“PolitiFact”

Fact-checking Twitter feeds offer new way to follow 2016 campaigns

New Reporters’ Lab feeds track false claims, all checks of Clinton and Trump

By Erica Ryan – August 25, 2016 | Print this article

The Duke Reporters’ Lab has created three new Twitter feeds to help voters keep up with fact-checking during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Twitter feeds feature fact-checks from three partner sites: PolitiFact, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker and FactCheck.org. All three are part of the Share the Facts project, an effort to expand the reach of fact-checkers using a shareable widget that summarizes their conclusions.

The feeds allow you to follow fact-checks of both major party presidential candidates, as well as falsehoods from across the political spectrum:

Share the Falsehoods (@sharefalse): This feed automatically tweets a Share the Facts widget any time a claim is determined to be:

Share Trump Facts (@share_trump): This feed includes all fact-checks of Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Share Clinton Facts (@share_clinton): Like the Trump feed, this account will update with all fact-checks of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

These three new Twitter feeds join the main Share the Facts Twitter account (@sharethefact) and the project’s Facebook page in offering easy ways to find and share fact-checking.

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The facts about fact-checking across America

Local media is cranking up the scrutiny in 22 states and D.C. as the 2016 campaign season intensifies

By Mark Stencel – August 3, 2016 | Print this article

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.

Local Competition

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.

PolitiFactication

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.

In the past year, PolitiFact added 10 state affiliates to its roster, reviving its presence in Ohio and building new sites with partners in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania.

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.)

Durability

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.

Implications

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.

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5 share-worthy fact-checks of Clinton’s acceptance speech

Use our widget to share the facts behind the nominee’s talking points

By Erica Ryan – July 29, 2016 | Print this article

As Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential candidate to accept the nomination of a major political party on Thursday night, fact-checkers dug into the talking points and attack lines that peppered her speech.

PolitiFact, The Washington Post and FactCheck.org were among those sorting the truth from the fiction. Here’s a roundup of five of their fact-checks that you can share on Facebook and Twitter using the Share the Facts widget, created by the Duke Reporters’ Lab and Jigsaw, a technology incubator within Alphabet, the parent company of Google. You can also embed them in articles and blog posts.

1. “Don’t believe anyone who says: ‘I alone can fix it.’ Those were actually Donald Trump’s words in Cleveland.”

Clinton used this line to contrast her style with that of her opponent, Republican Donald Trump. But FactCheck.org found it’s not so cut-and-dried: “In fact, Trump said that as a political outsider only he can fix a ‘rigged’ system. He has spoken about working with others many times, including in that same speech.”

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2. Trump ties are made “in China, not Colorado. Trump suits in Mexico, not Michigan. Trump furniture in Turkey, not Ohio. Trump picture frames in India, not Wisconsin.”

PolitiFact was able to verify all of the examples Clinton cited – except for the picture frames made in India. It also found some Trump-branded products made in the U.S., such as his signature “Make America Great Again” hats.

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3. “More than 90 percent of the gains have gone to the top 1 percent, that’s where the money is.”

These numbers are based on older data, according to The Washington Post.

“There is increasing evidence that income imbalance has improved in recent years as the economy has recovered from the Great Recession,” it reports. The most recent calculations show the top 1 percent got 52 percent of the income gains between 2009 and 2015.

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4. “Nearly 15 million new private-sector jobs” have been created since President Obama took office.

FactCheck.org found this number to be inflated: “In fact, since January 2009, when Obama took office, the private sector has added 10.5 million jobs.”

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5. Trump “claimed our armed forces are ‘a disaster.’”

PolitiFact tracked down this quote from the Republican candidate during a January debate: “I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger,” Trump said. “Our military is a disaster.”

He doesn’t seem to have repeated this wording, PolitiFact found, and in more recent comments has focused more on what he sees as a lack of resources, calling the military “depleted.”

Share the Facts Widget Embed

Want to embed fact-checks like this in your articles and blog posts? Contact us for the easy instructions.

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6 Clinton claims you’re likely to hear in Philly

Use our Share the Facts widget to highlight fact-checking during the Democratic convention

By Erica Ryan – July 25, 2016 | Print this article

The Republicans kept fact-checkers on their toes during their convention in Cleveland. Next, it’s the Democrats’ turn as they gather in Philadelphia to nominate Hillary Clinton.

Below is a preview of some talking points you may hear during the Democratic convention and how the fact-checkers at PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and The Washington Post have rated their accuracy.

You can share these fact-checks – and many more – using the Share the Facts widget created by the Duke Reporters’ Lab and Jigsaw, a technology incubator within Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

We encourage you to post the widgets on Facebook and Twitter, or even embed them in articles and blog posts.

On Trump’s finances

On the first night of the convention, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is slated to speak. She has previously painted GOP nominee Donald Trump as a “small, insecure money-grubber,” and she’s likely to repeat previous attacks on his finances.

One claim we might hear is that Trump was “hoping for” a crash in the housing market back in 2006 so he could profit – which PolitiFact rated Mostly True.

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Another claim Democrats have repeated – that past federal tax returns show Trump “hasn’t paid a penny in taxes” – didn’t hold up as well to PolitiFact’s checking. While Trump has declined to release recent tax returns, records show that he did pay income taxes in some years during the 1970s.

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On children and families

The second night of the convention is scheduled to focus on how “Hillary has spent her entire career working to make a difference for children, families and our country,” according to the convention website. One campaign-trail claim Clinton has made on that theme is that she worked with Democrats and Republicans to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

While The Washington Post verified that Clinton played a role in the effort during her time as first lady, it was mostly behind the scenes at the White House and not as “a public advocate who directly worked with lawmakers in both parties.”

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On the economy

President Obama is set to speak on the convention’s third night, which will have a theme of “Working Together” – something the president and his one-time rival have had to do many times since 2008.

One argument Clinton has made for extending her party’s control of the White House is that the economy has fared better under Democratic presidents than Republican ones. While an analysis by two Princeton economists bears that out, FactCheck.org ruled that Clinton is putting a spin on the facts because “the authors of that report do not credit Democratic fiscal policies for the economic growth.”

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Another economic claim Clinton has made is about her Republican opponent’s opposition to the federal minimum wage. While Trump has suggested he’d like to see workers earn more than $7.25 an hour, PolitiFact reports, he has said he would prefer to leave that up to the states, without any federally mandated minimum.

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On foreign policy

Clinton will take the convention stage on Thursday night. As the former secretary of state, Clinton has compared her own foreign policy chops to Trump’s, which she considers lacking.

However, FactCheck.org found she goes too far when she claims that Trump said he boosted his foreign policy experience by running a Miss Universe pagent in Moscow. What he really said was he knew Russia well because of it.

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Bonus: What you won’t hear in Philly

We imagine no Democrat in Philadelphia will even say the word “email” if they can avoid it. But if you want to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the scandal that engulfed Clinton after leaving her post as secretary of state, multiple fact-checkers have broken it down.

Want to embed fact-checks like this in your articles and blog posts? Contact us for the easy instructions.

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Fact-checking Trump’s speech with the Share the Facts widget

A tool from the Reporters’ Lab can help counter politicians’ distortions

By Erica Ryan – July 22, 2016 | Print this article

Republican nominee Donald Trump’s 75-minute acceptance speech on the last night of the GOP convention sent fact-checkers into overdrive.

PolitiFact, The Washington Post and FactCheck.org all produced roundups of their research into dozens of Trump’s claims. Here’s a look at four of those claims and the resulting fact-checks, which you can share using the Share the Facts widget.

The widget was created by the Duke Reporters’ Lab and Jigsaw, a technology incubator within Alphabet, the parent company of Google. We encourage you to use the widget to share fact-checks on Facebook and Twitter, or even embed them in articles and blog posts.

1. “Household incomes are down more than $4,000 since the year 2000.”

Here’s how the three fact-checking organizations currently using the Share the Facts widget weighed in on this Trump claim. Click “Read More” on each widget to see the facts behind their conclusions.

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Share the Facts Widget Embed
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2. “America is one of the highest-taxed nations in the world.”

According to the fact-checkers, this claim from Trump had serious problems.

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Share the Facts Widget Embed
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3. A “550 percentage increase in Syrian … refugees … [Democrat Hillary Clinton] proposes this despite the fact that there’s no way to screen these refugees in order to find out who they are or where they come from.”

While Clinton has proposed allowing as many as 65,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S., fact-checkers find Trump’s claim that “there’s no way to screen” is not true.

Share the Facts Widget Embed
Share the Facts Widget Embed
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4. “Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement. Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years.”

While the fact-checkers note that Trump has a credible source for his numbers (The Post, in fact), they find he’s guilty of cherry-picking data to give the impression of a scary trend.

Share the Facts Widget Embed
Share the Facts Widget Embed
Share the Facts Widget Embed

Want to embed fact-checks like this in your articles and blog posts? Contact us for the easy instructions.

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Six Trump claims you’re likely to hear in Cleveland

The GOP convention provides an opportunity to use our Share the Facts widget

By Erica Ryan – July 15, 2016 | Print this article

Politicians love talking points. The scripted lines provide consistency for campaign messages and quotes that are often irresistible to journalists. Talking points are used repeatedly, even by a candidate like Donald Trump who is known to stray from his script.

With the Republican National Convention about to start, we thought it would be helpful to show some of the stock lines we expect to hear and how the nation’s fact-checkers have judged their accuracy. It’s also an opportunity for us to showcase the Share the Facts widget, our new tool that summarizes fact-checks.

For the past several months, PolitiFact, The Washington Post and FactCheck.org have been using the widget, which was created by the Duke Reporters’ Lab and Jigsaw, a technology incubator within Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

The three fact-checking outlets have already created more than 1,000 widgets, mostly from the 2016 presidential campaign.

We encourage you to share the facts by posting the widgets on Facebook and Twitter, or even embedding them in articles or blog posts.

On Benghazi

According to The New York Times, the first night of the convention is set to focus on the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans during Democrat Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. Here’s a look at one Trump claim that FactCheck.org found didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

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On Immigration

Another issue expected to be in the spotlight on Monday night is immigration – an especially hot topic for Trump, who has proposed “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He says the president has the authority to do it, and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker found he’s largely correct.

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The Post gave him one Pinocchio because the president does have “broad powers to deny admission of people or groups into the United States. But the power has not been tested in the way that Trump proposes.”

Trump earned four Pinocchios from the Post for a claim tying crime to immigration.

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On the Economy

The second night of the convention is scheduled to have an economic theme, so we expect to hear claims about taxes and trade. FactCheck.org has noted that Trump is fond of repeating that American taxpayers pay more than residents of other countries – which it found isn’t true (though the U.S. business tax rate does rank among the highest in the world).

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Trump also speaks frequently about the U.S. trade deficit with China, and he’s accused Clinton of making it worse. But PolitiFact found he’s assigning the blame in the wrong place, since the secretary of state has a small role in trade policy.

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On His Bid for the Nomination

Keeping with tradition, Trump is expected to speak on the last night of the convention – a speech that is sure to produce many claims for fact-checkers to examine. As he accepts the party’s nomination, he may repeat an assertion about his vote totals in the primary elections that PolitiFact found is mostly true.

Share the Facts Widget Embed

Stay tuned throughout the Republican convention for more opportunities to share the facts.

Want to embed fact-checks like this in your articles and blog posts? Contact us for the easy instructions.

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At GlobalFact 3, a call for transparency and impartial fact-checking

Now that fact-checking has matured, "we need to make sure that our work is rock solid."

By Bill Adair – June 9, 2016 | Print this article

My opening remarks at GlobalFact 3, the third annual meeting of the world’s fact-checkers, oragnized by Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network and the Reporters’ Lab, held June 9-10, 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It’s amazing how our group has grown. Our latest tally in the Duke Reporters’ Lab is 105 active sites around the world, which is up more than 60 percent from last year.

We’ve also seen marvelous growth in international collaborations. Alexios has organized some impressive check-a-thons for economic summits and other events, uniting more than a dozen fact-checkers for a single event. And a few months ago, Africa Check joined PolitiFact for an unprecedented partnership to check claims about global health and development.

Our fact-checks are increasingly having an impact. Politicians cite them in speeches and campaign commercials. One organization recently emailed its senior staff reminding them about the new Africa Check-PolitiFact project, cautioning them to be accurate in their statements. In Ireland, attention generated by a Journal.ie fact-check halted a viral social media campaign to “name and shame” Irish parliamentarians for their purportedly low attendance at a debate on mental health services.

More than 100 people attended the conference, which was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
More than 100 people attended the conference, which was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Here in Argentina, Gabriella Michetti, vice-presidential candidate on the Macri ticket, was asked about a “Falso” she got from Chequeado. She replied, ”I saw that on Chequeado. Which is why we corrected ourselves and never repeated it.”

Our audiences are growing. In the United States, the three big fact-checkers are all reporting record-breaking traffic. A debate article by FactCheck.org got more than 1.8 million page views on the site and partners such as MSN.com.

In the United States, we have a presidential candidate named Donald Trump — perhaps you have heard of him — who has shown why fact-checking is so important. Some pundits have said his disregard for facts shows we live in a “post-fact” era when facts no longer matter. But I think it shows a more positive story: we know about Donald Trump’s falsehoods because of the tremendous work of a growing army of fact-checkers.

We’ve reached a point where fact-checking is no longer a novelty. It’s no longer something that we have to explain to the people we’re checking. It’s now a mature form of journalism — and an expected part of how news organizations cover political campaigns and government.

But now that fact-checking has matured, it’s time to make sure we push our journalism to the next level. To maintain our status as trusted sources, we need to make sure that our work is rock solid. Our fact-checks must be thoroughly researched using the most independent sources available. Our writing needs to be clear and concise.

We need to show that we do not play favorites. We need to be impartial and apply the same standards to everyone we check. And we need to check everyone.  As Rem Rieder wrote in USA Today in a column this week that mentioned our meeting, for fact-checking to work, “it has to be an equal opportunity endeavor, strictly nonpartisan.”

In the past year,  the students and colleagues who maintain our fact-checking database have come across a couple of sites that primarily check one party in their political system. That’s not fact-checking; that’s advocacy. To be a reputable fact-checker, you must check all the players in your political systems.

Fact-checkers also need to be transparent in our work. We need to explain how we choose statements to check and how our ratings work. We need to reveal our sources and be clear how we reached our conclusions.

We also need to be transparent about the funding and structure of our organizations. We need to explain who gives us money and reassure our readers and consumers that we are not political activists.

We also need to continue to expand our audiences. I continue to be surprised by the relatively limited use of fact-checking on television. We should seek more partnerships with TV networks and show them that the fact-checking makes great TV. You will love hearing from our keynote speaker, Natalia Hernández Rojo, who does some of the best TV fact-checks in the world for La Sexta’s El Objetivo in Spain. We can all learn a lot from Natalia.

Finally, I want to conclude with a suggestion. In catching up with many of you in the past couple of days I have realized that I have not done enough to follow your work. So I’m going to set a new goal to read one fact-check every day. I’ll randomly choose a site from our Reporters’ Lab database and read the most recent one.

I encourage you to do the same thing — a fact-check a day. It’s a new way that we can continue to build our community. By reading each other’s work, we can learn about each other and improve our work.

It’s a wonderful time to be in our movement. Fact-checking keeps growing and it has become a powerful force that informs democracies around the world. We need to maintain that momentum and make sure that our work is the best it can be.

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New Share the Facts widget helps facts – rather than falsehoods – go viral

Duke Reporters' Lab and Jigsaw develop easily shareable tool to expand fact-checkers' reach.

By Bill Adair – May 12, 2016 | Print this article

The Duke Reporters’ Lab is introducing Share the Facts, a widget that provides a new way for readers to share fact-check articles and spread them virally across the Internet.

The compact Share the Facts box summarizes the claim being checked and the fact-checker’s conclusion in a mobile-friendly format. The widgets have a consistent look but can be customized with the fact-checkers’ logos and ratings such as Pinocchios or the Truth-O-Meter. The standardization allows readers to recognize fact-checking whenever they come across it on the web and to post Share the Facts on social media and by embedding the boxes in articles and blog posts.

The widget summarizes fact-checks and allows readers to click to the original article.
The widget summarizes fact-checks and allows readers to click to the original article.

Fact-checkers can create Share the Facts boxes using a simple template developed by the Reporters’ Lab. The form generates the HTML of the box that can be pasted into content management systems or embedded in the same way as Tweets. Share the Facts boxes are also fully machine-readable, enabling new ways of assembling automated collections of fact-check findings from across the Internet. For example, someone could set up a page that compiles Share the Fact boxes from a single event or a particular candidate.

Share the Facts will be helpful to columnists and bloggers because they’ll be able to compile and display several boxes for a debate or a candidate the same way they embed tweets.

Share the Facts was developed by The Reporters’ Lab and Jigsaw, a technology incubator within Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

The widgets are customized with the logo of the fact-checking site.
The widgets are customized with the logo of the fact-checking site.

The widget has been tested in the past few weeks by The Washington Post, PolitiFact and FactCheck.org. The Reporters’ Lab has been incorporating feedback from those sites and will be making the widget available to other fact-checking sites this spring and summer.

“We are excited to participate in the Share the Facts project,” said Eugene Kiely, director of FactCheck.org. “It gives voters the ability to more easily share fact-checking stories and find fact-checking stories.”

Glenn Kessler, the editor and chief writer of The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, said it “will be a terrific tool for readers to share the results of our fact-checking. In this exciting, fact-challenged campaign year, I expect it will expand the reach and impact of our work.”

For articles from FactCheck.org and other sites that don't use rating systems, the widget can include a short text explaining the conclusion.
For articles from FactCheck.org and other sites that don’t use rating systems, the widget can include a short text explaining the conclusion.

Said Aaron Sharockman, the executive director of PolitiFact: “Share the Facts is part of the antidote to the massive spread of misinformation. We all know how quickly falsehoods can spread on the Internet. Now readers have a simple tool to fight back with facts.”

For more information,  go to www.sharethefacts.org

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At Tech & Check, some new ideas to automate fact-checking

Journalists and technologists met at Duke to dream up new ways that technology can help fact-checkers.

By Bill Adair – April 4, 2016 | Print this article

Last week, journalists and technologists gathered at Duke to dream up new ways that automation could help fact-checking.

The first Tech & Check conference, sponsored by the Duke Reporters’ Lab and Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network, brought together about 50 journalists, students and computer scientists. The goal was to showcase existing projects and inspire new ones.

Tech and Check photo
At Tech & Check, groups of students, journalists and technologists dreamed up new ideas to automate fact-checking.

The participants included representatives of Google, IBM, NBC News, PolitiFact, Full Fact, FactCheck.org and the WRAL-TV. From the academic side, we had faculty and Ph.D students from Duke, the University of North Carolina, University of Texas-Arlington, Indiana University and the University of Michigan.

The first day featured presentations about existing projects that automate some aspect of fact-checking; the second day, attendees formed groups to conceive new projects.

The presentations showcased a wide variety of tools and research projects. Will Moy of the British site Full Fact did a demo of his claim monitoring tool that tracks the frequency of talking points, showing how often politicians said the phrase over time. Naeemul Hassan of the University of Texas at Arlington showed ClaimBuster, a project I’ve worked on, that can ingest huge amounts of text and identify factual claims that journalists might want to check.

IBM’s Ben Fletcher showed one of the company’s new projects known as Watson Angles, a tool that extracts information from Web articles and distills it into a summary that includes key players and a timeline of events. Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, a researcher at Indiana University, showed a project that uses Wikipedia to fact-check claims.

On the second day, we focused on the future. The attendees broke into groups to come up with new ideas for research. The groups had 75 minutes to create three ideas for tools or further research. The projects showed the many ways that automation can help fact-checking.

One promising idea was dubbed “Parrot Score,” a website that could build on the approach that Full Fact is exploring for claim monitoring. It would track the frequency of claims and then calculate a score for politicians who use canned phrases more often. Tyler Dukes, a data journalist from WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C., said Parrot Score could be a browser extension that showed the origin of a claim and then tracked it through the political ecosystem.

Despite the focus on the digital future of journalism, we used Sharpies and a lot of Post-It notes.
Despite the focus on the digital future of journalism, we used Sharpies and a lot of Post-It notes.

Two teams proposed variations of a “Check This First” button that would allow people to verify the accuracy of a URL before they post it on Facebook or in a chat. One team dubbed it “ChatBot.” Clicking it would bring up information that would help users determine if the article was reliable.

Another team was assigned to focus on ways to improve public trust in fact-checkers. The team came up with several interesting ideas, including more transparency about the collective ratings for individual writers and editors as well as a game app that would simulate the process that journalists use to fact-check a claim. The app could improve trust by giving people an opportunity to form their own conclusions as well as demonstrating the difficult work that fact-checkers do.

Another team, which was focused on fact-checker tools, came up with some interesting ideas for tools. One would automatically detect when the journalists were examining a claim they had checked before.  Another tool would be something of a “sentence finisher” that, when a journalist began typing something such as “The unemployment rate last month…” would finish the sentence with the correct number.

The conference left me quite optimistic about the potential for more collaboration between computer scientists and fact-checkers. Things that never seemed possible, such as checking claims against the massive Wikipedia database, are increasingly doable. And many technologists are interested in doing research and creating products to help fact-checking.

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Public radio listeners want more fact-checking in election coverage

Survey shows strong interest, but local public media stations are slow to check candidate claims

By Mark Stencel – March 22, 2016 | Print this article

What do politically minded news junkies want from their election coverage? If they’re anything like NPR’s audience, they want fact-checking.

Last November, when the public radio company asked a sample of its audience about their interest in different kinds of political stories, 96 percent said they wanted stories that verified what the candidates said. Seventy-seven percent said they were very interested in fact-checks and 19 percent said they were somewhat interested.

"Sesame Street News"
Kermit covers breaking news about Humpty Dumpty in a report for “Sesame Street News.” But a survey suggests public media audiences would rather have fact-checking. (Screen shot via sesamestreet.org)

But the survey has yet to translate into much on-air fact-checking, especially at the state and local level, where public media stations are hardly playing a leading role in the growing trend of checking politicians’ statements.

The Reporters’ Lab international database of fact-checkers currently counts more than 40 active projects in the United States. Of those, 14 are affiliated with radio or TV news companies. But only two are public broadcasters — PolitiFact California, which is run by Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, and NPR, which launched a new fact-checking feature called “Break It Down” last fall. A third, Minnesota Public Radio’s PoliGraph, has been inactive since June. Beyond public radio and public television, other non-profit media fact-checkers at the local level include Michigan Truth Squad from the Center for Michigan’s Bridge magazine and the digital news site Voice of San Diego.

The low public media numbers are surprising since NPR’s audience research found that few other political news stories resonated as much with its listeners as fact-checks do. Only actual election results did better in the survey, with 97 percent saying they cared about those stories, while 95 percent said they were most interested in reports comparing candidates’ positions.

By contrast, less than half of those who answered had much interest in the latest polls or fundraising reports — two staples of most political reporting diets.

The PowerPoint slide below breaks down the survey answers in more detail. The 362 people who answered were selected from a much larger pool of loyal NPR listeners — people from the network’s radio and digital audience who volunteer to provide feedback. My former colleagues at NPR, where I previously was managing editor for digital news, kindly shared the audience feedback with the Reporters’ Lab, which tracks the growth and impact of fact-checking.

NPR election news survey
Answers from a November 2015 survey asking an NPR audience panel about election coverage. (Courtesy of NPR)

The fact-checking numbers explain why NPR expanded its occasional fact-checking efforts for the 2016 election cycle. The numbers also reinforce the answers NPR heard four years ago, when it asked its audience a similar question and got a strikingly similar answer.

Yet even with such consistent interest, public broadcasters have taken a back seat to other media outlets in trying to verify political claims — a topic I discussed in an interview on a recent episode of The Pub, a weekly podcast about the public media business.

In truth, fact-checking is a tough beat for typical public media stations, especially those with limited reporting and editing staffs. The reporting process is time-consuming and intensive. And the results are likely to anger the most partisan elements of the audience. That’s no easy thing when you depend on listener and viewer donations and, in some communities, taxpayer support.

But there are upsides for local stations, too, including the ability to concentrate limited journalism resources on stories the audience says it eagerly wants. Fact-checks can also distinguish public broadcasters’ election in competitive media markets — unless the competition distinguishes itself first.

For now, commercial TV news outlets seem to be beating public broadcasters to those benefits. Nine of the active state and local fact-checking operations in the United States are affiliated with commercial TV stations. That includes four new PolitiFact state affiliates (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Ohio) that launched or relaunched in recent months as part of a partnership between the national fact-checker and the Scripps TV Station Group.

Commercial TV faces some of the same practical challenges that keep many public media outlets from taking on the truth beat. If anything, given the dependence on political advertising dollars at most commercial TV stations, you might even think those outlets would have far more to lose than public broadcasters. But the public broadcasters seem to be the ones who are losing out.

(As is only appropriate for an article about fact-checking, this post was updated shortly after it was published to correct two numbers: In NPR’s survey 77 percent said they were very interested in fact-checks and 19 percent said they were somewhat interested. Corrections always welcome here!)

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