Fact checking in the time of Web

In the time of Web, news come much faster than years ago. Can few journalists under harsh deadlines of hours really check factual assertions in order to determine they are true? I guess the question boils down to two different ones: (1) is a timely fact-checking possible? (i.e. what is really happening, for instance, in the Niger Delta for oil?) and (2) if this is possible, can few journalists from their offices check if what is mentioned in a certain “report” is really happened?

The issue (fact-checking) is not new of course but can be dated back to the first newspaper. What is new is the fact we now live in a global world and the Web let news to spread faster and faster.

I made a short investigation to see if there is any user-generated, bottom-up, web2.0sque attempt to fact check in the time of Web. Of course there is. Following a list of what I found:

1. FactCheck.org and FactCheckEd.org, two attempts by Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. FactCheck.org is a non-partisan, nonprofit website that describes itself as a “‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.”
2. WikiFactCheck.org, a proposal by Andrew Lih, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and author of “The Wikipedia Revolution: How a bunch of nobodies created the world’s greatest encyclopedia”. In a blog post he explains why he believes a wiki is perfect for the task of decentralized fact-checking.
3. Truth-o-meter by PolitiFact.com. PolitiFact.com was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2009 for “its fact-checking initiative during the 2008 presidential campaign that used probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters.”
4. The fact checker project by the Washington Post. This is a more traditional attempt but made available in the wild on a public website. During 15 months, Michael Dobbs have checked some 200 claims and statements relating to the presidential campaign, and received 18,000 comments, many of them vehemently disputing his verdicts. He used Pinocchios as markers of un-truthiness.
5. Fact and Reference Check project by Wikipedia. Wikipedia itself has a WikiProject about this important issue. The purpose of this project is to verify facts in Wikipedia by multiple independent sources. Basically there are templates that anyone can add to articles so that these articles end up in categories such as Category:Wikipedia articles needing factual verification, Category:Articles lacking sources, Category:Articles needing additional references Category:Articles lacking reliable references or Category:Articles with unsourced statements.

UPDATE 2010/11/18: Thanks to a comment by sergio maistrello about factcheck.it, I came to know the following ones, thanks Sergio!

Do you know of more attempts? You are very welcome to add them in the comments. Thanks!

3 thoughts on “Fact checking in the time of Web

  1. sergio maistrello

    Paolo, check on the right sidebar of FactCheck.it (a “blog-notes” that I set up with a bunch of friends): you’ll find some lists of world and local factchecking/watchdogging sites and initiatives. (Thanks for WikiFactCheck, that I was missing)

  2. paolo Post author

    Thanks Sergio! I updated the list.
    I also thank you for factcheck.it!!! Unfortunately in Italy we currently have a more basic issue: most journalists are not free to write what they would like, if they want to keep their job.
    When we will solve this, we will think also about fact-checking. Sadly.

    Or as Travaglio puts it:
    Se in America il giornalismo è il cane da guardia del potere, in Italia è il cane da compagnia. O da riporto.


    But thanks for factcheck.it!!!

    we both know, I guess, that fact-checking in Italy is not too much of an issue since
    it Italy fact-checking is really too far away from reality when we have no more a minimum of free journalism, so your attempt is really needed!)

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