May 30, 2023

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In infodemic times it’s good to think about fact-checking

Far from unanimity, the practice of fact-checking raises epistemological questions that lie at the heart of both journalism and the sociology of science. An analysis of a corpus of scientific articles during the Covid-19 pandemic reveals that there are multiple approaches to studying fact-checking, an environment conducive to the development of this practice. Fact-checking has always been a central practice of journalistic practice. However, modern fact-checking, i.e. the systematic practice of checking political statements, hoaxes, rumours, etc. As a means of combating misinformation, it has grown in strength since the 2000s. President Donald Trump was elected in the United States), and since 2020 in the context of epidemics due to the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus.

The Covid-19 pandemic: a favorable environment for the development of fact-checking

Indeed, in the “infodemic” about Covid-19, many newsrooms and news media, watchdogs and regulators, research institutes, the United Nations and the World Health Organization have taken efforts to combat disinformation by identifying and trying to refute fake information. news. Organizations and groups dedicated to fact-checking (, First Draft, PolitiFact, Taiwan Fact-Check Center, PesaCheck, BoomLive, Dubawa, Lead Stories, Pagella Politica,, etc.) also worked on fact-checking. Content.

At the time of writing, the Coronavirus Facts Coalition was formed by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), which has conducted more than 17,000 tests in 40 languages ​​and gradually mobilized fact-checkers in 110 countries. Initiatives such as Calypso (Collaborative Analysis and Dissemination of Disinformation, 2021-2022), where this study was conducted under the European Commission in response to DG Connect/2020/5464403, have also emerged.

Functional approach

The functionalist approach to verification is based on Durkheim’s definition of “function” as the correspondence between the needs of an entity and the social organism, i.e. the former’s contribution to the life of the organism as a whole. In this context, the functionalist approach to fact-checking calls into question its effectiveness in the context of information chaos. These types of articles are mainly based on empirical studies. They introduce variables that try to understand the role of patterns and methods (let’s call this a “top-down” approach), for example, the length of alerts, metrics, or reality checks.

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Other studies look at information “consumption,” perceptions, audience motivations, and how they interfere with the effectiveness of fact-checking. For example, a question to explore the role of trust in sources or the political affiliations of those for or against verification, or the importance of emotions in sharing fact-checks (a bottom-up approach). Research on automated (or semi-automated) techniques falls into this category, as these papers typically discuss the performance of proposed models and algorithms (deep learning, etc.).

Organizational approach

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The institutional approach focuses on fact-checking as a professional activity and examines the environment, infrastructures and working methods, i.e. newsrooms and other organizations (fact-checking companies, digital social media, etc.) and the practices, strategies and perceptions underlying this practice. .) sometimes between different countries. They highlight the complexity of the links between the material and symbolic dimensions of fact-checking. In this sense, institutional approaches mainly focus on the relationships and interactions between journalists/fact checkers, their working practices, for example, the grids and criteria used, the preferred themes, their funding sources and their opinions. in their own action.

A competitive practice

However, voices are being raised against the overwhelming expectations of fact-checking and a certain interest in our contemporary societies in this practice. They point to fundamental problems associated with the latter: its epistemic legitimacy, the logistics of its operation, its inherent biases and limitations of its effectiveness, its alleged objectivity and its difficulty in taking into account the ambiguities of complex realities, etc.

Checking facts questions the rules that determine them and the way the material, social, and discursive contexts structure the investigation of truth. However, as others have pointed out, reservations about the limitations of the verification process do not mean that the effort should be abandoned. Research on fact-checking: Three approaches, three themes. If academic research was very early interested in fact-checking, the pandemic years consolidated scientific interest in the subject.

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Our analysis of 120 research articles (“fact-checking” in English and its derivatives) published in academic journals between 2020 and 2022 confirms that research on this subject transcends environmental and societal concerns. In the field of public health. In fact, the most frequent keywords during this period are: “Covid-19”, “misinformation”, “social media”, “health”, “politics”, “risk”, “education”, “vaccines”, etc. Of course, other aspects related to fact-checking were also explored (electoral contexts, immigration, etc.) The analysis also revealed that there are three approaches to study fact-checking with premises and specific basic research questions: functional, institutional, cognitive. Beyond the simple “for or against” stance, beyond fact-checking—and beyond the already old—question of the relationship to truth, the research reveals the problems this practice currently raises. These approaches are summarized below, with examples of work.

Epistemic approach

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This position analyzes the understandings and structures that shape fact-checking as a symbolic construct, an object of knowledge and research. Obviously, all scientific articles reflect the meaning and definition of fact-checking and fact-checking, but this purpose is not necessarily their main purpose; However, in this respect, it is. Fact-checking is read here in a “meta” approach, i.e., scientific validity, social meanings (in this case underlying beliefs about existing knowledge), acceptance by audiences, skills and abilities are both imperative, and sometimes critical. Echoes of debates about the interest and relevance of fact-checking, and the questions it raises for science, especially its relationship to truth, can be felt in some of these works. When combined, academic research studies in these three main approaches to fact-checking (functional, institutional, intellectual) tend to reveal three thematic areas that define fact-checking as an object of scientific inquiry.

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Practices and procedures of fact checkers/practitioners;

– tools, techniques, methods and protocols: human, automated or semi-automated;

– Approaches to understanding the meaning of fact-checking, its role or its effectiveness.

Inevitably, several approaches and themes may overlap in a single essay and the classifications proposed here constitute only “ideal categories” in the Weberian sense, underscoring their most important elements. Although the analyzed corpus is certainly far from complete and is limited to literature in English, these observations allow a better understanding of the debate on fact-checking and the contributions of research on the topic of this practice. Unanimously.

The original version of this article was published Conversation