Spreading the word on The NC Fact-Checking Project

Journalists from the Reporters' Lab and the News & Observer appeared on Spectrum News

By Catherine Clabby – August 16, 2018 | Print this article

Cathy Clabby of The Reporters’ Lab and Andy Specht of The News & Observer appeared on Spectrum Cable’s “Politics Tonight” this week to explain the newly announced NC Fact-Checking Project. The journalists briefed Spectrum News host Tim Boyum on the ambitious plan to fact-check claims by politicians statewide during federal and state campaigns this fall and into the 2019 General Assembly session.

In the project, Duke journalism students and faculty – assisted by Tech & Check  bots – will scour campaign messaging and news reports to find newsworthy claims by politicians that can be verified. Journalists at The News & Observer will select statements to check, report their veracity and craft the fact-checks. The reporting will be shared for free with print, broadcast and digital newsrooms statewide. To watch, click here.

 

 

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Africa Check rating

The number of fact-checkers around the world: 156… and growing

Collaboration, aggregation and networks add to the Reporters' Lab ongoing survey of fact-checking projects in more than 50 countries.

By Mark Stencel – August 7, 2018 | Print this article

The number of active fact-checking projects around the world now stands at 156, with steady growth driven by expanding networks and new media partnerships that focus on holding public figures and organizations accountable for what they say.

And elections this year in the United States and around the globe mean that number will likely increase even more by the time the Duke Reporters’ Lab publishes its annual census early next year. Our map of the fact-checkers now shows them in 55 countries.

There were 149 active fact-checking ventures in the annual summary we published in February, up from 44 when we started this count in 2014. And after this summer’s Global Fact summit in Rome — where the attendee list topped 200 and the waitlist was more than three times as long — we still have plenty of other possible additions to vet and review in the coming weeks. So check back for updates.

Among the most recent additions is Faktiskt, a Swedish media partnership that aggregates reporting from five news organizations — two newspapers, two public broadcasters and a digital news service. We’ve seen other aggregation partnerships like this elsewhere, such as Faktenfinder in Germany and SNU FactCheck in South Korea. (This is a different model from the similarly named Faktisk partnership in Norway, where six news organizations operate a jointly funded fact-checking team whose work is made freely available as a public service to other media in the country.)

As we prepare for our annual fact-checking census, we plan to look more closely at the output of each contributor to these aggregation networks to see which of them we should also count as standalone fact-checkers. Our goal is to represent the full range of independent and journalistic fact-checking, including clusters of projects in particular countries and local regions, as well as ventures that find ways to operate across borders.

Along those lines, we also added checkmarks to our map for Africa Check‘s offices in Kenya and Nigeria. We had done the same previously for the South Africa-based project’s office in Senegal, which covers francophone countries in West Africa. The new additions have been around awhile too: The Kenya office has been in business since late 2016 and the Nigeria office opened two months later.

Meanwhile, our friends at Africa Check regularly help us identify other standalone fact-checking projects, including two more new additions to our database: Dubawa in Nigeria and ZimFact in Zimbabwe. The fast growth of fact-checking across Africa is one reason the International Fact-Checking Network’s sixth Global Fact summit will be in Cape Town next summer.

One legacy of these yearly summits is IFCN’s code of principles, and the code has established an independent evaluation process to certify that each of its signatories adheres to those ethical and journalistic standards. Our database includes all 58 signatories, including the U.S.-based (but Belgium-born) hoax-busting site Lead Stories; Maldita’s “Maldito Bulo” (or “Damned Hoax”) in Spain; and the “cek facta” section of the Indonesian digital news portal Liputan6. All three are among our latest additions.

There’s more to come from us. We plan to issue monthly updates as we try to keep our heads and arms around this fast-growing journalism movement. I’ll be relying heavily on Reporters’ Lab student researcher Daniela Flamini, who has just returned from a summer fact-checking internship at Chequeado in Argentina. Daniela takes over from recently graduated researcher Riley Griffin, who helped maintain our database for the past year.

Take a look at the criteria we use to select the fact-checkers we include in this database and let us know if you have any additions to suggest.

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Reporters’ Lab joins N&O, UNC Reese News Lab on major fact-checking project

With grant from the N.C. Local News Lab Fund, partnership will expand non-partisan fact-checking throughout the state

By Catherine Clabby – August 1, 2018 | Print this article

The Duke Reporters’ Lab is joining McClatchy Carolinas and the UNC Reese News Lab in an ambitious project to expand non-partisan fact-checking throughout North Carolina.

With a $50,000 grant from the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund, the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project will build on the existing work at The News & Observer, add the work of student journalists and take advantage of new automated tools from the Duke Tech & Check Cooperative.

The project will evaluate statements by state and federal candidates in the 2018 election as well as lawmakers in the General Assembly session that begins in January 2019. The fact-checks will be produced by N&O journalists as part of PolitiFact North Carolina and will be made available for free to any news organization in the state for use online and in print.

The project will get support from the new TruthBuzz program of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), which is hiring an engagement fellow based on Raleigh to promote the North Carolina fact-checking.

The North Carolina Fact-Checking Project will put special emphasis on claims by politicians in rural parts of the state. Students in the Reporters’ Lab will scour news coverage and campaign ads for factual claims made by state, local and congressional candidates. The Lab will build new versions of its Tech & Check Alerts that use automated bots to find statements by politicians in social media that could be of interest to the North Carolina fact-checkers.

The Duke students and bots will provide daily suggestions of possible claims to The News & Observer, which will select which statements to research.

The UNC Reese News Lab will co-host a student seminar on fact-checking and help select a student journalist to work on the project. Representatives from Duke, TruthBuzz and the News & Observer will hold outreach sessions around the state to promote fact-checking and encourage news organizations to publish the project’s work.

About the partners:

The North Carolina Local News Lab Fund is a collaborative fund at the North Carolina Community Foundation established by a group of local and national funders who believe in the power of local journalism, local stories, and local people to strengthen our democracy.

The Duke Reporters’ Lab at the Sanford School of Public Policy is a center of research on fact-checking and automated journalism. The Lab tracks the growth of fact-checking around the world, conducts studies on important topics and develops tools to help journalists.

McClatchy Carolinas is the McClatchy division that publishes three newspapers in North Carolina, The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. The N&O has a strong team of political reporters and has been the state’s PolitiFact partner for the last two years.

The Reese News Lab is an experimental media and research project based at the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

 

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At Global Fact V: A celebration of community

More than 200 people attended the fifth meeting of the world's fact-checkers in Rome, which was organized by the International Fact-Checking Network.

By Bill Adair – June 25, 2018 | Print this article

My opening remarks at Global Fact V, the fifth annual meeting of the world’s fact-checkers, organized by the International Fact-Checking Network, held June 20-22 in Rome.

A couple of weeks ago, a photo from our first Global Fact showed up in my Facebook feed. Many of you will remember it: we had been all crammed into a classroom at the London School of Economics. When we went outside for a group photo, there were about 50 of us.

To show how our conference has grown, I posted that photo on Twitter along with one from our 2016 conference that had almost twice as many people. I also posted a third photo that showed thousands of people gathered in front of the Vatican. I said that was our projected crowd for this conference.

I rate that photo Mostly True.

What all of our conferences have in common is that they are really about community. It all began in that tiny classroom at the London School of Economics when we realized that whether we were from Italy or the U.K. or Egypt, we were all in this together. We discovered that even though we hadn’t talked much before or in many cases even met, we were facing the same challenges — fundraising and finding an audience and overcoming partisanship.

It was also a really powerful experience because we got a sense of how some fact-checkers around the world were struggling under difficult circumstances — under governments that provide little transparency, or, much worse, governments that oppress journalists and are hostile toward fact-checkers.

Throughout that first London conference there was an incredible sense of community. We’d never met before, but in just a couple of days we formed strong bonds. We vowed to keep in touch and keep talking and help each other.

It was an incredibly powerful experience for me. I was at a point in my career where I was trying to sort out what I would do in my new position in academia. I came back inspired and decided to start an association of fact-checkers – and hold these meetings every year.

The next year we started the IFCN and Poynter generously agreed to be its home. And then we hired Alexios as the leader.

Since then, there are have been two common themes. One you hear so often that it’s become my mantra: Fact-checking keeps growing. Our latest census of fact-checking in the Reporters’ Lab shows 149 active fact-checking projects and I’m glad to see that number keep going up and up.

The other theme, as I noted earlier, is community. I thought I’d focus this morning on a few examples.

Let’s start with Mexico, where more than 60 publishers, universities and civil society organizations have started Verificado 2018, a remarkable collaboration. It was originally focused largely on false news, but they’ve put more emphasis on fact-checking because of public demand. Daniel Funke wrote a great piece last week about how they checked a presidential debate.

In Norway, an extraordinary team of rivals has come together to create Faktisk, which is Norwegian for “actually” and “factually.” It launched nearly a year ago with four of the country’s biggest news organizations — VG, Dagbladet, NRK and TV 2 – and it’s grown since then. My colleague Mark Stencel likened it to the New York Times, The Washington Post and PBS launching a fact-checking project together.

 

At Duke, both of our big projects are possible because of the fact-checkers’ commitment to help each other. The first, Share the Facts and the creation of the ClaimReview schema, grew out of an idea from Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post Fact Checker, who suggested that Google put “fact-check” tags on search results.

That idea became our Duke-Google-Schema.org collaboration that created what many of you now use so search engines can find your work. And one unintended consequence: it makes automated fact-checking more possible. It all started because of one fact-checker’s sense of community.

Also, FactStream, the new app of our Tech & Check Cooperative, has been a remarkable collaboration between the big US fact-checkers — the Post, FactCheck.org and PolitiFact. All three took part in the beta test of the first version, our live coverage of the State of the Union address back in January. Getting them together on the same app was pretty remarkable. But our new version of the app –which we’re releasing this week – is even cooler. It’s like collaboration squared, or collaboration to the second power!

It took Glenn’s idea, which created the Share the Facts widget, and combined it with an idea from Eugene Kiely, the head of FactCheck.org, who said we should create a new feature on FactStream that shows the latest U.S. widgets every day.

So that’s what we did. And you know what: it’s a great new feature that reveals new things about our political discourse. Every day, it shows the latest fact-checks in a constant stream and users can click through, driving new traffic to the fact-checking sites. I’ll talk more about it during the automated demo session on Friday. But it wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the commitment to collaboration and community by Glenn and Eugene.

We’ve got a busy few days ahead, so let’s get on with it. There sure are a lot of you!

As we know from the photographs: fact-checking keeps growing.

 

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FactoidL

Fact-checking browser extensions hold promise but need further development

NewsCracker and FactoidL are contributing to the fight against misinformation, but there's plenty of room for improvement

By Bill McCarthy – February 23, 2018 | Print this article

Two new fact-checking browser extensions are trying something really challenging: automating the fact-checking process. By generating algorithmic scores for news online, these extensions are predicting whether particular web pages are likely to be true or false. We wondered if these products could really provide such a critical service, so we ran an analysis. Our finding? They are ambitious, but they are not quite ready for prime time.

During the course of several weeks, we ran 219 stories from 73 different media organizations through these extensions — NewsCracker and FactoidL— and tracked the algorithmic scores assigned to each story. The stories ranged from hard news and long-form features to sports and entertainment.

NewsCracker

NewsCracker, founded and developed in 2017 by three 18-year-old college students, is available for download on the Chrome Web Store. According to its website, NewsCracker uses machine learning technology and statistical analysis “to contribute to the movement against ‘fake news’ by helping everyday Internet users think more critically about the articles they read.”

NewsCrackerNewsCracker does not promise the truth, but it does “come pretty close.” Web pages receive ratings on a one to 10 scale for headline strength, neutrality and accuracy, which are then averaged into one overall score. NewsCracker trusts the article when the overall score is above 8.0, and it does not trust the article when the score is below 6.0. Articles scoring between 6.0 and 8.0 trigger a cautionary warning.

According to NewsCracker’s website, ratings are generated according to several criteria, including preliminary scores assigned to specific websites, the number of news outlets reporting on the same story, the number and sourcing of quotations, the number of biased words or phrases and the sentence length and structure. To assess the validity of a story’s factual claims, NewsCracker identifies “the five most important factual claims” and checks for their repetition in related news coverage.

Of the 219 stories we tested, 145 received ratings above 8.0, 65 received ratings between 6.0 and 8.0 and seven received ratings below 6.0 — meaning 66 percent of stories were dubbed trustworthy while only 3 percent were labeled “fake news.” NewsCracker “could not detect any news to score” from the final two stories we tested, both of which came from The Chronicle at Duke University.

The Washington Post had the highest average overall score, at 9.4, with Reuters finishing not far behind. InfoWars, Twitchy and American Thinker recorded the lowest average overall scores.

Significantly, local and campus news organizations — including The Durham Herald-Sun, The Boston Globe and The Chronicle at Duke University — had average overall scores below known fake news producer YourNewsWire.com as well as several other hyperpartisan outlets, such as Breitbart News. This may be because local news coverage is not often repeated elsewhere.

Additionally, the methodology, through which five facts are cross-checked against other coverage, may have the effect of penalizing outlets for original reporting. One BuzzFeed News story — which cites several sources by name, directly references related coverage and was eventually picked up by The Washington Post — received a 5.6 accuracy rating on the grounds that “many claims could not be verified.”

FactoidL

FactoidL — a project from Rochester Institute of Technology student Alexander Kidd also available for download on the Chrome Web Store — does not promise much from its algorithm, which it calls “Anaxagoras.” In fact, the extension’s online description warns that it is “currently very hit-or-miss.”

According to its description, FactoidL “is meant to be a quick, automated fact-checking tool that compares sentences you read to another source.”

FactoidLFactoidL’s formula is simple. it identifies the number of fact-checkable statements — which it calls “factoids” — in any given story, and then Anaxagoras cleans each “factoid” by removing all “unimportant words” and queries Wikipedia for matches to the remaining words or phrases. For any web page, users can see the number and list of “factoids” as well as an accuracy percentage for the page.

This process is currently defective — most likely because only statements that align with Wikipedia descriptions are identified as true or accurate. The 219 stories tested turned out an average of approximately 60 factoids and an average accuracy percentage of approximately 0.9 percent. Of these 219 stories, 154 were rated as 0 percent accurate, while 12 were rated as 5 percent accurate or higher and only one was rated as high as 10 percent accurate.

The story with the highest number of “factoids” — from YourNewsWire.com — registered 2,645 “factoids,” but many could be discounted as claims that were not factual. FactoidL has a tendency, for example, to mark the dateline, byline and headline of a story as “factoids.” It often counts opinion statements, as well.

Where NewsCracker is not yet ready for prime time, FactoidL has a long way to go. Very few news articles from reputable journalistic outlets are actually less than 10 percent accurate. The fact that FactoidL rated all stories tested by the Lab as less than 10 percent accurate implies that the extension is not just “hit-or-miss” with its algorithm; it is missing every time.

The code powering FactoidL is available on GitHub, and interested parties can provide feedback or even volunteer to contribute.

The future is bright

Any new technology is going to hit some bumps along the way, with bugs and breakdowns to be expected. These young developers are trying something really ambitious in a way that is both innovative and exciting. We admire the spirit of their extensions and hope to see them developed further.

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Fact-checking census

Fact-checking triples over four years

The annual fact-checking census from the Reporters' Lab finds 31 percent growth in the past year alone, and signs that many verification projects are becoming more stable.

By Mark Stencel & Riley Griffin – February 22, 2018 | Print this article

The number of fact-checkers around the world has more than tripled over the past four years, increasing from 44 to 149 since the Duke Reporters’ Lab first began counting these projects in 2014 — a 239 percent increase. And many of those fact-checkers in 53 countries are also showing considerable staying power.

This is the fifth time the Reporters’ Lab has tallied up the organizations where reporters and researchers verify statements by public figures and organizations and keep tabs on other sources of misinformation, particularly social media. In each annual census, we have seen steady increases on almost every continent — and the past year was no different.

The 2018 global count is up by nearly a third (31 percent) over the 114 projects we included in last year’s census. While some of that year-over-year change comes because we discovered established fact-checking ventures that we hadn’t yet counted in our past surveys, we also added 21 fact-checking projects that launched since the start of 2017, including one — Tempo’s “Fakta atau Hoax” in Indonesia — that opened for business a month ago.

2018 fact-checking censusAnd that list of startups does not count one short-run fact-checking project — a TV series produced by public broadcaster NRK for Norway’s national election last year. That series is now among the 63 inactive fact-checkers we count on our regularly updated map, list and database. Faktisk, a Norwegian fact-checking partnership that several media companies launched in 2017, remains active.

Elections are often catalysts for political watchdog projects. In addition to the two Norwegian projects, national or regional voting helped spur new fact-checking efforts in Indonesia, South Korea, France, Germany and Chile.

Fact-Checkers By Continent
Africa:4
Asia: 22
Australia: 3
Europe : 52
North America: 53
South America: 15

Many of the fact-checkers we follow have shown remarkable longevity.

Based on the 143 projects whose launch dates we know for certain, 41 (29 percent) have been in business for more than five years. And a diverse group of six have already celebrated 10 years of nearly continuous operation — from 23-year-old Snopes.com, the grandparent of hoax-busting, to locally focused “Reality Checks” from  WISC-TV (News 3) in Madison, Wisconsin, which started fact-checking political statements in 2004. Some long-term projects have occasionally shuttered between election cycles before resuming their work. And some overcame significant funding gaps to come back from the dead.

On average, fact-checking organizations have been around four years.
One change we have noted over the past few years is some shifting in the kind of organizations that are involved in fact-checking and the way they do business. The U.S. fact-checker PolitiFact, for instance, began as an independent project of the for-profit Tampa Bay Times in 2007. With its recently announced move to Poynter Institute, a media training center in St. Petersburg, Florida, that is also the Times’ owner, PolitiFact now has nonprofit status and is no longer directly affiliated with a larger news company.

That’s unusual move for a project in the U.S., where most fact-checkers (41 of 47, or 87 percent) are directly affiliated with newspapers, television networks and other established news outlets. The opposite is the case outside the U.S., where a little more than half of the fact-checkers are directly affiliated (54 of 102, or 53 percent).

The non-media fact-checkers include projects that are affiliated with universities, think tanks and non-partisan watchdogs focused on government accountability. Others are independent, standalone fact-checkers, including a mix of nonprofit and commercial operations as well as a few that are primarily run by volunteers.

Fact-checkers, like other media outlets, are also seeking new ways to stay afloat — from individual donations and membership programs to syndication plans and contract research services. Facebook has enlisted fact-checkers in five countries to help with the social platform’s sometimes bumpy effort to identify and label false information that pollutes its News Feed. (Facebook also is a Reporter’s Lab funder, we should note.) And our Lab’s Google-supported Share the Facts project helped that company  elevate fact-checking on its news page and other platforms. That’s a development that creates larger audiences that are especially helpful to the big-media fact-checkers that depend heavily on digital ad revenue.

Growing Competition

The worldwide growth in fact-checking means more countries have multiple reporting teams keeping an ear out for claims that need their scrutiny.

Last year there were 11 countries with more than one active fact-checker. This year, we counted more than one fact-checker in 22 countries, and more than two in 11 countries.

Countries With More Than Two Fact-Checkers
United States: 47
Brazil: 8
France: 7
United Kingdom: 6
South Korea: 5
India: 4
Germany: 4
Ukraine: 4
Canada: 4
Italy: 3
Spain: 3

There’s also growing variety among the fact-checkers. Our database now includes several science fact-checkers, such as Climate Feedback at the University of California Merced’s Center for Climate Communication and Détecteur de Rumeurs from Agence Science-Presse in Montreal. Or there’s New York-based Gossip Cop, an entertainment news fact-checking site led since 2009 by a “reformed gossip columnist.” (Gossip Cop is also another example of a belated discovery that only appeared on our fact-checking radar in the past year.)

As the fact-checking community around the world has grown, so has the International Fact-Checking Network. Launched in 2015, it too is based at Poynter, the new nonprofit home of PolitiFact. The network has established a shared Code of Principles as well as a process for independent evaluators to verify its signatories’ compliance. So far, about a third of the fact-checkers counted in this census, 47 of 149, have been verified.

The IFCN also holds an annual conference for fact-checkers that is co-sponsored by the Reporters’ Lab. There is already a wait list of hundreds of people for this June’s gathering in Rome.

U.S. Fact-Checking

The United States still has far more fact-checkers than any other country, but growth in the U.S. was slower in 2017 than in the past. For the first time, we counted fewer fact-checkers in the United States (47) than there were in Europe (52).

While the U.S. count ticked up slightly from 43 a year ago, some of that increase came from the addition of newly added long-timers to our database — such as the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek magazine and the The Times-Union newspaper in Jacksonville, Florida. Another of those established additions was the first podcast in our database: “Science Vs.” But that was an import. “Science Vs.” began as a project at the Australian public broadcaster ABC in 2015 before it found its U.S. home a year later at Gimlet Media, a commercial podcasting company based in New York.

Among the new U.S. additions are two traditionally conservative media outlets: The Daily Caller (and its fact-checking offshoot Check Your Fact) and The Weekly Standard. To comply with the IFCN’s Code of Principles, both organizations have set up internal processes to insulate their fact-checkers from the reporting and commentary both publications are best known for.

Another new addition was the The Nevada Independent, a nonprofit news service that focuses on state politics. Of the 47 U.S. fact-checkers, 28 are regionally oriented, including the 11 state affiliates that partner with PolitiFact.

We originally expected the U.S. number would drop in a year between major elections, as we wrote in December, so the small uptick was a surprise. With this year’s upcoming midterm elections, we expect to see even more fact-checking in the U.S. in 2018.

The Reporters’ Lab is a project of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at Duke University’s Sanford School for Public Policy. It is led by journalism professor Bill Adair, who was also PolitiFact’s founding editor. The Lab’s staff and student researchers identify and evaluate fact-checkers that specifically focus on the accuracy of statements by public figures and institutions in ways that are fair, nonpartisan and transparent. See this explainer about how we decide which fact-checkers to include in the database. In addition to studying the reach and impact of fact-checking, the Lab is home to the Tech & Check Cooperative, a multi-institutional project to develop automated reporting tools and applications that help fact-checkers spread their work to larger audiences more quickly.

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A big year for fact-checking, but not for new U.S. fact-checkers

Following a historic pattern, the number of American media outlets verifying political statements dropped after last year's presidential campaign.

By Mark Stencel – December 13, 2017 | Print this article

All the talk about political lies and misinformation since last year’s election has been good for the fact-checking business in the United States — but it has not meant an increase in fact-checkers. In fact, the number has dropped, much as we’ve come to expect during odd-numbered years in the United States.

We’re still editing and adding to our global list of fact-checkers for the annual census we’ll publish in January. Check back with us then for the final tally. But the trend line in the United States already is following a pattern we’ve seen before in the year after a presidential election: At the start of 2017, there were 51 active U.S. fact checkers, 35 of which were locally oriented and 16 of which were nationally focused. Now there are 44, of which 28 are local and 16 are mainly national.

This count includes some political fact-checkers that are mainly seasonal players. These news organizations have consistently fact-checked politicians’ statements through political campaigns, but then do little if any work verifying during the electoral “offseason.” And not all the U.S. fact-checkers in our database focus exclusively — or even at all — on politics. Sites such as Gossip Cop, Snopes.com and Climate Feedback are in the mix, too.

The story is different elsewhere in the world, where we have seen continuing growth in the number of fact-checking ventures, especially in countries that held elections and weathered national political scandals. Again, our global census isn’t done yet, but so far we’ve counted 137 active fact-checking projects around the world — up from 114 at the start of the year. And we expect more to come — offsetting the number of international fact-checkers that closed down in other countries after the preceding year’s elections.

Still, the number of U.S. fact-checkers accounts for about a third of the projects that appear in the Reporters’ Lab’s database, even after this year’s drop.

So why do so many U.S. fact-checkers close up shop after elections? PolitiFact founder Bill Adair, who now runs the Reporters’ Lab and Duke’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy, asked that question in a New York Times op-ed on the eve of last year’s election. He attributed the retraction in part to the fact-checkers’ traditional focus on claims made in political ads, which was how the movement began in the early 1990s. Also, newsroom staffing and budgets often shrink after the votes are counted. That’s too bad, because, as Bill noted, “politicians don’t stop lying on Election Day.”

A handful of U.S. newcomers began fact-checking in 2017. One was Indy Fact Check. It’s a project of The Nevada Independent, a nonprofit news site based in Las Vegas. The Independent got its feet wet in January with a look at the accuracy of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s 2017 State of the State address before launching a regular fact-checking series in June.

An “Almost Abe” rating from Indy Fact Check in Nevada. (The Nevada Independent)

To rate the claims it reports on, Indy Fact Check uses a sliding, true-to-false scale illustrated with cartoon versions of Abraham Lincoln. The facial expression on “Honest Abe” changes with each rating, which run from “Honest as Abe” and “Almost Abe” on the true side to “Hardly Abe” and “All Hat, no Abe” on the false side.

One of Indy Fact Check’s regular contributors is Riley Snyder, who previously was the reporter at PolitiFact Nevada at KTNV-TV (13 Action News). KTNV was one of several local news outlets owned by Scripps TV Station Group that briefly served as PolitiFact state affiliates before closing down the partnership — after the 2016 election, of course. So in Nevada at least, one site closes and another opens.

Another new player in the U.S. fact-checking market this year was The Weekly Standard. This conservative publication based in Washington has a dedicated fact-checker, Holmes Lybrand, who does not contribute to the political commentary and reporting for which the Standard is generally known. With this structural separation, it recently became a verified signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles. The Standard is owned by Clarity Media Group, a division of the Anschutz Entertainment Group that also publishes the Washington Examiner and Red Alert Politics.

By January, we may have a few more additions to add to our 2017 tally, but that won’t change the bottom line. This was a year of retraction in the U.S. That’s similar to the pattern our database shows after the last presidential election, in 2013, when PunditFact was the only new U.S. fact-checker.

But the numbers began to grow again a year later, during the midterm election in 2014, and continued from there. Because of the large number of candidates and the early start of the 2016 presidential debate and primary process, a number of new fact-checkers launched in 2015. So we’ll be watching for similar patterns in the United States over the next two years.

Student researcher Riley Griffin contributed to this report.

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ZenMate

The wide world of fact-checking apps

From phone apps to browser extensions, the landscape of fact-checking tools is growing — but how many of them are useful?

By Bill McCarthy – December 6, 2017 | Print this article

It is no secret that news consumers are finding it increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction, especially when it comes to politics.

Sure, they can visit journalism’s traditional truth-seeking outlets — such as PolitiFact or FactCheck.org — if they are looking for the whole story. But what if they want a quicker fix? What if they want to know, with the click of a button, if the article they are reading may include fabricated content? Well, there may now be an app for that — in fact, many apps.

The wave of falsehoods that dominated the 2016 election cycle has inspired several enterprising companies and individuals to create mobile applications and web browser extensions to promote fact-checking and detect stories with falsehoods.

In a recent analysis for the Reporters’ Lab, I identified at least 45 fact-checking and falsehood-detecting apps and browser extensions available for download on the Apple or Android app stores, the Google Chrome web store and Firefox. Many share similar design characteristics and functionality.

Several of the best apps and extensions simply make fact-checks more accessible. These apps, including Settle It! Politifact’s Argument Ender, let users view and filter through fact-checks aggregated from online fact-checking sites. (Disclosure: Bill Adair, director of the Reporters’ Lab, contributed to the creation of this app.) Some, like The Washington Post’s RealDonaldContext, are specifically tailored to fact-check President Donald Trump’s tweets.

A few extensions — such as FakerFact or NewsCracker — evaluate credibility online by generating algorithmic scores to predict whether particular web pages are likely true or false. I found both extensions questionable because it is not clear which inputs are driving their algorithms. But they show nonetheless that fully automated fact-checking may not be so far away — even if FakerFact and NewsCracker are themselves lacking in transparency and value.

Other extensions enable users to crowdsource fact-checks. Users of these community-oriented platforms can flag and provide fact-checks online for other users to see. Where these extensions fail, however, is in training their users to fact-check. My analysis noted that several users have submitted fact-checks for opinion statements — and several others have disputed statements on a hyper-partisan basis.

Many of the existing apps and extensions are designed to spot, detect or block false stories. Some alert readers to any potential “bias” associated with a website, while others flag websites that may contain falsehoods, conspiracy theories, clickbait, satire and more. Some even provide security checks for spear phishing and malware. One drawback to these apps and extensions, however, is that their assessments are subjective — because all such apps and extensions are discretionary, none can honestly claim to be the end-all arbiter of truth or political bias.

In summary, some of the identified apps and extensions — like FactPopUp, our own Reporters’ Lab app that provides automated fact-checks to users watching the live stream of a political event — show signs of being on the cutting edge of fact-checking. The future is certainly bright. But not all of the market’s apps and extensions are highly effective in their current form.

Fact-checking and falsehood detection apps and extensions should be considered supplements to — not replacements of — human brain power. Given that caveat, below are three of what I found to be the most refined options. They are ready for action as news-reading supplements.

GlennKessler

Glenn Kessler

GlennKessler, available for free download on Apple’s app store, is an aggregation of fact-checks from Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post’s Fact Checker. Kessler’s son, Hugo, created the app when he was 16 years old.

Users of GlennKessler can view fact-checked claims and filter them according to the number of “Pinocchios” they received or the political party of the speakers. The app also includes videos related to fact-checking and interviews with Glenn Kessler, as well as a game where users can test their fact-checking knowledge. As an added feature, users can learn about and email questions directly to Kessler himself.

Official Media Bias Fact Check Icon

Fact Check Icon

The Official Media Bias Fact Check Icon, a free extension for Chrome browsers, purports to provide “bias” ratings for more than 2,000 media sources online. While browsing the internet, users are presented with a color-coded icon denoting each website’s “bias.”

A related extension, the Official Media Bias Fact Check Extension, highlights “bias” within Facebook’s news feed. Users can ask the extension to eliminate sources fitting a particular “bias” rating from appearing in their feed. Unfortunately, this “collapse” feature brings with it the possibility that users will abuse the extension to reinforce existing filter bubbles within an increasingly fragmented social media landscape.

It is important to remember as well that Media Bias Fact Check claims to find “bias” according to its own labeling methodology. This is a complicated assessment, so users should take the ratings with a grain of salt. As committed as a site may be to the truth, there can truly be no definitive rating for something so sensitive as political bias.

ZenMate SafeSearch and Fake News Detector

ZenMate

ZenMate SafeSearch and Fake News Detector, a free extension for Chrome browsers from the Berlin-based startup ZenMate, signals whether a website is “good” or “suspect.” Users see ratings not only of a website’s credibility, but also of its security and ownership. The extension does not work for articles appearing on social media.

Per the extension’s description, ZenMate SafeSearch “aggregates and enriches various databases and feeds” in order to assess the credibility of various webpages. I found this low level of transparency alarming. As with Media Bias Fact Check’s extensions, users should be wary that ZenMate’s ratings are by nature subjective. The concept of “bias” is likely more complicated for an algorithm to score.

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StoryTracer

Duke graduate develops Chrome extension to identify source reporting

The tool aims to help news consumers understand what they are reading by identifying the original source of a story

By Bill McCarthy – November 14, 2017 | Print this article

A former Duke Reporters’ Lab researcher has created a new tool to help readers discover the story behind the story.

Gautam Hathi, Trinity ‘17, has just published StoryTracer in the Google Chrome web store. The tool, a free extension for the Chrome browser, identifies source reporting behind news stories on the internet. It works by checking whether links embedded in online news articles connect to similar content elsewhere.

When users navigate to a webpage, StoryTracer will try to pinpoint the original source by examining the links on the page. If a likely source is identified, a pop-up will appear to indicate that the page might be based on content from one or more other sites. When links connect to sites that are not related to the webpage at hand, StoryTracer does not highlight them as likely sources.

StoryTracer StoryTracer

“It does this repeatedly, so once it follows a link, it will look at all the links on those pages and so on,” Hathi said.

Hathi, who studied computer science at Duke and currently works as a software engineer, started the project in April. He said the idea came out of conversations with colleagues at the Reporters’ Lab and The Chronicle, Duke’s independent student newspaper.

His first reason for initiating the project was to contribute to the fight against fake news.

“A component of [the fake news problem] was that people would read things and not understand where the information was coming from,” Hathi said. “You would have these chain stories where someone would report something and someone else would report it without mentioning who got to it first.”

Hathi said he also wanted to help deliver credit to publications responsible for original reporting. While a writer for The Chronicle, he often watched as local — and sometimes national — news outlets based stories off the paper’s reporting.

“It was always frustrating to us when others would use our reporting and basically get to publish the story on their sites, using the work that we had done without really giving us as much credit as we could have gotten,” he said.

The ultimate goal behind StoryTracer is to elevate readers’ understanding of the news they are consuming, Hathi said.

“I’m not under the illusion that this is going to revolutionize the way people read news,” he said. “But I did want to raise awareness about the fact that it is often easy to confuse what you’re reading with original reporting.”

StoryTracer

The code for StoryTracer is available on GitHub, so beta testers and users can set up and experiment with their own versions of the program. Feedback can be submitted through the Chrome Web Store.

Hathi said he is hoping beta testers will help identify “corner cases where things might not work as expected.” He has already found some complex website designs that disrupt StoryTracer’s ability to locate source reporting. In its current form, StoryTracer can sometimes miss sources that should be recognized as original reporting.

StoryTracer is not Hathi’s first experiment with projects designed to facilitate news consumption. In 2016, he built FactPopUp, a tool that allowed fact-checking organizations to provide live automated fact-checks via Twitter to users watching the live stream of a political event on their computers. He also contributed to the initial programming behind Share the Facts, a widget that helps users spread fact-checks across the internet.

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Kansas Fact Meter

Local fact-checking is hard to find when voters need it most

Reporters' Lab study finds that poor promotion hid much of last year's reporting on the accuracy of political candidates across the U.S.

By Riley Griffin – October 23, 2017 | Print this article

A lot of good fact-checking took place last year at the local level. But good luck finding it.

Regional fact-checkers are not using basic digital publishing practices — such as landing pages, tagging and social media — to promote their fact-checks, according to a report co-authored by Duke Reporters’ Lab co-director Mark Stencel and research coordinator Rebecca Iannucci.

The report, published by the Poynter Institute on Oct. 16, was derived from work by the Lab’s student researchers, who reviewed nearly 40 regional media outlets that fact-checked political claims during last year’s election cycle.

One of those outlets, The Topeka Capital-Journal, did have a landing page for its “Kansas Fact Meter.” But the landing page was inactive and did not showcase the majority of its fact-checks dating back to 2014, or the ones it published after January 2016.

Tim Carpenter, the Capital-Journal’s Statehouse Bureau Chief and the founder of the Kansas Fact Meter, said he did not know the fact-checking project had a landing page, but he admitted it might be beneficial to have one.

“I’ve never done a full accounting [of the Kansas Fact Meter],” Carpenter said in a phone interview with the Reporters’ Lab. “Having a page…people could go to directly — or a link to all of them — is a great idea.”

The Lab’s report noted that local news organizations that partnered with PolitiFact as one of the national fact-checker’s state affiliates got a boost from working with a website that was already structured in ways to help generate traffic. But half of the state and local fact-checking sites the Lab’s student researchers reviewed were more like the Kansas Fact Meter — a standalone project, often championed in the newsroom by handful of journalists, like Carpenter.

Carpenter said he wished regional news organizations had more technological resources and research assistance at hand in order to make fact-checks easily accessible.

“It’s probably my fault for not hitting that designation when I file stories,” he said referring to a specific tag on the Capital-Journal’s publishing platform that would easily group fact-checks on the site. “I will do better.”

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