The growing fight against misinformation in Latin America – 08/11/2021 – Latinoamérica21

The unprecedented growth in the region of “fact checkers”, also known as “data checkers” or “checkers”, who are dedicated to detecting errors and false news in the media, can be considered unprecedented.

Of seven platforms active in 2018, there are 46 in April 2021, located in countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Mexico, according to a report by Duke University (2020).

These initiatives emerged with the aim of mitigating the harmful effects of misinformation that seeks, among other things, to manipulate public opinion in favor of the interests of private and political actors.

Along with Covid-19, infodemia, that is, people’s disbelief in dealing with the pandemic due to the plethora of information on the subject, both inaccurate and accurate, was also unleashed.

This has led the region’s verifiers, with Google’s support, to create the Chequeado Latam Coronavirus website, through which they detect and mitigate the most viral and potentially dangerous lies, thus reducing the spread of rumors and false content.

Simultaneously, in 2021, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Austin Texas launched an open online course that aimed, in the words of its instructor Cristina Tardáguila, “to create a global army of fact-checkers in Latin America and the world. Caribbean”.

What is the origin of fact checkers?

These initiatives originally emerged in the United States in the mid-1990s, with the support of CNN and the long-term enthusiasm of journalists like Brooks Jackson, who ten years later founded at the University of Pennsylvania.

These initiatives took on global relevance in 2009, when PolitiFact and its founder, Bill Adair, won the Pulitzer Prize for their work verifying the disputed presidential elections between Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008.

In 2015, the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) was created, comprising 74 initiatives around the world. Its aim was to create a collaborative space to bring together fact-checking journalists from different countries to improve practices in this emerging form of journalism.

In order to maintain high standards in journalistic verification, the IFCN guides its actions under a strict code of ethics, which must also be followed by platforms that wish to be part of the network.

Its pillar is transparency, and therefore the research and its methodology must be extremely careful. Furthermore, the financing and administration of these platforms are open and their verifications are not modified according to the political or economic interests of the time.

Who are fact checkers and how do they work?

The platforms seek to verify the public discourse of political parties and opinion leaders, among others, so that the public can have access to data-based opinion for decision-making.

However, these initiatives cannot analyze all suspicious information, but only those that have become highly viral on the internet, especially on social media, or those that put a person’s life at risk.

After verification, the platforms publish the content as true, false, misleading or sustainable; these labels vary from country to country.

According to the coordinator of the Argentinean initiative Chequeado, Olvia Sohr, verifying information is not the only activity that these organizations carry out; some are also dedicated to education, innovation and automation.

In addition to Chequeado, one of the first in the region, there are other national initiatives, such as Bolivia Vera, Colombiacheck, Ecuador Chequea, Chequeado in Chile and El Sabueso in Mexico.

What are the challenges for verifiers?

Despite their recent creation, these platforms have managed to improve public debate in Latin America.

However, as an internet-dependent phenomenon, its operational challenges are undeniable.

First, funding for these initiatives is not stable, due to their nature and code of ethics, so they depend on different private actors who may, at some point, be affected by their publications.

This causes instability for organizations and their employees, which makes it difficult to sustain them in the long term.

Furthermore, the internet is a horizontal data flow platform, in which many private actors can get to know their tools and manipulate them according to their interests.

Influence operations are an example of this, as private actors disproportionately use social media to viralize certain types of content that, in most cases, are fake.

For this, the platforms, in addition to having journalists capable of analyzing and discerning the veracity of information, will also have to master issues of “big data” and algorithms to deal with these new modes of disinformation.

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