Information disorders have no borders, and the case of the Russian-Ukrainian war illustrates a dynamic where manipulated contents travel from one country to another while also being able to stick to national contexts. The University of Bergen’s study highlights the main challenges faced by the Nordic fact-checkers, which they share with fact-checkers worldwide.
The research work engaged in the University of Bergen as a part of the NORDIS hub was focused, for two years, on the fact-checkers’ needs in terms of resources and tools to work on technological solutions that are likely to support them in their daily work. Last year, we published a report on the user needs of the Nordic fact-checkers, which emphasised three overall needs in fact-checking technology: blending the tools with journalistic and fact-checking ethical values, keeping a human-in-the-loop approach, and being transparent on the processes upstream AI-based technologies. However, uses are context-dependent and fact-checking political discourses, climate change, the pandemic, or the war in Ukraine involve different levels of resources and tools.
During interviews with the fact-checkers, we found several specific challenges: the difficulty in accessing reliable sources on either side of the conflict, the language barriers, and the return of the troll factories in the context of war propaganda. The intrinsic characteristic of war disinformation is that it relies on propaganda and audio-visual manipulated content. At the same time, particular needs emerged: understanding the context, developing a nuanced approach that goes beyond the Western vision and bias, and developing or reinforcing exchanges with the global community of fact-checkers. Considering that information disorders have no borders and that fact-checking the Russian-Ukrainian war is not solely an activity performed by the Nordic fact-checkers, we wanted to understand to what extent their preoccupations were shared among other fact-checking organisations worldwide.
Hence, we launched an online survey during the GlobalFact9, organised in June 2022, in Oslo, by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). Eighty-five fact-checkers from 46 countries answered it. Most respondents recognised themselves as fact-checkers and journalists (41.18%), while 34.12% defined themselves as fact-checkers and 21.18% as journalists. 80% worked for a fact-checking organisation, 38.82% for a news media organisation and 7.06% for an OSINT organisation, reflecting the variety of the global fact-checking movement. The respondents had the possibility to select several answers and about a third said their organisation belonged to mix-models. According to their answers, information disorders related to the war mainly relate to audio-visual content (78.83%). Did they estimate benefiting enough tools to fact-check these contents? Answers were mitigated, as 52.44% said “No”.
The main identified challenges meet the results of our preliminary interviews: accessing reliable sources came at the top, followed by understanding the language and finding experts. However, results show some differences within the group of the Nordic fact-checkers, as they indicated that their third significant difficulty was related to providing context.
Respondents had the opportunity to comment on their answers. From these answers, it appears that a lack of accessibility makes the war complex to fact-check and that propaganda is the most complicated form of information disorder to fact-check. Additionally, although many tools are available to assist human fact-checkers, the question of “which one to use” is pregnant, as well as the limited accuracy of the translation tools. Fact-checkers also underscored that the tools can’t help to understand the context.
The full results of this quantitative survey are available at: https://ohmy.shinyapps.io/globalfact/
These results and the qualitative part of our research, which consisted of interviews with fact-checkers, were presented in Toronto, on May 25, at the ICA Pre-Conference on the Global fact-checking movement. They will also be presented at MediaFutures on Monday, June 5, during the Future Week organised at Media City Bergen.