“Fact-Checking Census”

2017 fact-checking map

International fact-checking gains ground, Duke census finds

Number of projects up 19% in a year; U.S. count holds steady after tumultuous election season

By Mark Stencel – February 28, 2017 | Print this article

Falsehoods and “fake news” are keeping journalists and researchers busy in 47 countries, where 114 dedicated fact-checking teams are now calling out public figures for inaccuracies.

The number of active fact-checking projects increased more than two and half times since the Duke Reporters’ Lab began its annual census three years ago. The current count is up 19 percent from 2016, when the number of active fact-checkers was 96.

Nineteen of the fact-checkers started in 2016. That includes 10 in the United States, seven of which focused on state and local politics. The number of startups increases to 23 if we include four additional U.S. fact-checkers that launched in 2016 to cover the U.S. elections but have since shut down. Those four are now among the 55 inactive fact-checking projects that are also tracked by the Reporters’ Lab.

Also among those inactive projects is the ABC News Fact Check in Australia, which closed down in June after government budget cuts. But the ABC Fact Check is expected to return as soon as next month as part of a new partnership between the public broadcaster and RMIT University’s School of Media and Communication — a phoenix-like cycle that we’ve seen before among the world’s fact-checkers.

The Lab regularly updates the database of fact-checkers, which peaked last year at 121 before the end of the raucous U.S. election season (see the current MAP AND LIST). By the time American voters went to the polls, the number of U.S. fact-checkers had temporarily surged to 53 — up from 41 during the presidential primary campaign a year ago — with most focused on politics at the state and local level.

But with the shuttering of eight of PolitiFact’s state affiliates since the election and other updates to our list, the U.S. year-over-year count grew by just two to 43 — or about 38 percent percent of the global total. [UPDATE, March 25: PolitiFact Georgia resumed operations after brief hiatus in March 2017. PolitiFact’s reporting about Georgia politics is now syndicated to state news outlets, including The Atlanta Journal Constitution. The newspaper previously produced its own fact checks, using PolitiFact’s platform and methodology from 2010 to 2016. The numbers of fact-checkers referred to throughout this article are still based on our February count.]

The post-election dip in the U.S. was not surprising. Media fact-checkers that come to life in campaign years often go offline or close down completely after the votes are tallied — a trend PolitiFact founder Bill Adair lamented in an Election Day commentary for the New York Times.

“[P]oliticians don’t stop lying on Election Day,” wrote Adair, who now teaches journalism at Duke and oversees the university’s Reporters’ Lab.

Meanwhile, the fact-checking movement has continued to grow internationally.

Including the United States, 11 countries have more than one fact checker:
United States: 43
France: 6
United Kingdom: 6
Spain: 4
Ukraine: 4
South Korea: 3
Canada: 3
Brazil: 3
Mexico: 2
Argentina: 2
Colombia: 2

Growth was especially strong in Europe, where our count increased 44 percent — from 27 in 2016 to 39 now. While some of that increase came from adding established fact-checkers we previously hadn’t identified, seven of the European fact-checkers were among the 2016 startups.

Among the operations that opened for business in 2016 were fact-checkers in Ireland Kosovo, Lithuania, Spain and the United Kingdom, plus two in Ukraine (some of these launched early enough to in the year to be counted in last February’s report). New fact-checkers in Columbia and Kenya also launched in 2016. And with upcoming elections in France, Germany and elsewhere, we expect global growth in fact-checking will continue in 2017.

FACT CHECKERS BY CONTINENT
Africa: 5
Asia: 9
Australia: 1
Europe: 39
North America: 50
South America: 10

In the United States, fact-checkers are often part of an established news organization. But elsewhere in the world, they are less likely to have a media affiliation.

While more than 80 percent of the U.S. fact-checkers (36 of 43) are part of a media company, fewer than half in the rest of the world (33 of 71) have those kinds of direct ties. The others are mainly affiliated with universities and other non-governmental organizations that focus on issues such as civic engagement, government transparency and public accountability. Still, those independent fact-checkers frequently establish business or distribution relationships with news organizations to help pay for their work and expand their audiences.

The Reporters’ Lab is a project of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at Duke University’s Sanford School for Public Policy. 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. The Lab also gets guidance from the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which established a Code of Principles in 2016.

Student researcher Hank Tucker contributed to this report, as did Reporters’ Lab director Bill Adair, Knight Professor for the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University and founder of PolitiFact. Please send updates and additions to Reporters’ Lab co-director Mark Stencel (mark.stencel@duke.edu).

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How We Identify Fact-Checkers

The Duke Reporters' Lab looks at many attributes to determine which organizations to add to its database of fact-checking projects around the world.

By Bill Adair & Mark Stencel – June 22, 2016 | Print this article

The database of global fact-checking sites is a project of the Reporters’ Lab at Duke University. The database is managed by Mark Stencel, a visiting professor of journalism at Duke who also serves as co-director of the Lab, and Bill Adair, the founder of PolitiFact who serves as the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy and the director of Duke’s journalism program.

The fact-checking database tracks more than 100 non-partisan organizations around the world that regularly publish articles or broadcast segments that assess the accuracy of statements made by public officials, political parties, candidates, journalists, news organizations, associations and other groups.

The Lab considers many attributes in determining which organizations to include, such as whether the site:

  • examines all parties and sides;
  • examines discrete claims and reaches conclusions;
  • tracks political promises;
  • is transparent about sources and methods;
  • discloses funding/affiliations;
  • and whether its primary mission is news and information.

Many fact-checkers in the database are affiliated with news organizations. Others are typically associated with non-governmental groups that conduct non-partisan journalism and focus on issues such as civic engagement, government transparency and public accountability.

The database is regularly updated and includes both active and inactive projects. We also try to update the status of organizations that do periodic fact-checking during key news events, such as an election or a legislative session. (The profiles of each project indicate whether it is inactive or inactive.)

If you have additions, edits or questions, please contact Mark Stencel by email.

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Global fact-checking up 50% in past year

Reporters' Lab tally for 2016 finds nearly 100 sites and organizations keeping tabs on politicians

By Mark Stencel – February 16, 2016 | Print this article

The high volume of political truth-twisting is driving demand for political fact-checkers around the world, with the number of fact-checking sites up 50 percent since last year.

The Duke Reporters’ Lab annual census of international fact-checking currently counts 96 active projects in 37 countries. That’s up from 64 active fact-checkers in the 2015 count. (Map and List)

Active Fact-checkers 2016A bumper crop of new fact-checkers across the Western Hemisphere helped increase the ranks of journalists and government watchdogs who verify the accuracy of public statements and track political promises. The new sites include 14 in the United States, two in Canada as well as seven additional fact-checkers in Latin America.There also were new projects in 10 other countries, from North Africa to Central Europe to East Asia.

With this dramatic growth, politicians in at least nine countries will have their statements scrutinized before their voters go to the polls for national elections this year. (In 2015, fact-checkers were on the beat for national elections in 11 countries.)

Active fact-checkers by continent in our latest tally:
Africa: 5
Asia: 7
Australia: 2
Europe: 27
North America: 47
South America: 8

More than a third of the currently active fact-checkers (33 of 96) launched in 2015 or even in the first weeks of 2016.

The Reporters’ Lab also keeps tabs on inactive fact-checking ventures, which currently number 47. Some of them assure us they are in suspended animation between election cycles — a regular pattern that keeps the fact-checking tally in continuous flux. At least a few inactive fact-checkers in the United States have been “seasonal” projects in past elections. The Reporters’ Lab regularly updates the database, so the tallies reported here are all as of Feb. 15, 2016.

Growing Competition

U.S. fact-checkers dominate the Reporters’ Lab list, with 41 active projects. Of these, three-quarters (30 of 41) are focused on the statements of candidates and government officials working at the state and local level. And 15 of those are among the local media organizations that have joined an expanding network of state affiliates of PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning venture started nine years ago by the Tampa Bay Times in St. Petersburg, Florida.

(Editor’s Note: PolitiFact founder Bill Adair is a Duke professor who oversees the Reporters’ Lab work. The Lab is part of the the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.)

In the past year, PolitiFact’s newspaper and local broadcast partners have launched new regional sites in six states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri and Nevada) and reactivated a dormant one in a seventh state (Ohio).

In some cases, those new fact-checkers are entering competitive markets. So far this election year, at least seven U.S. states have more than one regional fact-checker and in California there are three.

With the presidential campaign underway, competition also is increasing at the national level, where longstanding fact-checkers such as FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and the Washington Post Fact Checker now regularly square off with at least eight teams of journalists who are systematically scrutinizing the the candidates’ words. And with more and more newsrooms joining in, especially on debate nights, we will be adding to that list before the pixels dry on this blog post.

Competition is on the rise around the world, too. In 10 other countries, voters have more than one active fact-checker to consult.

The tally by country:
U.S.: 41
France: 5
U.K.: 4
Brazil: 3
Canada: 3
South Korea: 3
Spain: 3
Argentina: 2
Australia: 2
Tunisia: 2*
Ukraine: 2

* One organization in Tunisia maintains two sites that track political promises (a third site operated by the same group is inactive).

The growing numbers have even spawned a new global association, the International Fact-Checking Network hosted by the Poynter Institute, a media training center in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Promises, Promises

Some of the growth has come in the form of promise-tracking. Since January 2015, fact-checkers launched six sites in five countries devoted to tracking the status of pledges candidates and party leaders made in political campaigns. In Tunisia, there are two new sites dedicated to promise-tracking — one devoted to the country’s president and the other to its prime minister.

There are another 20 active fact-checkers elsewhere that track promises, either as their primary mission or as part of a broader portfolio of political verification. Added together, more than a quarter of the active fact-checkers (26 of 96, including nine in the United States) do some form of promise-tracking.

The Media Is the Mainstream — Especially in the U.S.

Nearly two-thirds of the active fact-checkers (61 of 96, or 64 percent) are directly affiliated with a new organization. However this breakdown reflects the dominant business structure in the United States, where 90 percent of fact-checkers are part of a news organization. That includes nine of 11 national projects and 28 of 30 state/local fact-checkers

Media Affiliations of 41 Active U.S. Fact-Checkers
Newspaper: 18
TV: 10
TV + Newspaper: 1
Radio: 3
Digital: 3
Student Newspaper: 1
Not Affiliated: 4

The story is different outside the United States, where less than half of the active fact-checking projects (24 of 55, or 44 percent) are affiliated with news organizations.

The other fact-checkers are typically associated with non-governmental, non-profit and activist groups focused on civic engagement, government transparency and accountability. A handful are partisan, especially in conflict zones and in countries where the lines between independent media, activists and opposition parties are often blurry and where those groups are aligned against state-controlled media or other governmental and partisan entities.

Many of the fact-checkers that are not affiliated with news organizations have journalists on their staff or partner with professional news outlets to distribute their content.

All About Ratings

More than three out of four active U.S. fact-checkers (33 of 41, or 81 percent) use rating systems, including scales that range from true to false or rating devices, such as the Washington Post’s “Pinocchios.” That pattern is consistent globally, where 76 of 96, or 79 percent, use ratings.

This report is based on research compiled in part by Reporters’ Lab student researchers Jillian Apel, Julia Donheiser and Shaker Samman. Alexios Mantzarlis of the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network (and a former managing editor of the Italian fact-checking Pagella Politica) also contributed to this report, as did  Reporters’ Lab director Bill Adair, Knight Professor for the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University (and founder of PolitiFact).

Please send updates and additions to Reporters’ Lab co-director Mark Stencel (mark.stencel@duke.edu).

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Fact-Checking Census finds continued growth around the world

Our latest tally of fact-checking sites finds 30 new sites in places such as Turkey, Uruguay and South Korea.

By Bill Adair & Ishan Thakore – January 19, 2015 | Print this article

Fact-checking keeps growing around the world, with new sites in countries such as Turkey, Uruguay and South Korea.

The 2015 Fact-Checking Census from the Duke Reporters’ Lab found 89 that have been active in the past few years and 64 that are active today. That’s up from 59 total/44 active when we did our last count in May 2014. (We include inactive sites in our total count because sites come and go with election cycles. Some news organizations and journalism NGOs only fact-check during election years.)

Many of the additional sites have started in the last seven months, including UYCheck in Uruguay and Dogruluk Payi in Turkey. Others are sites that we didn’t find when we did our first count.

You can see the complete list on the fact-checking page of the Reporters’ Lab website, where you can browse by continent and country.

As with our last tally, the largest concentrations of fact-checking are in Europe and North America. We found 38 sites in Europe (including 27 active), 30 in North America (22 active) and seven in South America (five active). There are two new sites in South Korea.

The Truth or False Poll in South Korea enlists readers to help with fact-checking.
The Truth or False Poll in South Korea enlists readers to help with fact-checking.

The percentage of sites that use ratings continues to grow, up from about 70 percent in last year’s count to 80 percent today. Many rating systems use a true to false scale while others have devised more creative names. For example, ratings for the European site FactCheckEU include “Rather Daft” and “Insane Whopper.” Canada’s Baloney Meter rates statements from “No Baloney” to “Full of Baloney.”

We found that 56 of the 89 sites are affiliated with news organizations such as newspapers and television networks. The other 33 are sites that are dedicated to fact-checking such as FactCheck.org in the United States and Full Fact in Great Britain.

Almost one-third of the sites (29 of the 89) track the campaign promises of elected officials. Some, such as the Rouhani Meter for Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, only track campaign promises. Others, such as PolitiFact in the United States, do promise-tracking in addition to fact-checking.

For more information about the Reporters’ Lab database, contact Bill Adair at  bill.adair@duke.edu

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