The year of the fact-check (no, really!)

In the early days of the fact-checking movement, we had a running joke in the PolitiFact office: “This is the year of the fact-checker!” It didn’t matter the year or the circumstance. The joke was that our movement had such momentum that every year was our year!

(The Washington Post and The New York Times quoted me saying this about 2012. Brian Stelter later said it about 2016.)

My prediction for 2023 sounds similar, but I’ve got reasons to back it up. I think it will be the Year of the Fact-Check.

Individual checks are now more important than the organizations that produce them. That reflects a steady increase in the use of fact-checks by tech companies and social media platforms.

Over the past few years, Facebook, Google, and YouTube have been using or highlighting them in helpful ways. (Disclosure: Google and Facebook have supported the work of the Duke Reporters’ Lab, which I direct.) Also, TikTok hires fact-checkers to provide services that help the app company make decisions about deleting false content.

The companies have come to an important realization, that fact-checks are more than just articles declaring whether a politician’s statement was true or false. Those articles are also data that can help the companies make smarter decisions about promoting accurate content or demoting falsehoods and identifying the users that spread misinformation.

Our work at Duke has helped that effort because we partnered with Google and Jigsaw to develop ClaimReview, a public tagging system that summarizes fact-checks and reduces the amount of guessing the tech companies have to do about their contents. We also created MediaReview, a new tagging system used for fact-checks about fake videos and manipulated images.

When fact-checks are labeled with ClaimReview (more than half are), the tech companies’ algorithms don’t have to make guesses about the content of an article. ClaimReview shows who is being checked, what they said, and whether the statement was rated true, false, or something else. That enables the algorithms to be more precise and, in turn, elevate or demote an article in search results or a news feed.

The problem, though, is that there simply aren’t enough fact-checks to address all the questionable content. We need more — lots more.

Last month, Google and YouTube took a big step in that direction when they announced a $13.2 million grant to the International Fact-Checking Network to pay fact-checkers. The IFCN hasn’t determined how it will distribute the money, but it’s likely it will lead to more fact-checks. In the coming year, I’m hopeful that other companies and foundations will also be inspired to pay for more fact-checks (and that Meta will continue with its Third-Party Fact-Checking Program).

A larger number of fact-checks will not only help the consumers who visit sites such as FactCheck.org and PolitiFact; it also will help researchers and app builders who are increasingly using the individual fact-checks as data. (Sometime next year, we will be posting the ClaimReview and MediaReview datasets so they are easier to use.)

If other tech companies will pitch in, we can dramatically increase the number of fact-checks. That will benefit all the companies by providing them with a broader dataset to make decisions about misinformation. That will make it the Year of the Fact-Check.

Bill Adair is founder of PolitiFact and the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University.

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