In this blog post you will find a reflection on the fact-checking process of four students from the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Social Sciences. It was a really interesting and new experience to go through and we would surely recommend everyone who is just in the least bit interested in journalism, to go through this experience. Check out our video, where we very shortly present our impressions.
But let us start at the very beginning. At the start of the semester, our professor Igor Vobič began his lecture showing us various headlines of influential news websites, that were talking on how certain statements of well-known politicians turned out to be false after a thorough analysis and fact check. In a way it is a shocking revelation to understand that words of such important people in government cannot be trusted. Those headlines led us to discussions that, on the other hand, we are not surprised about it anymore. Somehow, our society managed to begin an era of ‘post-truth’, where our emotions become seemingly more important than facts. And in times like these, there have to be people working against it, trying to preserve factual truths.
While reading news and learning about different areas we are not familiar with, we always try to keep an open mind and stay a bit sceptical about new information until we do the research. But none of us ever did a proper fact check, so we weren’t sure how to tackle the matter. This is how we were introduced to the Eufactcheck project of the European Journalism Training Association (EJTA), who seek to tackle misinformation and build a more fact-sensible and responsible society. So for this semester it became our task to find statements and check them for their truthfulness and after forming teams of four people, we could start.
At first we were, of course, rather lost and were not sure where to begin and what to believe in. But the Eufactcheck project has prepared an amazing Fackchecking manual, that made the whole process organized and easily manageable. The manual included a flowchart that would allow us to go through the process step by step.
So we started out looking for facts that needed to be checked by us. Easier said than done. Once you start looking at everything with doubtful eyes, everything becomes suspicious and yet, you need to stay objective. But we managed to find a claim and started going through the flowchart to break our statement down into parts for analysis. Although the flowchart provided many helpful directions and became the base for our analysis, there were still many questions we encountered. The problem here was that the directions provided by the flowchart were more or less black and white, but the fact check process isn’t exactly like that. Considering each case is unique, different adaption of the flowchart is needed.
We needed to decide whether it was a quantitative or qualitative claim, if it was precise and factual or rather vague. We studied the relevance of geography and time period to our claim, we studied the author, what part of society they were coming from, their affiliation, the source the author used and their primary source. The decision between different options was not always clear and simple. For example, to detect whether geography is relevant we had to contextualise the claim by doing additional research.
After having done everything what we could on our own, we started the next phase of our factcheck – we started writing emails. We contacted the author to ask for their source and to give us more context. We also contacted several experts in the field and asked them to comment on the statement. The answers that we received were then turned into an article, explaining why our chosen claim was only mostly true. If we didn’t get a response from the experts or the answers were not clear enough, we had to do a thorough research ourselves. It was a bit more work for us, but on the other hand it made us understand the topic and its problems even more. And then we were done and were proud factcheckers, who managed to bring more light into this dark ‘post-truth era’.
Our second factcheck went in a similar way, with one exception. We only got a response from the author, but none of the experts replied. The author of the claim provided us with additional links and information about the field of interest and that was the base for our next step in research. That made us realize how much more complex a study of one topic is, if you have to do it by yourself without the help of an expert. Although it was a bit more work for us, it made us understand the topic and its problems even more. With the experience we gained from our previous factcheck, the first part of the process of the next one was much easier.
And just as we said in the beginning – we really do recommend this experience for anyone in the field of media and news, because it is a great feeling to find out the exact truth and be part of a movement, that keeps us from falling into complete non-factual darkness of assumptions and ideas based on emotions and personal beliefs. And again – make sure to check out our video and comment about your experiences with ‘post-truth’ and fact-checks!
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Gabriele Viktoria Skerath, Rebeka Sivka, Valentina Tušek, Nina Smole
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