By Alissa Black, Director of Investments, Omidyar Network
Three years ago, Bill Adair, the founder of PolitiFact, noticed something: fact-checking around the world was picking up steam. Every month he’d see a new organization popping up in a new geography. As these fledgling fact-checkers took their first steps into the fray, they were all running into the same kinds of questions:
What is a checkable claim?
Is crowd-sourcing a viable mechanism to scale claim-sourcing?
Are truth-o-meters and Pinocchios the best way to publish verdicts?
And they were all reaching out to Bill for help.
To have the queries of global fact-checkers bottlenecked in the inbox of a single person was not exactly a sustainable situation, even then. Presciently and thankfully, given where we are now, Bill saw the solution in community. In partnership with the Poynter Institute, he brought together the veterans and the newcomers from around the world, and kicked off a community of learning and practice around this burgeoning discipline.
At the first of what is now an annually held Global Fact conference, fact-checkers from around the world united, many of them meeting and interacting with peers for the very first time. They learned. They laughed. And you better believe that at the end of two days, unanimously, they wanted more.
Poynter responded. In partnership with the Duke University Reporters’ Lab and with an initial grant from Omidyar Network, in 2015 Poynter launched the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). Not a moment too soon because over the last two years, the number of fact-checking organizations around the world has nearly doubled. And, with new sources of misinformation cropping up daily, and with new channels through which to effectively distribute misinformation exploding across the globe, the energy and urgency around innovation in fact-checking is only intensifying.
In just the last two years, Alexios Mantzarlis, Director of IFCN, has brought fact-checkers and best practices together in several global forums including:
- A very active email group who share questions, answers, and updates;
- Online courses in which several thousand people have participated in English and Spanish and coverage of best practices around the world that reaches hundreds of thousands every year.
- Regional workshops that have gathered hundreds, from Washington D.C. to New Delhi to Sarajevo and Vilnius;
- Innovation fellowships whereby fact-checkers from one organization embed at another, to deeply absorb working practices and collaborative possibilities.
IFCN has also led two new efforts to improve and disseminate professional standards and practices to a broader audience including:
- A fact-checking code of principles to set standards of transparency that have been picked up by Facebook in its vetting of third-party fact-checking partners; and
- International Fact-Checking Day, an effort to bridge the expertise gap and help equip the general public to home in on what’s real. Tens of thousands of people have downloaded the dedicated lesson plan.
As the fact-checking community grows to meet growing global challenges to accuracy and accountability, IFCN is scaling to support, convene, and connect this work. Omidyar Network is proud to continue our support for IFCN with $1 million in funding over the next three years to facilitate the next stage of its development. At the same time we are also supporting independent fact-checking organizations that participate in IFCN, including Argentina’s Chequeado, South Africa’s Africa Check, and the UK’s Full Fact.
Earlier this year (April 2017), Omidyar Network announced a new $100m commitment to tackle misinformation, support independent and investigative journalism, and find ways to improve engagement between citizens and government. The support for IFCN, and other fact-checking organizations around the world, is a central part of this commitment and our work to protect the principles of openness, participation, and accountability.
This week (July 5–7) is Global Fact 4. With 188 participants, it will enjoy quadruple the attendance that it had at launch and will bring together newsrooms and independent fact-checking organizations from 53 countries.
The global fact-checking community needed a convener, and with the IFCN at Poynter, it has one. We are proud to have backed the organization since its initial stages and to continue to support their critical, field-shaping work.