Tackling the Problem of Online Misinformation

Why We Invested: Full Fact

By Khuram Hussain, Principal, Investments at Omidyar Network

Online misinformation is on the agenda. An MP-led investigation is pending in the UK on the dissemination of false news on the internet. German legislators have gone a step further by introducing a new bill in Parliament to help tackle the issue. At the heart of these efforts is the increase in the number of inaccurate stories that are being widely shared and disseminated on social media.

In response Facebook has launched a tool in 14 countries that directs users to a guide on how to spot fake news. Google, too, has introduced a search label that shows when an article has been fact-checked. The team at Full Fact, the UK’s independent fact-checking organization, have developed a set of automated fact-checking tools for assisting fact-checking organizations and journalists with speedily spotting false claims and helping to curb the spread of misinformation.

Full Fact’s approach combines the organization’s understanding of the field of fact-checking with a set of automated tools it has built to improve the efficacy of the fact-checking process. The tools apply the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to the fact-checking process to enable quicker detection of false claims. This includes being able to chart the “epidemiology” of a claim over time to track a false claim to its source and demand corrections and retractions. It also includes being able to recognize claims in political debates and online media and immediately alert journalists if they are inaccurate. For example, a journalist or end-user in South Africa can be watching President Zuma’s parliamentary address and be simultaneously reporting which claims are true or false.

What is particularly interesting about Full Fact’s tools is that they underpin the architecture, the “pipes” so to speak, upon which other journalists and fact-checking organizations can design and build their own products and tools. Built on an open-source foundation, the tools are aimed at improving collaboration between fact-checking organizations around the world by providing a standard data format and shared monitoring systems to help with their adoption.

At Omidyar Network we believe that the principles of openness, participation, and accountability are the foundations of a healthy democratic society. For citizens to fully participate in civic life and have a voice on key social and political issues they need access to factual, accurate information. The work of Full Fact and others factcheckers around the world is enabling this and stopping the spread of misinformation. The current “post truth” environment has real-world consequences eroding the trust that people place in both the media and other public institutions.

Full Fact was established in 2010 in the UK and is a registered charity. It has established itself as the go-to fact-checking partner for national media organizations in the country. It also has an excellent reputation among fact-checking organizations globally for being independent, impartial and innovative. Its primary geography of influence remains to be the UK, with future plans to scale its work internationally in partnership with other fact-checking organizations.

The organization has been a leader in fact-checking in the UK. It has checked claims in speeches by members of Parliament, trade and industry associations, as well as those in news reports — in print, digital and broadcast media. It was the first UK organization to use the “Fact Check” label in Google news. It has also worked with, or appeared in every national newspaper, and works with the Office for National Statistics and major research organizations to make statistical and technical information more accessible for the public and media.

Photo credit: Full Fact

The funding from Omidyar Network will help Full Fact scale its work internationally. It will also enable the Full Fact tools to be made more readily available to fact-checkers worldwide, starting with Africa Check and Chequeado, two leading global fact-checking organizations, and also Omidyar Network investees. The Full Fact tools will be used by these organizations to highlight pre-checked facts, identifying the best data for journalists to use for fact-checking, and to hold politicians and media organizations to account by tracking false claims and demanding corrections.

We believe Full Fact’s tools have the potential to become the standard for leading global fact-checking organizations to help curb the spread of misinformation and help journalism maintain the credibility that audiences demand.