08. Fact-checking

In this age of social media, inaccurate reporting and post-truth, fact-checking has become an extremely common topic in newsrooms.

A brief history of fact-checking

Fact-checking appeared in the 1990s in the United States and was initially a practise primarily used by investigative journalists. It gradually developed within digital newsrooms over the years 2000-2010 to counter the widespread misleading information found online, on social media and conspiracy theorist sites, and even sometimes from the mouths of political leaders.

In the UK, virtually all newsrooms have journalists who specialise in fact-checking. Using online tools and precise methods, they do their utmost to settle debates that are often technical and difficult to define. The teams that are most well-known for this work are probably Reality Check by the BBC and Full Fact, an independent British fact-checking organisation. There are also some websites that specialise in working on conspiracy theories, such as Snopes.

A quasi-scientific practice in which saying “I do not know” is acceptable

The approach used in fact-checking uses the quasi-scientific methods derived from the Anglo-Saxon journalistic tradition, rather than following the literary approach used in other journalistic cultures, such as French. No more qualms, no more taking political positions, no more giving a voice to all those involved in an issue.

From now on, facts are king and a fact is something proven, precise and defined. Fact-checkers only rely on documents (texts, images, photos, videos, reports, etc.) to confirm or disprove issues discussed within the company. If an issue cannot be resolved, they follow their investigation through to the end and present their findings to the public, while being prepared to admit that they do not have all the answers. 

Fact-checking in the age of inaccurate reporting

In order to be able to verify facts, people must still agree that they represent a form of truth. In this post-truth age which has seen a strong resurgence of conspiracy theories, it is difficult for fact-checkers to do their work in peace.

In recent years, fact-checking has been criticised regularly. Moreover, it had no significant impact on the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom or the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, two votes for which the campaigns were particularly polluted by misleading information.