Credit: Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Non-profit fact-checking organisation First Draft has launched a campaign to help train journalists across the United States in verification techniques ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

CrossCheck follows on from past fact-checking projects around the world where journalists were trained to spot and verify mis- and disinformation during electoral campaigns.

The US project will host masterclasses in identifying, verifying and reporting on false online claims. It is also planning an ‘election crisis’ simulation set two days before polling day, to see how they cope with outbreaks of false information in a controlled environment.

First Draft has already held its first event in New York City, attended by the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN. Further events are planned across the country over the coming months targeted at national, regional and local news organisations, as well as journalism schools.

Claire Wardle, co-founder of First Draft, explained that regional newsrooms need to learn from the tactics adopted during the 2016 US presidential election.

“One of the tactics was reaching out to local journalists pretending to be a source, getting into local community groups, trying to drive protests, so local newsrooms are vulnerable," she said.

Collaboration the key to combatting false content

Since first launching in 2017, the initiative has been rolled out in countries like France, Brazil and Nigeria ahead of their respective elections, enabling newsrooms to collaborate towards verification.

Wardle said, when it comes to tackling the issue of mis- and disinformation, newsrooms must look to collaboration to achieve a common cause.

“We don’t think it makes sense for newsrooms to be competitive when it comes to helping audiences navigate information disorder. It doesn’t make sense to have 25 newsrooms all debunking the same meme.”

Over the next few years, the organisation aims to develop a global platform to have CrossCheck operate on a wider scale and beyond the limited period of an election campaign.

“We can’t just keep doing election specific projects and then disappear. The hope is this will be an ongoing collaboration that will exist past the 2020 election," she said.

Newsrooms vulnerable to mis- and disinformation due to lack of training

A report by the Institute from the Future, published earlier this year, found that just 15 per cent of reporters at US regional and national publications had received training to combat false information. As a result, the press and wider audiences are too easily mislead.

“Three years ago, newsrooms might have said ‘We need to get our social media desks trained up', but now all reporters are vulnerable to false information and so training needs to become a newsroom-wide endeavour," she explained.

But you do not need to be an expert in geolocation to be an effective fact-checker. Simple skills like reverse image searching and checking the sources of tweets are just as important.

“This is not necessarily about fact-checking, this is just making sure your reporting isn’t compromised by people who are trying hoax you," Wardle added.

Given the widespread nature of false claims on social media, she stressed that skills in verification and fact-checking should be a core part of any curriculum for aspiring journalists.

These skills need to go beyond simply telling audiences whether the content is true or not; it is also about accuracy and trustworthiness. False information and misleading content is already beginning to feature as the UK enters its own election campaign.

Journalists too need to be careful what content they amplify, as they risk inadvertently giving a platform to false content.

"We have to be aware that even debunks sometimes can be doing the work of the agents of mis- and disinformation," she concluded.

Learn how quality journalism can thrive in a fake news-era at on 27 November at Reuters, London. Head to for the full agenda and tickets

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