Por Laura Zommer - 23 de febrero de 2021
We are not just saying it, we are proving it: fact-checking works
It doesn’t matter if we’re in Argentina, Brazil, the United States, the Philippines, India, South Africa, Turkey, Spain or the United Kingdom. Fact-checkers from all over the world usually receive the same critiques. The questions asked in all languages — with better or worst manners and more or less irony — are essentially these two: “Is what you do useful at all (if the misinformation phenomenon is getting worst every day)?” and “Are you really unbiased?”
When talking about the growth and expansion of fact-checking around the world, the words “impact” and “independence,” or “autonomy,” pop up every single time. However, there’s not enough research about it, especially outside the United States and some European countries.
At Chequeado, the first organization dedicated to verifying public discourse in Argentina, Latin America and the global South, we’ve asked ourselves those same questions since we started in 2010. Everywhere we looked, there were signs and casuistry that kept us optimistic and helped us to continue with our task. However, we don’t think it’s right to demand of others something different than what we demand of ourselves. Therefore, we decided to invest on independent researchers, so they could answer those questions with evidence and data.
When we asked two years ago Dr. Ernesto Calvo (University of Maryland) and Dr. Natalia Aruguete (National University of Quilmes) to measure the impact and role of Chequeado during the 2019 Argentine presidential campaign with the methodology that they believed was best, we took a chance and assumed a risk. They would publish their findings no matter what — and they were not big fact-checking fans.
“Why are we doing this? What happens if the results are bad?,” were the questions asked by some members of Chequeado’s team. “What if, even though we think we are unbiased and judge everyone with the same yardstick, data show that this is not the case?,” asked others. For me, there was only one answer: “If the results are bad, we will change. It’s better to know and not waist our time and many people’s money.” The results were good. Now, not only can we say that fact-checking works; we also proved it. We even have data to show and convince the most incredulous.
According to the results of the research we summarize today and that, we hope, will be published in a more extensive paper, people don’t necessarily change their opinions when Chequeado says that something is wrong, but they do change their behavior. Our intervention reduces the incentive to share content that is misinformative or divorced from evidence.
And not only that. According to Calvo and Aruguete, these results were shown in both sides of the political and vernacular divide. This means that supporters of the Frente de Todos and Juntos por el Cambio reacted similarly to Chequeado’s publications. We were a legitimate source of information for the two main political parties of Argentina’s last electoral dispute.
Results do not only present good news for fact-checkers, they also offer improvement opportunities if we wish to increase our impact. For instance, they reveal that “intermediate rankings” — like “Misleading” — generally cause the same reactions as “False;” that people would rather share an article considered “True” than a “False” one; and that each time we point out to someone that something is not how they thought it was, their opinion about our brand or organization gets lower.
The research involved a national and representative survey conducted to 2040 participants that included three modules and five experiments, the analysis of Twitter activity around Chequeado’s publications and the fact-checks’ topics between September and December of 2019, and the study of the consumption and viralization of everything that Chequeado posted on its social media networks between June and December of 2019. We believe that making these results public is a contribution for the legislative campaign of 2021.