Uruguay joins the fight against misinformation and launches data verification platform ahead of presidential elections

After a little more than eight months of preparation and arriving at agreements between organizations that support the new data verification initiative in the region, Uruguay has joined the fight against misinformation with the launch of fact-checking site Verificado.uy on July 22.

The initiative is a coalition between media, academia and civil society organizations that makes it “historic worldwide,” according to what Analía Matyszczyk, coordinator at Verificado, told the Knight Center.

Verificado Uruguay Logo

Journalists, civil society organizations and universities are part of the Verificado.UY initiative to fight misinformation in Uruguay. (Screenshot)

“Journalism is not enough to fight misinformation. Of course it is necessary, it will be important that the press is in this coalition, it is the great fortress! But it is not enough,” Matyszczyk said.

The coalition began with the concern of a group of journalists who understood that just as had been experienced in other countries of the world or the region, as in the cases of Brazil and Colombia, the presidential elections are a perfect scenario for the spread of misinformation. But they also understood that fighting this misinformation would not be possible without collaborative journalism, Matyszczyk explained.

“A media outlet in isolation cannot reach all types of audience that are available to disseminate a check. That is why it is important to have an amplification network together,” she said.

In fact, previous experiences at an international level, such as Comprova in Brazil and Verificado in Mexico, showed them that collaborative journalism was necessary.

With this idea, different media began to be convened to form a coalition for collaborative journalism that brings together more than 70 news companies from radio, television, websites, printed newspapers, international news agencies, as well as independent journalists. Its objective will be "to defend the information quality of the electoral campaign," according to a statement from Verificado.

“There was a rather interesting group,” Matyszczyk said. "[There are] media outlets that have texts with quite different editorial lines, and that is very commendable at the national level because it is a coalition unprecedented in the country's history.”

Four universities, public and private, as well as civil society organizations, are part of this group.

The initiative is financed by international organizations such as First Draft, Facebook, Google News Initiative and Fundación Avina, which allowed the creation of a newsroom of journalists that are being trained by local and international experts who educate them in the “tracking and verification of rumors at the level of digital platforms and in the analysis of political discourse,” according to the organization’s statement.

This team, which has received training since December 2018, consists of about 20 people including adult, young and very young journalists, such as journalism students from universities that are part of the coalition. The fact-checking team that makes up Verificado will work at newspaper la diaria’s Media Lab.

Verificado Uruguay team

Verificado Uruguay launched on July 22 to check public discourse and false news ahead of the presidential elections. (Courtesy Alejandro Prieto/EFE).

“It is important to note that Verificado is not owned by any informational company, it works independently as a result of the union formed by the coalition, but no media has a hierarchy over another,” Matyszczyk said.

Because the initiative was created exclusively for the election campaign – the first round will be on the last Sunday of October and the second will be the last Sunday of November – it will be dedicated to verifying two types of content: rumors that have gone viral on social networks and public discourse that includes the statements of politicians, candidates for government positions and those currently in office, according to the project’s website.

Matyszczyk explained that once the team verifies the information, it will create texts and videos which are shared with all the media that are part of the coalition and that will be responsible for disseminating them on their platforms. As part of its strategy, the team will not share the videos or links to the rumor to avoid it spreading further, but they will use screenshots.

The goal is to make a certain number of weekly checks, although as Matyszczyk explained, that number is not yet clear because it will depend on the “flow of misinformation that arises. Workflows will probably intensify a lot in October because we are closer to the electoral celebration.”

At this time, Verificado.uy is planning to operate until November when the electoral period ends.

“We would love to have the budget and sustainability to reach the municipal elections of 2020, but this is a further challenge," Matyszczyk said. "Now there are all the resources devoted to this activity, which is to develop the coverage of the 2019 election campaign.”

“The important thing is to think about the imprint that Verificado leaves around the world, which is a civic-journalistic project unlike all the experiences of collaborative journalism that have already happened in recent years," she said. "I think it is very valuable because disinformation is a problem that is not the heritage of journalism but must include all members of a society and this approach is very important to achieve better results.”