At least 34 political fact-checking groups operate throughout Europe, a report released by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) on 23 November showed.
In the West and North of Europe, fact-checking teams are predominantly part of established newsrooms, while in Eastern Europe they tend to be driven by NGOs.
The report, called "The Rise of Fact-Checking Sites in Europe", is based on interviews with more than 40 fact-checkers, site visits in eight countries in Europe, and an online survey conducted in August and September 2016 with responses from 30 organisations.
The authors, Lucas Graves, assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Federica Cherubini, head of knowledge sharing at Condé Nast International and previously a research associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, researched the types of fact-checking operations, their growth and how they see their role in relation to their audience.
Almost 75 per cent of survey respondents "agreed strongly with the statement 'we are journalists'", and 40 per cent "agreed strongly with the statement ‘we are activists’".
Some 43 per cent of respondents also said their primary goal was either "improving the quality of public discourse" or "holding politicians accountable".
The report pointed to France as an example of a media environment where fact-checking operations are part of legacy newsrooms. Les Décodeurs, Le Monde's fact-checking blog, began as a two-person operation but now counts ten people in its team and produces around 15 fact-checks a month.
Les Décodeurs has also become Le Monde's data journalism hub, the report explained, with the team producing analytical stories as well as charts and graphics.
But the majority of fact-checking sites that operate permanently, as opposed to around events such as elections, do so outside the newsroom.
Across Eastern Europe, fact-checking sites are independent, backed by NGOs or affiliated to an academic institution, although similar organisations exist in other parts of Europe, such as Full Fact in the UK or Pagella Politica in Italy.
"Most fact-checkers in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union are based in NGOs concerned with democratic institution-building: fighting corruption, promoting civic engagement, and establishing a culture of political accountability," the authors wrote in the report.
"FactCheck Ukraine offers a typical example. ‘We see fact-checking as part of the project of the civil reform movement,’ said project head Igor Korkhovyi. ‘The main idea of our fact-checking is to involve average people into the process of accountability of officials, and monitoring their rhetoric and combating populism.’
"The project is attached to a ‘civil and political school’ which offers classes to both public- and private-sector employees with the goal of building a professional administrative sector."
And while many fact-checkers rely on partnerships with established media outlets to publicise their work, independence from legacy news organisations can be an advantage towards being seen as more credible by the audience.
Worldwide, 113 fact-checking teams are active today, with 90 per cent of them having been established since 2010, according to the Duke Reporter's Lab database cited in the report.
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