Fact-checking is far from a new phenomenon. In the international development sector, it is an integral part of Quality Assurance used to verify information and avoid spreading misinformation. It is also used to educate and empower communities. Fact-checking deserves to be adopted as a standard practice among report writers and anyone working with information.
Introduced in early 1900s, fact-checking was initially used by journalists to verify information presented in an article, such as names, quotations, dates or numbers, at first supposing that everything in the article was false. It was a way to ensure credibility of both the author and the publisher, and to avoid any embarrassment or legal action.
Defence against misinformation
Digitalisation has made fact-checking more difficult due to a significant increase in the number of sources and the amount of content. Today, anyone can be a publisher and express their views and opinions publicly and openly. With this, the traditional form of fact-checking has almost disappeared, and false information (or fake news) spreads more easily. The rise of misinformation, or inaccurate information that is either intentional or unintentional, is a major issue today.
By playing a watchdog role, among others, fact-checking aims to overcome misinformation and re-establish trustworthiness of information. It even promotes reliability of information in societies where it is difficult to access information, such as authoritarian regimes, war or post-conflict contexts. The Tunisian media Inkyfada uses information as a tool for democracy and civil society building by promoting slow journalism and focusing on reliable sources in a country where access to official sources can be difficult.
Quality Assurance practice
Solid Quality Assurance mechanisms in development organisations are incomplete without a regular practice of fact-checking. The practice can be as simple as verifying and cross-checking information with the most reliable source, whether that is a person, a document, or a website. Paying attention to and ensuring accuracy of details such as dates, names, locations, characteristics, financial data, as well as context, situational background, historical events, political, economic and/or social facts and figures, that may potentially cause controversy or undermine the entire piece of work, can help ensure the reliability of the content.
While the latter can be easily cross-checked against credible external sources such as national statistics offices and development agencies which work to collect, process, and consolidate data, the former may sometimes have to be verified directly with the person(s) who are best suited and well positioned to give verification. Remember to include supporting evidence where necessary.
A tool for education and empowerment
In some countries, fact-checking is becoming the domain for educating and empowering communities. In Ghana, GhanaFact aims to build a community of fact-checkers by introducing fact-checking tools and equipping community members with media literacy skills through targeted training in schools and development of educational content on the subject. Media literacy education, which covers fact-checking, indeed is becoming more popular in many other countries, and is often taught in schools and higher educational establishments. More than three hundred fact-checking websites, such as Africacheck, Gomaneh or Taabyyano exist today and are part of the international fact-checking network.