“PolitiFact”

Reporters’ Lab students are fact-checking North Carolina politicians

Student journalists and computer scientists find claims and report articles for the N.C. Fact-Checking Project

By Catherine Clabby – November 20, 2018 | Print this article

Duke Reporters’ Lab students expanded vital political journalism during a historic midterm campaign season this fall with the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project.

Five student journalists reviewed thousands of statements that hundreds of North Carolina candidates vying for state and federal offices made online and during public appearances. They collected newsy and checkable claims from what amounted to a firehose of political claims presented as fact.

Duke computer science undergraduates with the Duke Tech & Check Cooperative applied custom-made bots and the ClaimBuster algorithm to scrape and sort checkable political claims from hundreds of political Twitter feeds.

Editors and reporters then selected claims the students had logged for most of the project’s 30 plus  fact-checks and six summary articles that the News and Observer and PolitiFact North Carolina published between August and November.

Duke senior Bill McCarthy

Duke senior Bill McCarthy was part of the four-reporter team on the project, which the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund supported to expand local fact-checking during the 2018 midterms and beyond in a large, politically divided and politically active state.

“Publishing content in any which way is exciting when you know it has some value to voters, to democracy,” said McCarthy, who interned at PolitiFact in Washington, D.C. last summer. “It was especially exciting to get so many fact-checks published in so little time.”

Reporters found politicians and political groups often did not stick with the facts during a campaign election season that that fielded an unusually large number of candidates statewide and a surge in voter turnout.

The N.C. Fact-Checking Project produces nonpartisan journalism

NC GOP falsely ties dozens of Democrats to single-payer health care plan,” read one project fact-check headline. “Democrat falsely links newly-appointed Republican to health care bill,” noted another.  The fact-check “Ad misleads about NC governors opposing constitutional amendments” set the record straight about some Democratic-leaning claims about six proposed amendments to the state constitution.

And on and on.

Digging for the Truth

Work in the lab was painstaking. Five sophomores filled weekday shifts to scour hundreds of campaign websites, social media feeds, Facebook and Google political ads, televised debates, campaign mailers and whatever else they could put their eyes on. Often they recorded one politician’s attacks on an opponent that might, or might not, be true.

Students scanned political chatter from all over the state, tracking competitive state and congressional races most closely. The resulting journalism was news that people could use as they were assessing candidates for the General Assembly and U.S. Congress as well as six proposed amendments to the state constitution.

The Reporters’ Lab launched a mini news service to share each fact-checking article with hundreds of newsrooms across the state for free.

One of more than 30 N.C. Fact-Checking Project articles

The Charlotte Observer, a McClatchy newspaper like the N&O, published several checks. So did smaller publications such as Asheville’s Citizen-Times  and the Greensboro News and Record. Newsweek cited  a fact-check report by the N&O’s Rashaan Ayesh and Andy Specht about a fake photo of Justice Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, shared by the chairman of the Cabarrus County GOP, which WRAL referenced in a roundup.

Project fact-checks influenced political discourse directly too. Candidates referred to project fact-checks in campaign messaging on social media and even in campaign ads. Democrat Dan McCready, who lost a close race against Republican Mark Marris in District 9, used project fact-checks in two campaign ads promoted on Facebook and in multiple posts on his Facebook campaign page, for instance.

While N&O reporter Andy Specht was reporting a deceptive ad from the Stop Deceptive Amendments political committee, the group announced plans to change it.

The fact-checking project will restart in January, when North Carolina’s reconfigured General Assembly opens its first 2019 session.

 

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“We need to disrupt the lies”

At the Simón Bolívar National Journalism Awards, a call for a more aggressive approach to fact-checking

By Bill Adair – November 16, 2018 | Print this article

My remarks for the Simón Bolívar National Journalism Awards, Bogota, Colombia, Nov. 15, 2018.

This is a critical moment for journalism around the world, when the path ahead seems uncertain. We lived through the dawn of the Information Age and saw the great promise of the internet; but it now seems like we are in a darker time.

When I started PolitiFact in 2007, I was filled with hope about what the digital revolution would bring. There was a belief the internet could make information more widely available, bring people together and help us hold power accountable. Like many of you, I am wondering if those hopes were misplaced. But we can’t get despondent about how things have turned out. We need to reimagine our roles as journalists and harness the power of technology to combat misinformation.

A little history: I started PolitiFact out of my own guilt. I had been covering the White House and Congress for the St. Petersburg Times, a Florida newspaper that is now called the Tampa Bay Times. I had grown tired of hearing politicians’ false claims and felt I had been complicit by publishing them in my news articles without scrutiny. The internet offered a new way for us to hold politicians accountable for what they said. I went to my editors with a crazy idea: instead of having me cover the 2008 campaign like all the other political journalists, how about if I started a fact-checking website?

Sure, they said.

In fact, they liked the crazy idea so much, they let me start a team with some of the most talented reporters and editors at the paper. They also let us break the rules. We built our own content management system and took some bold steps that most newspaper editors would never allow. We invented the Truth-O-Meter, which rated politicians’ claims from True to “Pants on Fire.” It made substantive articles about policy accessible to a wider audience.

We created a unique form of journalism. Instead of publishing traditional articles, we published fact-checks of politicians’ statements in a new structured form that could be collected on report card pages and tallied to tell people how many true, half true or Pants on Fire statements a politician had earned. PolitiFact was truly new journalism in the internet age.

A key to PolitiFact’s success was the culture of my newspaper. My editors were not only willing to let me try my unusual idea, they encouraged that kind of creative approach in everything we did. They also had a deep commitment to accountability reporting. They believed – they still believe – that holding power accountable is one of the fundamental missions of journalism.

PolitiFact became part of a growing community that included FactCheck.org and the Washington Post Fact-Checker in the United States, Full Fact in Britain and Chequeado in Argentina.

The digital revolution made it all possible. I remember those early years as an exciting time filled with promise. It was the honeymoon for journalism on the internet, as reporters and editors around the world discovered we could use the web to do powerful, important things.

News stories became interactive, enabling readers to engage with content. Data could be presented as vivid graphics that made numbers come alive. And design was transformed: I remember when we first saw Snowfall, the New York Times story about an avalanche, and we saw how the web could be used for powerful storytelling.

Then came smartphones, which enabled our readers and viewers to get the news all the time, wherever they were, and use thousands of apps to read articles and watch videos.  It seemed like the future was infinitely bright and there were lots more great things ahead.

But the honeymoon ended.

The internet got loud and crowded. Partisan voices began to dominate the discussions and people began shouting at each other in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Twitter became a thing, but we realized that some of the “people” on Twitter weren’t really human — they were bots. And they were programmed to pump up the partisan propaganda to drive apart the real people.

Partisans took advantage of the internet to build digital fortresses where they could isolate themselves from opinions they disliked. They hid behind the walls and lobbed attacks against their enemies. These fortresses are home to more propaganda than discourse and they provide refuge for extremists. If you’re inside one, your side is always right.

The iPhone had changed the landscape when it was introduced in 2007. It created a whole a new platform for apps, which offered promising new ways that people could connect. I remember when a friend in Chile showed me WhatsApp and how he used it to communicate with his friends and family.

But it didn’t take long for people who want to spread misinformation to discover they could use WhatsApp without getting much scrutiny from journalists. I know that here in Colombia, you saw lots of misinformation spread through WhatsApp about the peace deal in the 2016 election.

Pablo Medina Uribe, the editor of the fact-checking site Colombia Check, reminded me recently how WhatsApp is a fertile ground for falsehoods. People are more likely to believe WhatsApp messages because they’re sent by people they trust. But the nature of many mobile data plans here give people unlimited data on WhatsApp and Facebook but not for their internet browser or other apps.

So, on a broad scale, what can we do? More specifically, what can journalists and the tech community do?

We need to find new ways to harness technology to get accurate information to people when they need it. We need to be as aggressive and cunning as the people and groups who are spreading the misinformation. And we need to change our thinking.

First, the technology part. At Duke University, we’ve launched a project called the Tech & Check Cooperative that has an ambitious goal: to use automation to monitor politicians’ speeches and debates and provide live fact-checking sourced from existing fact-checks.

Five or six years ago, I thought this kind of automated fact-checking was a long time away. But advances in technology and the dividends from a partnership we started with Google have created remarkable momentum. So we have already created the first fact-checking app for the Amazon Echo called Share the Facts. It lets you query Alexa and get an instant fact-check.

It’s impressive: you can ask Alexa a question and, if the fact-checkers have published something on it, she will reply telling you that the Washington Post or FactCheck.org or PolitiFact checked it and what they concluded.

We are now building a similar product for TV and the web. It’s a much harder product to develop than the Amazon Echo, but the idea is that when our app hears someone say a statement that fact-checkers have examined, the app will pop up a related fact-check right on the screen of your smartphone or TV.

We’ve made significant progress in the last six months. Over the summer, our students created a rough framework for our app that converts a live speech to text, then filters out sentences that aren’t checkable using our ClaimBuster tool, and then uses an algorithm to look for matches from our database of previously published articles. We are still some months away from a finished product, but we are getting closer every day.

We also just completed the first user testing of instant fact-checking on TV. We had people watch specially modified videos of State of the Union speeches that had pop-up fact-checks. The viewers had helpful feedback for us about what they wanted on the screen, and they were unanimous about the concept: They all want real-time fact-checking on their TV.

And you don’t need an army of computer science students to create something valuable.  We need more projects like the “lie detector” developed by La Silla Vacia here in Colombia, which pioneered fact-checking on WhatsApp. People send a screenshot of a message they would like checked and then the journalists check it and encourage people to share it back through WhatsApp.

But regardless of whether we’re building big projects for a television screen, or smaller ones for WhatsApp, it requires that we think differently about the role of a journalist.

Most political reporters – and nearly all fact-checkers – have traditionally thought of themselves as neutral players in the political discourse. We published the information in the daily paper and left it on your doorstep. Or we just put it on our website or on the nightly news.

We were passive. We left it up to you to seek out the information that you needed and draw any connections or conclusions about the information on your own. I’ve been asked many times if it bothered me that politicians kept lying after we fact-checked them, and I would say, “Our job is just to provide the information.”

That strategy worked fine 10 years ago. But now, politicians and propagandists have learned how to spread misinformation at light speed. We can no longer sit back and wait for readers to come to us. We must become more aggressive and take the facts to the people. We need to disrupt the lies.

We can no longer be passive when our readers and viewers are being swamped with misinformation. We need to be more energetic and inventive in getting the information to people at the moment they first hear the claim.

Some of these solutions will be high-tech, like the automated fact-checking apps we’re building at Duke. Others can take more of a grass-roots approach, like the WhatsApp “lie detector” developed by La Silla Vacia.

But we need all kinds of these efforts, big and small, simple and complex, to adapt how we provide information in these fast-changing times. We need to build new apps for your phone and create new ways to provide the facts while you’re watching a speech on TV. And while print is still around, we should put the truth in ink and paper.

Yes, the honeymoon for the internet is over and sometimes it seems like we’re in a dark time. But I’m encouraged by the progress we’re making. I see promising efforts all around the world. And through it all I see great spirit and creativity.

The mission of the journalist remains the same: to give people the vital information they need to make sense of their world and hold their government accountable. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll just do it in new and creative ways.

 

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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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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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At Global Fact 4: churros, courage and the need to expose propagandists

The next challenge for the Global Fact community: calling out governments and political actors that pretend to be fact-checkers.

By Bill Adair – July 6, 2017 | Print this article

My opening remarks at Global Fact 4, the fourth annual meeting of the world’s fact-checkers, organized by the International Fact-Checking Network and the Reporters’ Lab, held July 5-7, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.

It’s wonderful to be here in Madrid. I’ve been enjoying the city the last two days, which has made me think of a giant warehouse store we have in the United States called Costco.

Costco where you go when you want to buy 10 pounds of American Cheese or a 6-pound tub of potato salad. Costco also makes a delicious fried pastry called a “churro.” And because everything in Costco is big, the churros are about three feet long.

When I got to Madrid I was really glad to see that you have churros here, too! It’s wonderful to see that Costco is spreading its great cuisine around the world!

I’m pleased to be here with my colleagues from the Duke Reporters’ Lab — Mark Stencel, Rebecca Iannucci and Riley Griffin. We also have our Share the Facts team here – Chris Guess and Erica Ryan. We’ll be sampling the churros throughout the week!

It’s been an amazing year for fact-checking. In the U.K., Full Fact and Channel 4 mobilized for Brexit and last month’s parliamentary elections. In France, the First Draft coalition showed the power of collaborations during the elections there. In the United States, the new president and his administration drove record traffic to sites such as FactCheck.org and PolitiFact and the Washington Post Fact Checker — and that has continued since the election, a time when sites typically have lower traffic. The impeachments and political scandals in Brazil and South Korea also meant big audiences for fact-checkers in those countries. And we expect the upcoming elections in Germany, Norway and elsewhere will generate many opportunities for fact-checkers in those countries as well, just as we’ve seen in Turkey and Iran. The popular demand for fact-checking has never been stronger.

Fact-checking is now so well known that it is part of pop culture. Comedians cite our work to give their jokes credibility. On Saturday Night Live last fall, Australian actress Margot Robbie “fact-checked” her opening monologue when she was the guest host.

Some news organizations not only have their own dedicated fact-checking teams, they’re also incorporating fact-checks in their news stories, calling out falsehoods at the moment they are uttered. This is a marvelous development because it helps to debunk falsehoods before they can take root.

We’ve also seen tremendous progress in automation to spread fact-checking to new audiences. There are promising projects underway at Full Fact in Britain and at the University of Texas in Arlington and in our own lab at Duke, among many others. We’ll be talking a lot about these projects this week.

Perhaps the most important development in the past year is one that we started at last year’s Global Fact conference in Buenos Aires – the Code of Principles. We came up with some excellent principles that set standards for transparency and non-partisan work. As Alexios noted, Facebook is using the code to determine which organizations qualify to debunk fake news. I hope your site will abide by the code and become a signatory.

At Duke, Mark just finished our annual summer count of fact-checking. Mark and Alexios like to tease me that I can’t stop repeating this mantra: “Fact-checking keeps growing.”

But it’s become my mantra because it’s true: When we held our first Global Fact meeting in 2014 in London, our Reporters’ Lab database listed 48 fact-checking sites around the world. Our latest count shows 126 active projects in 49 countries.

I’m thrilled to see fact-checking sprouting in countries such as South Korea and Germany and Brazil. And I continue to be amazed at the courage of our colleagues who check claims in Turkey and Iran, which are not very welcoming to our unique kind of journalism.

As our movement grows, we face new challenges. Now that our work is so well-known and an established form of journalism, governments and political actors are calling themselves fact-checkers, using our approach to produce propaganda. We need to speak out against this and make sure people know that government propagandists are not fact-checkers.

We also need to work harder to reach audiences that have been reluctant to accept our work. At Duke we published a study that showed a stark partisan divide in the United States. We found liberal publications loved fact-checking and often cited it; conservative sites criticized it and often belittled it. We need to focus on this problem and find new ways to reach reluctant audiences.

I’m confident we can accomplish these things. Individually and together we’ve overcome great hurdles in the past few years. I look forward to a productive meeting and a great year. And I’m confident:

Fact-checking will keep growing.

 

 

 

 

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Heroes or hacks: The partisan divide over fact-checking

We analyzed nearly 800 references to fact-checking and found a stark divide. Liberal writers like fact-checking; conservatives don't.

By Bill Adair & Rebecca Iannucci – June 7, 2017 | Print this article

Conservative writers aren’t fond of fact-checking. They belittle it and complain that it’s biased. They say it’s “left-leaning” and use sarcastic quotes (“fact-checking”) to suggest it’s not legitimate. One writer likens PolitiFact to a Bangkok prostitute.

Liberal writers admire fact-checking. They cite it favorably and use positive adjectives such as “independent”  and “nonpartisan.” They refer to fact-checkers as “watchdogs” and “heroes.”

To examine partisan differences over fact-checking, we analyzed some of the most widely read conservative and liberal sites. Our students in the Duke Reporters’ Lab identified 792 statements that referred to fact-checkers or their work. We found a stark partisan divide in the tone, the type of references and even the adjectives the writers used.

Our report, Heroes or hacks: The partisan divide over fact-checking, reveals a serious problem for the growing number of fact-checkers, journalists who research and rate the accuracy of political statements. They emphasize their neutrality and nonpartisan approach, but they face relentless criticism from the political right that says they are biased and incompetent.

Our analysis found:

  • Liberal websites were far more likely to cite fact-checks to make their points than conservative sites were.
  • Conservative sites were much more likely to criticize fact-checks and to allege partisan bias.
  • When our student researchers categorized the tone of mentions, we found liberal sites made most of the positive references, while the negative references came primarily from the right.
  • Conservative sites made the most critical comments about fact-checking, occasionally using quotation marks (“fact-checking”) to imply it wasn’t legitimate.

(Read the full report.)

We found the most revealing differences in the words the writers used to describe fact-checkers and their work.

Liberals emphasize they are nonpartisan and call them “respected,” “reputable” and “independent.” Fact-checkers are “watchdogs” or “heroes.” PolitiFact is described as “Pulitzer Prize-winning.”

Conservatives use words such as “left-leaning,” “biased,” “hackiest” and “serial-lying.” They question the legitimacy of fact-checkers by calling them “self-proclaimed.”

The most wicked criticism came from Jonah Goldberg of the National Review, who called PolitiFact “the hackiest and most biased of the fact-checking outfits, which bends over like a Bangkok hooker to defend Democrats.”

Our findings indicate that fact-checkers have some work to do. They need to strengthen their outreach to conservative journalists and, particularly, to conservative audiences. The fact-checkers need to understand the reasons for the partisan divide and find ways to broaden the acceptance of their work.

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Fact-checking comes to the Amazon Echo

New skill from the Duke Reporters’ Lab allows users to 'ask the fact-checkers'

By Erica Ryan – October 21, 2016 | Print this article

The Duke Reporters’ Lab has created a new fact-checking app for the Amazon Echo.

The app is a spin-off of Share the Facts, a project that has expanded the reach of fact-checking. The launch partners are PolitiFact, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker and FactCheck.org.

With the new Share the Facts skill, owners of the Echo and other Alexa-enabled devices, including the Tap and the Dot, can “ask the fact-checkers” about claims they hear from presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, as well as other candidates and politicians who have been checked.

Share the Facts is now available in the Skills section of the Alexa app. (To find it, open the Alexa app on your smartphone, click on the left navigation panel, and then select “Skills.” From there, you can search for “Share the Facts” and select “Enable Skill.”)

We encourage you to try checking candidates’ claims from your couch after watching a campaign ad or during a discussion around the dinner table.

To begin a query, say: “Alexa, ask the fact-checkers.” (If you’re using the Tap, you’ll need to press the microphone button first and then say, “Ask the fact-checkers.”)

We have found it often works best if you wait for Alexa to reply, “Welcome to Share the Facts. We consolidate fact-checks from some of the most respected journalists in the U.S. Ask me to check a fact you’re wondering about” — and then ask your question, such as:

  • “Did Donald Trump oppose the war in Iraq?”
  • “Was Hillary Clinton right that her email practices were allowed?”
  • “Is it true that 300,000 Floridians have lost their health insurance because of Obamacare?”

Try to use the most important keywords in your question, following the examples above.

Share the Facts uses natural speech recognition to analyze and answer your questions from our database of roughly 2,000 professionally curated fact-checks. We scale our results so that they are timely and have the most consensus among our partners.

We welcome your feedback on our new Echo skill Share the Facts. Please send your thoughts to Share the Facts project manager Erica Ryan.

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Lessons from our first experiment with pop-up fact-checking

More than 380 people tried our pop-up fact-checking during the presidential debate.

By Bill Adair – October 20, 2016 | Print this article

Several hundred people who watched the presidential debate last night got a preview of what fact-checking will look like in the future.

More than 380 beta testers of our Reporters’ Lab browser extension saw fact-checks pop onto their screens in near-real time. The pop-ups were actually tweets from PolitiFact that said when statements from Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump were true, false or somewhere in between.

The pop-ups provided instant fact-checks from PolitiFact's Twitter feed.
The pop-ups provided instant fact-checks from PolitiFact’s Twitter feed.

The “FactPopUp” tool, built by Reporters’ Lab student Gautam Hathi, used the notification feature in the Chrome browser to display the PolitiFact tweets. The pop-ups appeared over a livestream of the debate. They were generated by Aaron Sharockman, a PolitiFact editor who was tweeting links to items that had been previously published.

Viewers saw 29 pop-ups with messages such as “Trump said Clinton would double taxes for Americans. False.”

We had modest expectations. We knew that the success of the test depended on Sharockman’s speed finding previous fact-checks and the time delay for the NBC News livestream we were using. It turned out that Sharockman was quite fast and the NBC livestream was slightly delayed, which made the pop-ups appear very quickly for most users.

I was so pleased at one point that I tweeted:

Still, there are many lessons and plenty of things we can improve:

Ease of installation. We tried to make it as easy as possible, but we were relying on Chrome’s notifications and Twitter for the pop-ups, so the sign up and installation was more complicated than we wanted. Users needed a Twitter account to activate the browser extension. Next time, we probably should build it as a standalone tool that doesn’t rely on Chrome or Twitter.

Type size. This was another challenge because of our reliance on Chrome notifications. We’d like to increase the size of the type (we had to rely on the standard font size) and the length of the messages (we were limited to about 80 characters). Building it as a standalone tool would allow us to make the type larger and the fact-checks slightly longer.

Location of the pop-ups. We discovered a difference in the location of the pop-ups for Mac and PC users. On the Mac version, they appeared in the upper right, which sometimes blocked Hillary Clinton’s face when NBC was showing a split screen. On the PC version of Chrome, they appeared in the lower right, which seemed less obtrusive.

Dwell time. We had tinkered with how long the pop-ups stayed on the screen. They need to stay long enough that people can read and digest them, but not too long. When the pop-up is in the lower right, you could have a a slightly longer dwell time because it doesn’t block anyone’s face.

Other functions. It’s worth exploring other functions such as the ability to save a fact-check to read later or immediately share it with others. Two of our testers suggested synchronizing the pop-ups with a video recording so users could go back to them later or see where they occurred in the debate.

Overall, we’re quite pleased with our pioneering effort at pop-up fact-checking. It shows great promise not just for future debates but also for live events such as major speeches. We’ll be making it available in GitHub for others to try and build on.

We’d love to hear your feedback. You can write to me at bill.adair@duke.edu.

 

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Reporters’ Lab to experiment with pop-up fact-checking during debate

The beta test of the Chrome extension will allow viewers to see real-time fact-checking with a livestream of the debate.

By Bill Adair – October 17, 2016 | Print this article

On Wednesday, the Duke Reporters’ Lab will test a new tool that will provide on-screen fact-checking during the third presidential debate.

The tool, a free extension for Chrome browsers, will provide real-time fact-checking from PolitiFact. Users will see a livestream of the debate with occasional messages that will pop onto the screen showing PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter rating for statements by the candidates.

We welcome your feedback. To try the tool, you must have the Chrome browser and download the extension. Follow the directions to get a personal identification number to activate it.

The “FactPopUp” tool was built by Gautam Hathi, a Duke computer science student who works in the Reporters’ Lab. The pop-ups will be generated by a PolitiFact editor watching the debate. When the editor hears one of the candidates make a claim that PolitiFact has checked before, the editor will quickly publish a tweet with a summary and the Truth-O-Meter rating. The summary and the rating then pop up on the livestream.

Viewers who take part in the beta test of our new browser extension will see fact-checks appear on a livestream of the debate.
Viewers who try our new browser extension will see fact-checks appear over a livestream of the debate.

Our private tests in the first two debates have been encouraging. The fact-checks pop up relatively quickly after the candidate makes the claim. It is reminiscent of the VH1 show Pop Up Video, which provided sometimes irreverent annotation to rock videos in the 1990s.

Our Chrome tool has some limitations. You need to have your own Twitter account so you can receive the fact-checks from PolitiFact’s tweets. And the browser extension can only provide pop-ups for statements that PolitiFact has previously researched and rated. And its quickness depends on the editor’s knowledge of PolitiFact’s 500-plus fact-checks on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The extension is being released as a beta for public testing, not as a final product. Hathi is optimistic that the extension will work well, but cautions that in some tests there have been delays in showing the pop-up.

Still, we’re hopeful that this will be a small first step toward the “Holy Grail” of fully automated fact-checking. Once we work out the bugs, we will make the browser extension available as an open source tool that can be used by others. Please send us feedback at factpopup@gmail.com.

The Reporters’ Lab, which is part of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy in Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, is exploring a variety of ways to automate fact-checking and expand the audience for this growing form of journalism. Earlier this year we unveiled the Share the Facts, a widget that provides a new way for readers to share fact-check articles and spread them virally across the Internet..

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