The role of fact-checkers in journalism was debated by organisations around the world at the recent Poynter Global Fact-Checking Summit in London.
Speaking at the event earlier this week, Bill Adair, Knight Professor of the practice of journalism and public policy at Duke University and creator of PolitiFact, asked the audience: "Are we activists? As fact checkers are we aggressively seeking these corrections?"
Fact-checking claims not people
Will Moy, director of Full Fact, a UK independent, non-partisan fact-checking organisation, emphasised that the role of fact-checkers was not to accuse people of lying.
"We check claims and not people – people are capable of making honest mistakes," he said.
"We are not aggressive, we are persistent [in getting information corrected]."
Lucas Graves, assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin, highlighted how there was a clear distinction between the goals of different fact-checking organisations.
"One version of the mission of fact-checking is to inform citizens, like factcheck.org does, but other fact-checkers emphasise the language of accountability, for example, Istinometer," said Graves.
"But what does it mean to hold someone accountable? What happens to that person?"
Graves added that some fact-checking organisations, such as Full Fact, take the process further, aiming to "repair the damage misinformation has done" by approaching news outlets and press offices for corrections.
Fact-checking in a warzone
Fact-checking organisations are most commonly associated with checking out politicians' claims particularly during election campaigns, but StopFake is an example of one organisation that was founded specifically to refute false claims in the media.
The site was started in March 2014 by alumni and students of Mohyla School of Journalism, who were growing frustrated with false information being spread about the military forces during the Crimean crisis.
Margo Gontar, co-founder and editor of StopFake, said: "It started with posts refuting different news stories with our evidence.
"Every week, we now do a weekly newscast refuting Russian news stories and people really like sharing these."
Gontar added that StopFake now has more than 60,000 followers on different social media networks, while the website receives around 50,000 visitors a day.
Despite this, the site receives its income through crowdfunding, while the team that work on it all have other jobs to support themselves, and do not have an office.
"People from around the world tend to send us $10 a time," explained Gontar, "but even though they give only small amounts, their support really helps.
"We get a lot of letters from Russians who are like, 'oh my I never knew my media was like this, there's no opportunity to get this information elsewhere'," she said. "Russia is our second largest audience base after Ukraine."
One of the goals of the organisation is to get their readers sharing articles where they have refuted false media stories, but as they are based in Kiev, not directly near the conflict, they also rely heavily on users' support – both to highlight information that needs verifying but also to help with the verification process.
"From the beginning, we've encouraged readers to send us any information they consider to be untrue and needs to be verified."
"Ukrainians, and Russians, needed some place they could come to to say 'I'm afraid of this information, I'm terrified, can you check it?'"
A fact-checking boom
Graves also spoke about how the fact-checking industry has grown dramatically over the last 20 years with currently 48 organisations doing fact-checking worldwide.
Fact-checking has become more prominent in broadcasting as well as in print, Graves added, highlighting a CNN news clip where a news anchor challenged Donald Trump over his claims that Barack Obama's Hawaii birth certificate was fake during the 2008 elections.
"You wouldn't have seen these confident factual challenges on TV 10 years ago but now you do, and it was research carried out by fact-checking organisations in this room that make challenges like this possible."
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