checking project, El Sabueso (The Bloodhound), has been evaluating public debate in Mexico since January 2015.

Vallejo explained that politicians in Mexico frequently use lies and half-truths in their speeches because of lack of oversight. He added that fact-checking in Mexico is not being done by many outlets.

“The situation in the United States, at this time, is very similar to that of Mexico: a presidential candidate who uses data at their convenience and thinks that no one will notice. With this similarity, how Animal Político has used data is relevant,” Vallejo said.

The small size of the fact-checking team at El Sabueso and a lack of technical resources also pose challenges for fact-checking in real-time. Despite this, the team has collaborated with academics, specialists and other citizens to analyze President Enrique Peña Nieto’s speeches.

Fabio Posada, editor at new fact checking project Colombiacheck, also will be joining the team.

Colombiacheck started in June 2016 and has since dedicated itself to fact-checking the peace process and negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC. Despite the signing of a peace deal between the two sides on Sept. 26, Colombians rejected the deal in a popular vote on Oct. 2 by less than 1 percent.

“Much of that vote was achieved with a campaign full of lies,” Posada explained. “In the last month, Colombiacheck was able to debunk 27 statements against or in favor of the agreement that were vague.” He plans to share his experience fact-checking that process with the Univision team this week.

As for the upcoming debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in Las Vegas, Nevada, Posada said he is looking for the candidates to address two issues related to his country: peace processes being negotiated in Colombia, and military assistance provided by the U.S. to the country for more than a decade.

“Hopefully, in the last debate, Clinton and Trump will talk about some of these issues that are very important from the perspective of a Colombian journalist,” he said.

In addition to those already named above, fact-checkers will be coming from Semanaraio Universidad in Costa Rica, La Sexta in Spain, UYCheck in Uruguay and Plaza Pública in Guatemala.

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.