Crowdsourced vs in-house fact-checking in the age of misinformation overload

Crowdsourced vs in-house fact-checking in the age of misinformation overload

Rosie Hayes

Rosie Hayes
22nd August 2018

Where content is concerned, research is required.

In an age where terms like ‘alternative facts’ have become the norm, and most things are searchable on the Internet, it’s unsurprising that in accordance fact checking is rising in demand. Any individual or business that deals with content will at some point be faced with the need to use a piece of research, whether that’s a statistic or a claim (anecdotal). The use of research might be to inform an individual or their business, or might even be used as a part of an external campaign.

But these days not everything is trustworthy, even if the ‘fact’ is used frequently by large companies and seemingly trusted sources. Unfortunately, even if research has gained considerable traction, and might still be being used exponentially, doesn’t prove that it is true. In fact, by large outlets latching on to the information and spreading it further, questioning it can be a challenge, rectifying it even harder. People assume the information they are given is true, through no fault of their own other than the lack of impetus to question what’s available. Additionally, only 28% of scholarly literature is open access, meaning research itself is a private commodity. Without the funds to access in-depth academic research that might support or disprove information, this acts as another blocker to those needing to fact-check.

What does fact-checking involve?

Fact checking is a time-consuming activity that requires commitment to detail. Core aspects include:

  • Looking through newspapers, publications, TV, social media, and other outlets to find claims that can be checked
  • Primary sources are then used with the help of experts to understand the claim

But, if you’re using any piece of information it will be imperative to fact-check, whether that’s using crowdsourced fact-checking, or in-house. Both of these options face challenges around speed and complexity. Crowdsourced fact-checking has come into focus recently, and with Quora, Stack Overflow and Wikipedia as strong examples of how crowds can create and edit complex information spanning a range of topics it might appear like a viable option. But if we look to the disadvantages and the advantages of this method, we can see there are a lot of cracks showing in the idealised vision of citizen investigators; the main one being that they cannot actually be responsible for the actual fact-checking.

Crowdsourced fact-checking cons:

  • Claims are submitted and selected by a crowd
  • Can’t ensure a variety of claims are sourced from a variety of outlets
  • People donating time may be from a similar socio-economic group
  • Interesting topics will be fact-checked but less interesting ones might get sidelined

Crowdsourced fact-checking pros:

  • After the core fact-checking process is done, the crowd can help with submitting corrections, translations, promotion, and other activities

From looking at crowdsourced fact-checking, we can see that it tends to work best surrounding the fact check and not when the initial core research is being done.

What are the potential risks of using wrong information?

These risks could really vary drastically on a scale between barely any harm done and a complete disaster. If information used is likely to be contributing to major decisions of any kind, regarding strategy, purchasing, hiring, or anything else, this information needs to be verified. Likewise, if certain information is used externally by your business and it turns out to be false or fabricated, your reputation will be at stake.

How can people fact check?

Using the basic principles above under what does fact checking involve will give you an idea of how to implement a strategy. Whilst you may feel that there isn’t enough time or resource to carry out adequate fact-checking, remind yourself of the risks involved if you don’t. Although it is journalistic, LexisNexis has a guide to fact checking which may help. More fact checking resources are available online and there are plenty of books on the topic. Look at your own and your team’s schedule and see if you can allocate time dedicated to the process.

If you don’t have the expertise to verify a piece of information competently, experts working in that specialist area would be required to review it. Even if you can do substantial fact-checking in-house, don’t feel ashamed to reach out for help, especially from those with niche or detailed knowledge that could be intrinsic to your efforts.

See also:

The Reuters Institute’s research on Misinformation and Disinformation

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s disinformation and fake news inquiry

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