Fact-checkers, researchers urged to balance reportage to combat fake news effectively

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FACT-CHECKERS have called on academic researchers to put more efforts in making their output relevant to disinformation experts.

Academic researchers on the other hand have implored fact-checkers to acquire knowledge on researching while employing it in writing fact-checks.

This was emphasized in a report on a recent survey on fact-checking carried out by Angie Drobnic Holan, the IFCN director.

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“Fact-checkers said they had good awareness of most research about fact-checking, but not overwhelmingly so: 78% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that they were aware of most of the research that exists about fact-checking,” she stated.

“Among fact-checkers, 73% said that academics could do more to make their work relevant to fact-checkers, while only 54% of academic researchers said that.”

“Conversely, 69% of academic researchers agreed or strongly agreed that fact-checkers needed to do more to learn about research and incorporate it into their work, while only 17% of fact-checkers felt the same way. This indicates disagreement between fact-checkers and academic researchers about which community has more responsibility to build bridges with the other,” she added.

Establishing the participation of academic researchers in the study of fact-checking, the report highlighted that most researches rather focus on the effectiveness: whether fact-checking correct and reduce the influx of false beliefs.

“Academic researchers have studied fact-checking since the recent wave of fact-checking organizations launched in the early 2000s. Many of their studies focus on fact-checking effectiveness — whether fact-checking corrects false beliefs and under what conditions. Other studies examine specific methods for debunking false information. Still others focus on topical fact-checking, such as the recent COVID-19 epidemic.”

“Many academic researchers apply rigorous statistical measurements to empirically grounded samples. This research regularly appears in peer-reviewed journals, further validating these research methods,” it stated further.

Part of the fact-checking research survey.

Participants of the survey, which comprised of primarily fact-checkers who are part of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and academics who participate in the combating fake news listserv found academic research highly useful to their work.

Participants rated most types of research as either “very useful” or “useful.” Among the types of research most often deemed “very useful or “useful” were: Research on the effectiveness of new formats for fact-checking (video fact-checks, graphics, illustrations, multimedia, etc.) stood at 87%.

Studies of how misinformation spreads at 84%. Studies of the audience for fact-checking (people’s openness to correction, demography, sharing behavior, etc.) was at 82% while experimental studies testing the effectiveness of fact-checking in correcting false beliefs at 80%.

Participants also highly valued more topical research and selected studies on the fact-checking of elections and voting as the most valuable.

The percentages of participants who found the value of topical studies included as “very useful” or “useful” were: Elections and voting at 89%. Climate change at 85%. Vaccines at 81%. Health care at 78%. Political polarization at 74%.

While responding to the topics that need more fact-checking research, the most commonly requested topics centered around questions of fact-checking effectiveness, such as the impact of fact-checking on media consumption; whether fact-checking is effective at countering propaganda; and how effective fact-checking is on social media. Other requests for more research centered on professional issues such as training and tools, artificial intelligence and gender issues/LGBTQ+ issues.

Suggestions provided for improvements to both research and fact-checking includes; researchers and fact-checkers should work together more closely in order to create studies that have practical applications to fact-checking work.

The report noted that more research is needed for non-English-speaking contexts, especially in India and Latin America.

It noted that research needs to be more accessible to fact-checkers, either by removing journal paywalls or by including action-step summaries, adding that researchers and fact-checkers need more in-person or live interactions at conferences and other meetings to facilitate communication.

The report also highlighted that the fact-checking community should regularly use research that is crafted for general audiences, such as “The Debunking Handbook.”

“An editor could assign fact-checkers to read the material, which is very accessible, then convene a group discussion on how fact-checking reports might follow some of the handbook’s recommendations.

“Additionally, the International Fact-Checking Network could report and write more regularly on academic research that is particularly applicable to fact-checking journalism while conducting online question-and-answer sessions with individual researchers for the benefit of fact-checkers and other interested communities.

“The network could also serve as a convening power to bring academics and fact-checkers together for conferences or regular webinars,” Holan said.

While emphasizing on the importance of impact between the academic and fact-checking communities, the report concluded that fact-checkers should acknowledge that they need to apply more effort to finding and integrating research findings into their works.

Fact-checker at The FactheckHub | [email protected]

Seasoned fact-checker and researcher Fatimah Quadri has written numerous fact-checks, explainers, and media literacy pieces for The FactCheckHub in an effort to combat information disorder. She can be reached at sunmibola_q on X or [email protected].

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