Why is #Verificado2018 important in the age of social networks?

Elections in the age of social media demand that journalists work collaboratively

This post was originally published in Spanish in Newsweek Español.

In June 2009, the role of journalism changed forever. In the hours and days that followed the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, protests broke out across Iran. As the world followed the protests and the brutal crackdown which ensued, they looked not to traditional media, but to platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, where Iranian citizens were posting statements, images and video of the protests in real time.

In this moment, it became clear that the media’s traditional role of gatekeeper had been subverted: professional media no longer controlled the public’s access to news and information. This dynamic has been replicated in many breaking news events since then, whether the Arab uprisings, terror attacks in Europe, school shootings in the United States, extreme weather events in the Caribbean, or war and conflict globally.

In all these cases, however, a new and important role for journalism has emerged. As social networks quickly became flooded with misinformation, disinformation and recycled content, the traditional practices of journalism — checking facts, investigating claims, verifying content — has become more important than ever. In our journalistic mission to serve timely and accurate information to the public to allow them to make informed choices in crucial elections and referenda around the world, we need new models, practices and processes to sort fact from fiction.

Verificado partners working together to design a process for debunking misinformation and verifying content from social networks

Such is the scale of the challenge that even the best-equipped and well-resourced newsroom cannot hope to stem the tide of misleading content viewed by hundreds of thousands of people on social networks. Verificado2018 is an ambitious, creative and determined attempt by more than 50 news organizations, universities and civil society groups in Mexico to tackle this crucial challenge ahead of presidential, gubernatorial and congressional elections.

Building on important and groundbreaking collaborative reporting initiatives in the US (Electionland) and France (CrossCheck), Verificado2018 will see hundreds of journalists from 90 publications across Mexico working together to find, debunk, fact check and verify claims, images and video related to the biggest elections in the history of Mexico.

The impact of so-called “fake news” on the UK’s 2016 Brexit referendum, and the election of Donald Trump in the USA in November 2016 is difficult to measure empirically, and disputed by the platforms on which rumours and misleading content have run wild. We do know, however, that both internal and external actors will seek to exploit viral content and social networks to manipulate public opinion for political and personal gain.

With support from Google, Facebook and Twitter, and led by Animal Politico, AJ+ Español and Pop-Up Newsroom, our mission is simple: to limit bad actors’ ability to mislead the public through rumours and misleading viral content, and to make credible information viral and accessible to as many people as we can. The challenge is great, but working together we can play the crucial and age-old role of journalism in the democratic process: to inform the public, and to hold the powerful to account.

Verificado partners working together to design a process for debunking misinformation and verifying content from social networks