By Aurora Herrera

As disinformation and misinformation become more prevalent than ever before, public media organisations are engaging in collaborative efforts to counter its spread. 

Since the 2016 American election, the spread of misinformation has become a communicable epidemic with President Trump being the contemporary patient zero. Deliberately spreading misinformation and coining certain nuggets as  “alternative facts,” not only set the trend for his own government to weaponize the term “fake news” against American media but also morphed it into a global pathology.

However, the response by journalists, educators and technology companies is the emergence of an entire eco-system of fact-checking projects. According to a reportpublished by the Duke Reporters’ Lab, as of February 2018, there are 149 fact-checking projects in 53 countries.

Fact-checking has always been one of the core responsibilities of a journalist. Today, with the time constraints and financial pressures of newsrooms coupled with the massive escalation in the dissemination of misinformation, other parties have joined the fight in support of and in solidarity with journalists.

But another challenge that faces fact-checking teams is the natural inclination towards the powerful combination of partisanship and confirmation bias of the audience.

An important differentiation between this new wave of fact-checking and traditional reporting is that the former is an in-depth investigation of a person’s statements as opposed to simply reporting the statement made. However, this scouring of data could lead audiences who are invested in a particular person to assume that the media has an agenda against that individual.

Fact-Checkers By continent

Africa: 4
, Asia: 22,
 Australia: 3,
 Europe: 52,
 North America: 53, 
South America: 15

Countries With More Than Two Fact-Checkers:

United States: 47, 
Brazil: 8,
 France: 7, 
United Kingdom: 6,
 South Korea: 5, 
India: 4
, Germany: 4,
 Ukraine: 4,
 Canada: 4, Italy: 3, 
Spain: 3.

Source: Duke Reporter’s Lab

Angie Drobnic Holan, editor of PolitiFact commented on the conundrum saying, “Fact checks come out of the reportorial tradition, but people see us as opinion [writers], because we’re weighing in. Lack of trust in the media unquestionably undermines the credibility of fact-checkers. While we are clear in our minds about the differences between reporting and opinion, what’s clear to us is not at all clear to readers,” she said.

Public broadcasters as platforms of trust

Trust in the media is key to not only disseminating verified and actionable information but it is also central to ensuring this information has an impact on audiences.

While independent fact-checking projects are vital for maintaining the general hygiene of the information landscape, established public media broadcasters that have added fact-checking tools to their repertoire or partnered with fact-checking projects, now possess a gravitas that comes from a double inoculation against misinformation. This twofold protective practice comes from the strength of traditional journalism values as well a more modern, technologically inspired debunking process.

The BBC, Swedish Television(SVT), Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Finland’s Yle are public media organisations that either have in-house fact-checking teams or established partnerships with universities, non-profit organisations, independent watchdogs and think tanks. Freelancers from opensource communities are also key partners for public broadcasters.

Anatomy of a Killing

Some incredible work has been produced by these partnerships such as the BBC’s Africa Eye investigation Anatomy of a Killing, which was an investigation into the murder of two women and two children who were blindfolded and shot 22 times by suspected anti-Boko Haram militia in Cameroon. After viewing a video of the killings circulating on social media in July 2018, the BBC began investigations despite the government of Cameroon dismissing it as fake news, alleging that the Cameroon militia did not wear the same uniforms shown in the video nor use the same weapon, the Zastava M21.

Freelance open source investigators, Aliaume Leroy and Benjamin Strick, partnered with the BBC to investigate the truth of those claims. The investigation took three months. With the help of a tip, they were able to utilise Google Earth to geolocate the mountain range in the video in northern Cameroon. Working with the simple sun-dial shadows of the soldiers, the investigators were able to calculate the time of day and approximate date the killings took place. The BBC then investigated the weapons the soldiers were carrying by utilising the Facebook Graph search tool to confirm that special forces in the Cameroon Army used Zastava M21s.

Following the report, the Cameroonian government changed its position from one of denial to that of publishing a list of suspects who were subsequently arrested. Several of the names revealed matched those discovered in the BBC Africa Eye investigation.

Commenting on the process and the investigation’s outcomes, Leroy and Strick said:

“We were thinking that there was a high probability that it did take place in Cameroon and therefore you know we’ve got to prove the government wrong; you know they’re lying in front of their people,” he said.

When the project was published in a Twitter thread in September 2018, the tweet garnered 70,000 likes and more than 50,000 retweets within two days demonstrating, at the very least, the effectiveness and appreciation of verified fact-checkers.

Daniel Adamson, a series producer with Africa Eye, was quoted in an article by the Poynter Institute saying that the BBC is building a small team of in-house open source investigators and remains excited to partner with freelancers.

“We will crowdsource parts of our investigations, where that is necessary, to the open-source community on Twitter and Slack,” he said. “The OSINT community is amazing. Some of those guys are great at weapons analysis, some at geolocation, some at tracking ships or planes … This work is, by its nature, collaborative.”

One of the key takeaways from an investigation like this is that properly funded public broadcasters are well-poised to carry out this type of in-depth work. This is partly due to the availability of more resources than many commercial media outlets or independent fact-checking bodies, which often crowdsource much their funding or depend on grants.


As proven by the 2016 US election, elections work as catalysts for fact-checking projects. Faktisk, a Norwegian fact-checking partnership was launched in 2017 in partnership with four of the country’s biggest news organisations – TV2, Dagbladet, VG and NRK, Norway’s public broadcaster.

An article by the Poynter Institute cites that within a year of Faktisk’s 2017 launch, the site had gathered more than 400,000 unique visitors and more than 1 million pageviews on its 81 fact checks. The project’s embeds have had twice as much traffic as its website, with almost 900,000 unique clicks and 2 million pageviews — numbers that have made it among the most shared websites in the country.

Inspired by the Norwegian model, Sweden launched its Faktiskt service in 2018 in partnership with five major Swedish media outlets; DN, Svenska Dagbladet, and public broadcasters, Sveriges Radio and Sveriges Television. With the same goal of giving fact-checks the widest distribution possible, Faktiskt garnered more than 1million pageviews and hundreds of thousands of unique visitors over a period of approximately three months.

Beyond the media

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation also worked with the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), a public research universityin Melbourneto fact-check claims made by politicians during their 2019 election.

Finland is taking a broader approach with fact-checking organisation Faktabaari partnering with educators from elementary and high schools to develop digital literacy toolkits.

Coupled with this strategy, a CNN report, quotes Jussi Tovanen, the chief communications specialist for the Prime Minster’s office speaking about other methods the country is using to win the war on misinformation. This includes President Sauli Niinisto mandating that every Finnish national should take “responsibility for the fight against false information” to inviting American experts to advise “on how to recognise fake news, understand why it goes viral and develop strategies to fight it”.

“It’s not just a government problem, the whole society has been targeted. We are doing our part, but it’s everyone’s task to protect the Finnish democracy,” Toivanen said, before adding: “The first line of defence is the kindergarten teacher.”

This society-wide approach seems to have been successful as Finland ranks first out of 35 countries for media literacy across Europe.

As with the global fight for media freedom, collaboration is key to ensuring a shared pool of skills are available to combat the rise in and prevalence of misinformation and disinformation. Partnerships with public media give fact checkers weight, security and the resources necessary to fulfil their work on a larger scale, while public media are able to broaden their skillset, finesse their news offering and build trust with their audiences by holding power to account more transparently and more effectively.