The Duke Reporters’ Lab is adding seven fact-checkers from three continents to our global database. That puts our ongoing count of reporting projects that regularly debunk political misinformation and viral hoaxes close to 200.
With this month’s additions, the Lab’s database now counts 195 projects in 62 countries, including every project the International Fact-Checking Network has verified as signatories of its code of principles.
One new addition uses a name that’s inspired many others in the fact-checking community: the polygraph machine, also known as the lie detector. DELFI’s Melo Detektorius (“Lie Detector”) launched last November. It’s the fact-checker for the Lithuanian outlet of a commercial media company that operates digital news channels in the Baltic states and across Eastern Europe.
Many others have used variations of the name before, including the Columbian news site La Silla Vacía’s Detector de Mentiras and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s weekly political fact-checking TV program Detektor. There are versions of polygraph too, such as Polígrafo in Portugal and El Poligrafo, a fact-checker for the print edition of the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio. At least three inactive entries in our database used similar names.
The fact-checkers at Spondeo Media in Mexico City avoided the wording, but apparently liked the idea. Instead, they deploy a cartoon polygraph machine with emoji-like facial expressions to rate the accuracy of statements.
Two news sites associated with the TV Today Network in New Delhi and its corporate parent India Today are also recent additions to our database. In addition to the work that appears on India Today Fact Check, the company’s fact-checkers produce reports for the Hindi-language news channel Aaj Tak and the Bangla-language news and opinion portal DailyO. When claims circulate in multiple languages, fact-checks are translated and published across platforms.
“Broadly, the guiding principle for deciding the language of our fact- check story is the language in which the claim was made,” explained Balkrishna, who leads the Fact Check Team at the India Today Group. “If the claim is Hindi, we would write the fact check story in Hindi first. If the same claim appears in more than one language, we translate the stories and publish it on the respective websites.”
While it’s relatively common for fact-checkers in some countries to present their work in multiple languages on one site, it’s less common for one media company to produce fact-checks for multiple outlets in multiple languages.
As we approach a Canadian national election slated for Oct. 21, we are adding two fact-checkers from that part of the world. One is Décrypteurs from CBC/Radio-Canada in Montréal. It launched in May to focus on digital misinformation, particularly significant claims and posts that are flagged by its audience. But the format is not entirely new to the network, where reporter Jeff Yates had produced occasional fact-checks under the label “inspecteur viral.”
The Walrus magazine in Toronto is also focusing on digital misinformation on its fact-checking site, which launched in October 2018.
We have added two other well-established fact-checkers that have a similar focus. The first is the Thai News Agency’s Sure and Share Center in Bangkok. The Thai News Agency is the journalism arm of Mass Communication Organization of Thailand, a publicly traded state enterprise that was founded in 1952 and privatized in 2004.
The other is Fatabyyano, an independent fact-checker based in Amman, Jordan. It covers a wide range of misinformation and hoaxes throughout the Arab world, including nearly two dozen countries in the Middle East and North and East Africa. Applied Science Private University and the Zedni Education Network are among its supporters.
We learned that Fatabyyano’s name is a reference to a holy command from the Quran meaning “to investigate” from an article by former Reporter’s Lab student researcher Daniela Flamini. She wrote about that site and other fact-checking projects in the Arab world for the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network.
Several of the sites Flamini mentioned are among a list of others we plan to add to our database when we post another of these updates in October.
The number of fact-checking outlets around the world has grown to 188 in more than 60 countries amid global concerns about the spread of misinformation, according to the latest tally by the Duke Reporters’ Lab.
Since the last annual fact-checking census in February 2018, we’ve added 39 more outlets that actively assess claims from politicians and social media, a 26% increase. The new total is alsomore than four-times the 44 fact-checkers we counted when we launched our global database and map in 2014.
Globally, the largest growth came in Asia, which went from 22 to 35 outlets in the past year. Nine of the 27 fact-checking outlets that launched since the start of 2018 were in Asia, including six in India. Latin American fact-checking also saw a growth spurt in that same period, with two new outlets in Costa Rica, and others in Mexico, Panama and Venezuela.
The actual worldwide total is likely much higher than our current tally. That’s because more than a half-dozen of the fact-checkers we’ve added to the database since the start of 2018 began as election-related partnerships that involved the collaboration of multiple organizations. And some those election partners are discussing ways to continue or reactivate that work – either together or on their own.
Over the past 12 months, five separate multimedia partnerships enlisted more than 60 different fact-checking organizations and other news companies to help debunk claims and verify information for voters in Mexico, Brazil, Sweden, Nigeria and Philippines. And the Poynter Institute’s International Fact Checking Network assembled a separate team of 19 media outlets from 13 countries to consolidate and share their reporting during the run-up to last month’s elections for the European Parliament. Our database includes each of these partnerships, along with several others – but not each of the individual partners. And because they were intentionally short-run projects, three of these big partnerships appear among the 74 inactive projects we also document in our database.
Politics isn’t the only driver for fact-checkers. Many outlets in our database are concentrating efforts on viral hoaxes and other forms of online misinformation – often in coordination with the big digital platforms on which that misinformation spreads.
We also continue to see new topic-specific fact-checkers such as Metafact in Australia and Health Feedback in France — both of which launched in 2018 to focus on claims about health and medicine for a worldwide audience.
(Here’s how we decide which fact-checkers to include in the Reporters’ Lab database.)
Fact-Checkers by Continent Since Feb. 2018
Africa:4 to 9 Asia: 22 to 35 Australia: 3 to 5 Europe: 52 to 61 North America: 53 to 60 South America: 15 to 18
TRACKING THE GROWTH
As we’ve noted, elections are not the only draw for aspiring fact-checkers. Many outlets in our database are concentrating their efforts on viral hoaxes and other forms of online misinformation – often in coordination with the big digital platforms on which that misinformation spreads. And those platforms are also providing incentives.
In one such effort, the Reporters’ Lab worked with Google and Schema.org to develop ClaimReview, an open-source tagging system for fact-checks. Google, Microsoft’s BING, Facebook and YouTube use this system to help identify and showcase fact-checkers’ work in their news feeds and search results – a process that generates traffic and attention for the fact-checkers. It also provides data that is powering experiments in live, real time fact-checks that can be delivered to users automatically. (Disclosure: Google and Facebook are among the funders of the Reporters’ Lab.)
Another driver: Facebook. It has recruited independent fact-checking partners around the world to help identify misinformation on its platforms. The social network began that effort in late 2016 with help from the Poynter’s Institute’s IFCN. (Poynter is a journalism training and research center in St. Petersburg, Florida, that also is home to the U.S. fact-checking site PolitiFact.)
Meanwhile, YouTube gave fact-checking a boost in India when it started putting fact-checks at the top of YouTube search results, which helped contribute to a surge of new outlets in that country. Now India has 11 entries in our database, six of which launched since our February 2018 census. And it’s likely there are others to add in the next few weeks.
KINDS OF FACT-CHECKERS
A bit more than half of fact-checkers are part of a media company (106 of 188, or 56%). That percentage has been dropping over the past few years, mostly because of the changing business landscape for media companies in the United States. In our 2018 census, 87% of the U.S. fact-checkers were connected to a media company (41 out of 47). Now it’s 65% (39 out of 60). In other words, as the number of fact-checker in the U.S. has grown, fewer of them have ties to those companies.
Among fact-checkers in the rest of the world, the media mix remains about half and half (67 out of 128, or 52% — very close to the 54% we saw in 2018).
The fact-checkers that are not part of a larger media organization include independent, standalone organizations, both for-profit and non-profit (the definitions of these legal and economic entities vary greatly from country to country). Some of these fact-checkers are subsidiary projects of bigger organizations that focus on civil society and political accountability. Others are affiliated with think tanks and academic institutions.
Among the recent additions is the journalism department at the University of the Philippines’ College of Mass Communication, which was the coordinator of Tsek.ph, a political fact-checking partnership mentioned earlier that also involves two other academic partners.
About 70% of the fact-checkers (131 of 188) have well-defined rating systems for categorizing the claims they investigate — similar to what we’ve seen in past years.
As usual, we found many of the rating systems to be entertaining. One of our new favorites comes from Spondeo Media in Mexico, which launched in December. It supplements a basic, four-point, true-to-false scale with a mascot – NETO, a cartoon lie-detector who smiles and jumps for joy with true claims but gets steamed with false ones. Another, India Today Fact Check, rated claims using a scale of one-to-three animated crows, along with a slogan in Hindi: “When you lie, the crow bites” (also the title of a popular movie: “Jhooth bole kauva kaate”).
We decided to time this year’s fact-checking census to correspond with the sixth annual GlobalFact Summit, which begins next week in Cape Town, South Africa. About 250 attendees from nearly nearly 60 countries are expected at this year’s gathering — which is yet another measure of fact-checking’s continued growth: That’s five times the number from the first GlobalFact in London in 2014.
Joel Luther, Share the Facts Research and Outreach Coordinator at the Duke Reporters’ Lab, and former student researcher Daniela Flamini (now an intern at the Poynter Institute’s International Fact Checking Network) contributed to this report.
FOOTNOTE: ANOTHER WAY TO COUNT FACT-CHECKERS?
A challenge we have each time the Duke Reporters’ Lab conducts our annual fact-checking censuses is that our final tally depends so much on when we happen to discover these outlets. Our counting also depends on when fact-checkers come and go — especially short-term, election-focused projects that last several months. If a fact-checker was hard at work most of the year covering a campaign, but then closed up shop before we did our census, they’ll still be counted — but in our list of inactive projects.
That inactive list is an interesting trove of good ideas for other fact-checkers to mine. It also provides an entirely different way for us to tally fact-checkers: by counting all the projects that were active at some point during the year — not just the ones that make it to winter.
This approach might better showcase the year in fact-checking. And it also would show that fact-checking was in fact growing faster than we even thought it was.
Here’s chart that compares the number of fact-checkers that we know were active in certain years — even the ones that ultimately closed down — with the subsequent census number for that year….
There are reasons why the Reporters’ Lab would still need to keep counting fact-checkers the way we have since 2014. For one, we need current lists and counts of serious fact-checking projects for all kinds of reasons, including academic research and the experiments that we and others want to try out with real-world fact-checkers.
And yet it’s still great to see how fast fact-checking is growing — even more than we sometimes thought.
(The small print for anyone who’s fact-checking me: The adjusted numbers shown here combine any fact-checker in our database that was active at some point during that given year. Most of our census reports were meant to count the previous year’s activity. For example our February 2018 census appears in this chart as our count of 2017 fact-checkers, even if some of those 2017 fact-checkers were only counted in last year’s census as inactive by the time the census was published. The number shown for 2018 is the 16-month 2018-19 number we are releasing in this report. You also might note that some other numbers here are slightly off from data we’ve previously shared. The main reason is that this proposed form of counting depends on having the dates that each project began and ended. In a handful of cases, we do not.)
It’s now much easier for fact-checkers to use ClaimReview, a tagging tool that logs fact-checks published around the world into one database. The tool helps search engines — and readers — find non-partisan fact-checks published globally. It also organizes fact-check content into structured data that automated fact-checking will require.
Currently, only half of the roughly 160 fact-checking organizations that the Duke Reporters’ Lab tracks globally use ClaimReview. In response, Google and the Duke Reporters’ Lab have developed an easier method of labelling the articles to help both recruit more users and expand a vital fact-check data set.
ClaimReview was created in 2015 after a conversation between staff at Google and Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post fact-checker. Kessler wanted Google to highlight fact-checks in its search results. Bill Adair, director of the Duke Reporters’ Lab, was soon brought in to help.
Dan Brickley from Schema.org, Justin Kosslyn from Google and Adair developed a tagging systembased on the schemas maintained by Schema.org, an organization that develops structured ways of organizing information. They created a universal system for fact-checkers to label their articles to include the claim checked, who said it and a ruling on its accuracy. “It’s the infrastructure that provides the atomic unit of fact-checking to search engines,” Adair said.
Initially, ClaimReview produced a piece of code that fact-checkers copy and pasted into their online content management system. Google and other search engines look for the code when crawling content. Next, Chris Guess of Adair’s team developed a ClaimReview widget called Share the Facts, a content box summarizing fact-checks that PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and the Washington Post can publish online and share on social media.
The latest version of ClaimReview no longer requires users to copy and paste the code, which can behave inconsistently on different content management systems. Instead, fact-checkers only have to fill out Google form fields similar to what they used previously to produce the code.
While the concept of ClaimReview is simple, it opens to the door to more innovation in fact-checking. It organizes data in ways that can be reused. By “structuring journalism, we can present content in more valuable ways to people,” said Adair.
By labeling fact-checks, the creators effectively created a searchable database of fact-checks, numbering about 24,000 today. The main products under development at the Reporters’ Lab, from FactStream to Squash, rely on fact-check databases. Automated fact-checking especially requires a robust database to quickly match untrue claims to previously published fact-checks.
The database ClaimReview builds offers even more possibilities. Adair hopes to tweak the fields fact-checkers fill in to provide better summaries of the fact-checks and provide more information to readers. In addition, Adair envisions ClaimReview being used to tag types of misinformation, as well as authors and publishers of false content. It could also tag websites that have a history of publishing false or misleading articles.
The tagging already is already benefiting some fact-check publishers. “ClaimReview helps to highlight and surface our fact-checks on Google, more than the best SEO skills or organic search would be able to achieve,” said Laura Kapelari, a journalist with Africa Check. ClaimReview has increased traffic on Africa Check’s website and helped the smaller Africa Check compete with larger media houses, she said. It also helps fact-checkers know which facts have already been investigated, which reduces redundant checks.
Joel Luther, the ClaimReview project manager in the Reporters’ Lab, expects this new ClaimReview format will save fact-checkers time and decrease errors when labeling fact-checks. However, there is still room to grow. Kapelari wishes there was a way for the tool to automatically grab key fields such as names in order to save time.
The Reporters’ Lab has a plan to promote ClaimReview globally. Adair is already busy on that front. Early this month, a group of international fact-checkers and technologists met in Durham for Tech & Check 2019, an annual conference where people on this quest share progress on automated fact-checking projects intended to fight misinformation. Adair, an organizer of Tech & Check, emphasized new developments with ClaimReview, as well as its promise for automating fact-checking.
Not much would be possible without this tool, he stressed. “It’s the secret sauce.”
Three Duke computer science majors advanced the quest for what some computer scientists say is the Holy Grail in fact-checking this summer.
Caroline Wang, Ethan Holland and Lucas Fagan tackled major challenges to creating an automated system that can both detect factual claims while politicians speak and instantly provide fact-checks.
That required finding and customizing state-of-art computing tools that most journalists would not recognize. A collective fondness for that sort of challenge helped, a lot.
“We had a lot of fun discussing all the different algorithms out there, and just learning what machine learning techniques had been applied to natural language processing,” said Wang, a junior also majoring in math.
The fact-checking team convened in a Gross Hall conference from 9 am to 4 pm every weekday for 10 weeks to help each other figure out how to help achieve live fact-checking, a goal of Knight journalism professor Bill Adair and other practitioners of accountability journalism.
Their goal was to do something of a “rough cut” of end-to-end automated fact-checking: to convert a political speech to text, identify the most “checkable” sentences in the speech and then match them with previously published fact-checks.
The students concluded that Google Cloud Speech-to-Text API was the best available tool to automate audio transcriptions. They then submitted the sentences to ClaimBuster, a project at the University of Texas at Arlington that the Duke Tech & Check Cooperative uses to identify statements that merit fact-checking. ClaimBuster acted as a helpful filter that reduced the number of claims submitted to the database, which in turn reduced processing time.
They chose Google Cloud speech-to-text because it can infer where punctuation belongs, Holland said. That yields text divided into complete thoughts. Google speech-to-text also shares transcription results while it processes the audio, rather than waiting until translation is done. That speeds up how fast the new text can get moved to the next steps along a fact-checking pipeline.
“Google will say: This is my current take and this is my current confidence that take is right. That lets you cut down on the lag,” said Holland, a junior whose second major is statistics.
Their next step was finding ways to match the claims from that speech with the database of fact-checks that came from the Lab’s Share the Facts project. (The database contains thousands of articles published by the Washington Post, FactCheck.org and PolitiFact, each checking an individual claim.)
To do that, the students adapted an algorithm that the open-source research outfit OpenAI released in June, after the students started working together. The algorithm builds on The Transformer, a new neural network computing architecture that Google researchers published just six months prior.
The architecture alters how computers organize trying to understand written language. Instead of translating a sentence word by word, The Transformer weighs the importance of each word to the meaning of every other word. Over time that system helps machines discern meaning in more and more sentences more quickly.
“It’s a lot more like learning English. You grow up hearing it and your learn it,” said Fagan, a sophomore also majoring in math.
Work by Wang, Holland and Fagan is expected to help jumpstart a Bass Connections fact-checking team that started this fall. Students on that team will continue the hunt for better strategies to find statements that are good fact-check candidates, produce pop-up fact-checks and create apps to deliver this accountability journalism to more people.
Tech & Check has $1.2 million in funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Facebook Journalism Project and the Craig Newmark Foundation to tackle that job.
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.
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.
And 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.
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.
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.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Facebook Journalism Project and the Craig Newmark Foundation are awarding grants to the Duke University Reporters’ Lab for a $1.2 million project to automate fact-checking.
The Duke Tech & Check Cooperative will bring together teams from universities and the Internet Archive to develop new ways to automate fact-checking and broaden the audience for this important new form of journalism.
During the two-year project, computer scientists and journalism faculty from Duke, the University of Texas at Arlington and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo will build a variety of new tools and apps. Some will help journalists with time-consuming reporting tasks, such as mining transcripts, media streams and social feeds for the most important factual claims. Others will provide instant pop-up fact-checking during live events.
The Reporters’ Lab will also coordinate and share its automation efforts with journalists and computer scientists across the country and around the world. The Tech & Check Cooperative will connect the leaders of similar projects through its relationships with the International Fact-Checking Network, the global association of fact-checkers, and awardees of Knight Prototype Fund grants to address misinformation. The Lab will host an annual meeting and will hold regular video conferences.
Knight has provided $800,000 for the project and the Facebook Journalism Project has contributed $200,000. The Newmark Foundation has pledged $200,000.
“A multitude of people and solutions are required to tackle the problem of misinformation in the digital age. The Reporters’ Lab is tackling the issue through an effective, multi-pronged approach, bringing together a network of journalists and technologists to build new tools that will promote the flow of accurate news, while strengthening their connections with major technology companies,” said Jennifer Preston, the vice president for journalism at Knight Foundation.
“The Duke Tech & Check Cooperative will tap into the power of technology to improve and expand fact-checking on a global scale,” said Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships at Facebook. “This important initiative will bring together some of the most respected experts in the industry along with new digital innovations to create practical and efficient tools for journalists and newsrooms.”
“News consumers like me want the truth, which requires more and better fact-checking,” said Newmark, founder of craigslist and the Craig Newmark Foundation. “The Duke University Tech & Check Cooperative will soon become a vital part of the fact-checking network, and I’m excited to work with them to help build a system of information we can trust.”
The Tech & Check Cooperative will incorporate technology and content developed in Share the Facts, a Duke Reporters’ Lab partnership with the Google News Lab and Jigsaw. Share the Facts provides a way for the world’s fact-checkers to identify their articles for search engines and apps.
“Automated fact-checking is no longer just a dream,” said Bill Adair, the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke and the leader of the Tech & Check Cooperative. “Advances in artificial intelligence will soon make it possible to provide people with real-time information about what’s true and what’s not.”
Partners in the Tech & Check Cooperative include:
● The University of Texas at Arlington, which has developed ClaimBuster, a tool that can mine lengthy transcripts for claims that fact-checkers might want to examine.
● The Internet Archive, which will help develop a “Talking Point Tracker” that will identify factual claims that are used repeatedly by politicians and pundits.
● Truth Goggles, a project created by developer Dan Schultz and the Bad Idea Factory to provide pop-up fact-checking for articles on the web.
● Digital Democracy, an initiative of the Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, which will develop ways to identify factual claims from video of legislative proceedings in California.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundationis a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visitknightfoundation.org.
Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.
The Facebook Journalism Project was created in January 2017 to establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry. FJP focuses on three pillars: collaborative development of new products; tools and trainings for journalists; and tools and trainings for people.
About Craig Newmark
Craig Newmark is a Web pioneer, philanthropist, and leading advocate on behalf of trustworthy journalism, voting rights, veterans and military families, and other civic and social justice causes. In 2017, he became a founding funder and executive committee member of the News Integrity Initiative, administered by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which seeks to advance news literacy and increase trust in journalism.
About the Reporters’ Lab
The Duke Reporters’ Lab is a project of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at the Sanford School of Public Policy. The Lab conducts research into fact-checking and explores how automation can be used to help journalists and broaden audiences for their work.
The 200-person attendee list for next week’s Global Fact 4 summit in Madrid is up 80 from last year’s meeting in Buenos Aires, and more than twice what it was in London two years ago. And with good reason: The number of fact-checkers has been growing too, driven by concerns about a global epidemic of misinformation, viral hoaxes and official lying.
The Duke Reporters’ Lab database of international fact-checking initiatives now counts 126 active projects in 49 countries. That’s up 20 percent from the 105 projects we tallied a year ago. And that year-over-year increase continues the growth we found in for our most recent annual fact-checking census in February.
Active Fact-Checkers by Continent Africa:4 Asia:14 Australia:2 Europe:46 North America:47 South America:13
NOTE: All the numbers presented throughout this article are as of June 30, 2017. An updated map, global tally and country-by-country lists are available on the Reporters’ Lab fact-checking page.
It’s great to see so many new sites: 17 of the 126 fact-checkers opened for business in the past 12 months. One of the newest, the Ferret Fact Service in Edinburgh, launched just nine weeks ago. And there was the welcome return of Australia’s ABC. Government funding cuts ended that project last year, but it returned from an 11-month hiatus on June 5 as a jointly branded partnership of the public broadcasting company and RMIT University in Melbourne. And the same Toronto-based team of technology activists that built a site four years ago to track Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s campaign promises launched a new fact-checking service in April: Fact-Nameh (“The Book of Facts”), the PolitiFact of Iran.
Of the fact-checkers that launched in the past year, seven were in Europe, four were in North America, three were in Asia and three were in South America. And all appeared in countries with roiling political situations plagued by false claims and misinformation that made global headlines — from presidential impeachments (Brazil and South Korea) to an attempted coup (Turkey) to intense immigration fights (everywhere!) to nationwide campaigns and voting (South Korea and Turkey again, plus Austria, Iran, Italy, Kosovo, the U.K and, um, the U.S. — with Germany’s turn coming in September).
If ever there was a time for fact-checking, this was it.
The United States is home to a third (42) of the fact-checkers we track. We also found that 16 other countries have at least two fact-checking projects, and seven of those have three or more, including Brazil (8), the United Kingdom (6), France (5), South Korea (5), Ukraine (4) and Canada (3).
We saw an encouraging sign about quality: One-fifth of the fact-checkers in the database (25 of the 126) are already verified signatories of International Fact-Checking Network’s newly established Code of Principles. And that number will grow because independent evaluators are reviewing additional applications. The code was written by an IFCN committee last summer to encourage best practices such as fairness, a commitment to correcting errors, and transparency on sources, methodology and funding. Facebook is using IFCN’s Code to identify trustworthy non-partisan fact-checking partners to help flag fake news and other misinformation.
Most of the sites, about six out of 10, are affiliated with established news media organizations. The rest are a mix of independent journalism and research projects, many of which are affiliated with universities, think tanks and non-governmental groups instead of existing media companies.
The ties to media companies are especially common in the United States, where 83 percent of fact-checkers (35 of 42) are operated by or closely affiliated with bigger news organizations. In the rest of the world, a bit over half (44 of 84, or 52 percent) have direct news media ties. But that mix may be shifting. In our 2016 census, less than half of the fact-checkers outside the U.S. were part of a larger media house (24 of 55, or 44 percent).
If you’re keeping track of all these numbers, you better write them down in pencil and be ready for updates. We still have a pending list of other fact-checkers we need to evaluate, including some whose staff we look forward to meeting at the Madrid summit. (Here’s an explanation of how the Reporters’ Lab identifies the fact-checkers we include in our database. In addition to journalism that fairly examines the accuracy of statements by public figures and institutions, we also look for authoritative, nonpartisan reporting on the progress of political promises and the credibility of widely shared online sources of information and misinformation.)
The healthy growth we’ve measured since last year’s Global Fact conference comes even after we had to move more than a dozen other fact-checkers to inactive status. In fact, at this point we have a list of more than five dozen inactive fact-checking initiatives.
That kind of fluctuation and turnover is consistent with the natural attrition we’ve tracked over the past several years — with many fact-checkers springing up for campaigns and then going dark. Some election-oriented fact-checkers will reliably return for the next campaign. That requires us to continuously determine which projects are hibernating comfortably and which have met their ultimate fact-checking fate. But since we can now base those choices on several years of observation, we now leave these seasonal fact-checkers marked as “active” in our database, noting their campaign focus in our descriptions. And we are continuously finding established fact-checkers who previously escaped our notice, which also adds to the growing tally. If you’re one of them, please let us know.
The Reporters’ Lab is a project of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at Duke University’s Sanford School for Public Policy. We started the fact-checking database three years ago to track the reach and impact of this journalism. It also supports the Lab’s efforts to develop tools and services that help fact-checkers report and disseminate their work to a bigger audience. That includes Share the Facts, a project that helps fact-checkers distribute their reporting on other websites and platforms, including devices such as the Amazon Echo. Google also has used the Lab’s fact-checking database in its recent efforts to elevate fact-checks in search results and on the redesigned Google News page.
This update is based on research compiled over several months in part by Reporters’ Lab student researcher Hank Tucker. Alexios Mantzarlis of the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network also contributed, as did Reporters’ Lab director Bill Adair, Knight Professor for the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University (and founder of PolitiFact). Thanks also to Cristina Tardáguila of Agência Lupa in Brazil, Itziar Bernaola of El Objetivo in Spain, Boyoung Lim of Newstapa in South Korea, and many other fact-checkers around the world who help us keep up with this fast-growing form of journalism.
More than 50 fact-checkers across the United States helped voters sort facts from fibs in this campaign year. With 2017 looking like another big year for truthiness and misstatements, the Duke Reporters’ Lab is rolling out some improvements on the global map we use to track this important journalism.
Based on our current count, fact-checkers are already on the job in at least 10 countries where voters will be casting ballots in the coming year, including Argentina, Chile, Czech Republic, France, India, Kenya, Netherlands, Senegal, Serbia and South Korea.
Overall, we currently count 119 active fact-checkers in 44 countries. And there are multiple fact-checkers working in 12 countries.
Because fact-checking is concentrated in many cities, making the checkmarks on our map overlap, we’ve added a clustering feature that will help users find and navigate the places where we have listed multiple teams.
The map now distinguishes the active fact-checkers (shown with red pins) from the more than 40 others that have closed for one reason or another (they’re indicated by gray pins). The map also has an up-to-date tally of both the active and inactive projects. You can click on that box to look at one category or the other.
Country-by-country lists, including a tally of active projects, are available with the “Browse in List” link (find it to the right of the map).
We regularly add new fact-checkers and review the status of older ones, so our tally sometimes goes up and down. We know from past years that some U.S. fact-checkers will close for the “off-season” and the same is true in other countries.
We’re always on the lookout for fact-checkers, including those that look at issues other than politics. One example is New York-based Gossip Cop — a recent addition to our database that’s been debunking celebrity rumors since 2009.
The U.S. presidential candidates aren’t the only ones getting scrutinized by political fact-checkers. A growing number of state and local media watchdogs are keeping a close eye on the statements of politicians closer to home, too.
The Duke Reporters’ Lab global database of fact-checking ventures counts 34 active state and local fact-checkers across the country. These initiatives vet the accuracy of the people holding and seeking office in 22 states and the District of Columbia. That includes 18 of the 34 states electing senators in 2016, three of which — Missouri, New Hampshire and North Carolina — also happen to be holding some of the year’s closest governor’s races.
These state and local efforts represent more than two-thirds of the 47 active fact-checking efforts across the United States. The other 13 primarily focus on national politics. They include long-running sites and columns, such as FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, the Washington Post Fact Checker and the Associated Press, as well as the work of other big media companies that pay attention national political players, especially when there’s a presidential election.
But that scrutiny is increasing in down-ballot races too.
Here are a few trends worth noting among the state and local fact checkers, including some of the similarities and differences with those doing the same kind of work nationally and around the world:
The News Media’s Role
Most U.S. fact-checkers are professional journalists. All but two of the 34 state and local fact-checkers are affiliated with regional media organizations, including 18 that are linked to newspaper companies and 12 that are tied to local TV news stations.
The fact-checking team in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is both — a joint project of the Gazette newspaper and local ABC affiliate KCRG-TV. And one site, PolitiFact Florida, involves two newspaper partners — the Miami Herald and PolitiFact’s owner, the Tampa Bay Times. Two others are tied to radio stations, and three are linked to digital news projects.
The leading role that newspapers, TV newsrooms and digital media outlets play in fact-checking is also true at the national level, but that is far less common outside the United States. About 60 percent of the international fact-checking initiatives the Reporters’ Lab tracks are stand-alone projects affiliated with or funded by civic non-profits and philanthropies focuses on government accountability.
In the United States, only two state and local fact-checkers are not connected to a news organization: Michigan Truth Squad, a reporting project that the non-profit Center for Michigan produces for its online journal; and the TruthBeTold.news, whose fact checks are part of a website staffed mainly by students in Howard University’s Department of Media, Journalism and Film in Washington, D.C.
At the national level, only three of 13 fact-checkers are not affiliated with other news companies: Verbatim, a project of the online encyclopedia Ballotpedia; FactCheck.org, which is based at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center; and Snopes.com, the independent debunking project launched by a husband-and-wife team 21 years ago.
Voters can now get analysis from multiple local fact-checkers in at least nine states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — all of which are holding U.S. Senate races this year.
In North Carolina, a presidential swing state where an incumbent Republican is up for re-election in both the governor and Senate race, the battle will likely be just as intense between the fact-checking teams at Raleigh’s WRAL-TV and its longtime newspaper rival, the News & Observer. But the local competition may be most intense in California, where politicians can expect scrutiny from three different news organizations: the Sacramento Bee, Voice of San Diego and Capital Public Radio in Sacramento.
The biggest player in the growth of state and local fact-checking is PolitiFact. After relying on newspapers for its initial partnerships, PolitiFact now has arrangements with local news sites, public radio and the E.W. Scripps TV chain.
Sacramento’s public radio station and the Raleigh-Durham newspaper are two of 18 local media partners that do state-level reporting under the PolitiFact banner. That’s more than half of the 33 U.S. state and local fact-checking initiatives.
PolitiFact’s push at the state level also helped drive the growing role of local TV news in the fact-checking business. Four of the nine new sites in its network are part of the partnership with the the Scripps stations, which the companies announced last October.
New local digital partners include BillyPenn in Pennsylvania and Reboot Illinois.
(Full disclosure: I used to work for the site’s parent company, which previously owned Congressional Quarterly and Governing magazine. Also, PolitiFact was founded by Bill Adair, a Duke media professor who still works for the site as a contributing editor and also oversees my work as co-director of the Reporters’ Lab. But PolitiFact’s effect on the numbers is impossible to ignore.)
A lot of fact-checkers are in it for the long haul — which is a good thing since politicians keep talking even after the voters have had their say.
Yes, if past election cycles are any indication, some local fact-checking initiatives will inevitably fold after Election Day, as will many of their counterparts in national media (the Reporters’ Lab database also includes a 12 inactive local fact-checkers in 11 states).
But nearly a third of the state and local fact-checkers in our database opened for business before the last presidential election in 2012.
One of the oldest,WISC-TV (News 3) in Madison, Wisconsin, has been at it for 12 years — longer than all but two of the national fact-checkers.
The growing role of TV newsrooms in the fact-checking movement is significant since political advertising is such a critical revenue source for local broadcasters. That means some owners are investing heavily in fact-checking projects that scrutinize one of their biggest revenue sources.
And since many politicians at the national level get their start running for office in down-ballot races, the growth of fact-checking at the state and local level could have long-term effects on political discourse. Perhaps local fact-checking will produce a generation of careful politicians who are already used to having to reporters examine every word they say long before they decide to seek national office. Or perhaps it will create a breeding ground for the kind of politicians who are most immune to intense media scrutiny.
Either way, fact-checking still seems to be a growing market.
Perhaps that’s why we should note that our tallies above do not count the work of U.S. fact-checkers at all levels, nationally and locally, who occasionally do fact-checking reports without establishing the kind of sustained, systematic effort the Reporters’ Lab database aims to track. But recent political history suggests at least a few more nascent and dormant fact-checkers across the country will spin up their efforts in the weeks ahead. When they do, we’ll be counting them — just as a growing number of voter will be counting on them.
Student researcher Hank Tucker contributed to this report. Here’s more information on how the Reporters’ Lab identifies the fact-checkers included in our global database and here’s a form you can use to tell us about a fact-checker we’ve overlooked.