TIPS FOR FACT-CHECKING DURING AN ELECTION

By Vincent Ng’ethe.

A number of countries will have elections in 2022, including Kenya, Chad, Angola, the Gambia, Mali, Congo, Libya, Senegal and others.  Here, Vincent Ng’ethe provides some tips to help you check the claims candidates make and keep misinformation at bay.

  1. Watch and listen

To catch misinformation, you have to listen for it. Watch political rallies, radio and TV talk shows, and social media posts. Make a schedule of shows so that you don’t miss any. Talk shows often advertise their guests on social media, so check ahead of time to see who will be featured.

2. Follow and tap into conversations and trends

Follow the news in order to understand the latest political arguments, buzzwords, talking points and trends. Some politicians, such as the president, are always in the news, while others appear more sporadically. People posting misinformation often follow these conversations in order to take advantage of elevated public interest in a certain event or person.

3. Make lists and queries

Create lists of social media accounts that share misinformation and check them frequently. Social media trends are often artificially created and many repeat actors are involved. Create queries of terms that are often used to make claims or incitement and create alerts so that you receive notifications.

4. Archive first

As soon as possible after hearing or reading the claim, archive videos, social media posts, web pages and documents where claims have been made, preferably before checking them. Often, checking a claim means contacting the person who made it to ask for evidence, and their first order of business after getting off the phone with you may be to delete it or edit out the offending snippet.

Note also that quotes of interest made in a live broadcast may not be preserved in the excerpts that are chosen for a news bulletin, and live streams may not be preserved.  Public figures can deny making remarks and they may get away with it if nobody has preserved a copy.

5. Select specific claims that are actually checkable

Be very specific about the exact claim you are checking. Ensure you are fact-checking verbatim quotes, not a paraphrased statement, which the speaker can deny making. Get a video or audio recording of a person making the claim.  If you are fact-checking a speech, check the speech as was delivered, not the original published version.

6. Guard your credibility

Perceptions of bias are fatal to your credibility as a fact-checker, so ensure that you are nonpartisan, and do not check claims by only one side of the political divide or a single political party. Try and check claims by all political candidates. Do not feel compelled to check a claim because there are demands to check it, rather check it because it measures up to your own rules for claim selectio (see an example from Africa Check here).

7. Collect credible evidence

Look for credible sources of evidence. Look at official statistics, peer reviewed research and reports from credible research institutions. Collecting them as you go means that you will spend less and less time checking claims as you gain experience, making it possible to check your claims faster, and in a more timely fashion. Often the ability to check a claim hinges on whether credible evidence against which to test the claim can be found. Lack of evidence may lead it being abandoned, so focus on the availability of evidence early in the process.

8. Identify and work with experts

You need experts to help you interpret data and also to explain why claims are accurate or inaccurate. They can also direct you to the best sources of information, or suggest other experts. Get to know as many credible experts in the field as possible (Africa Check recommends that you contact more than one expert when checking a claim). Ask the experts questions until you understand the data and the explanations properly.

If a particular field predominates your fact-checking work, such as epidemiology during the Covid-19 pandemic, national debt or human rights, knowing multiple experts means you can alternate between experts at busy times, reducing the frequency with which you call on any one. They’re busy people, so they’ll appreciate that.

9. Reach out

Tell the public that you are fact-checking claims during the election, and give them a means to contact you, such as a WhatsApp number or email. Growing a fact-checking community not only increases your readers, but provides feedback that will improve your work and challenge your biases. Lastly, they will also notify you of potential claims you could check.

10. Check

The most important part of the job. Once you have written your report, go through it meticulously. Ensure you have checked the correct claim, all your links lead to the correct sources, your numbers add up, and that you have correctly captured and understood what the experts said. Make sure you understand the report. Also come up with a fitting conclusion (See this Africa Check conclusion on reaching a verdict).

11. Publish

Most people, particularly politicians, do not appreciate being publicly corrected, so your fact-checking endeavors may not be enthusiastically welcomed. At all times maintain a cordial manner. Notifying public figures that you are checking a claim means they will not be taken by surprise when you eventually publish. Avoid sensational headlines or reports and stick to the facts. Ask makers of claims to consider making a correction, and point out the benefits to their credibility of admitting to, and correcting, an error.  It helps if you have a previous example of a correction to show them. Finally, if you receive backlash, do not feel free to engage in endless online back-and-forth. Do what you can, and let it drop.

Should you make an error…

As a fact-checker, who checks claims by others, your own work is closely scrutinized. Should you make a mistake, whether you notice it yourself, or it is brought to your attention, do not hide it. Instead, acknowledge and correct it publicly. It’s the least the public deserves.

Vincent Ng’ethe is an experienced journalist and fact-checking editor.