Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who fact checks the fact checkers? With politicians accused of playing fast and loose with the truth, and with “fake news” websites springing up to exploit political prejudices, many rely on the services of independent “fact checking” sites and organisations.

How long, then, before the term “fake fact checker” enters the political lexicon? If it’s easy to dupe someone into believing a website is a legitimate media organisation, then surely it’s easy to dupe someone into believing a bogus fact checking site is real? Plus, when confronted with a link to a fact checker, surely many people will simply dismiss the organisation as biased or selective in how it present the facts?

Would an international ‘fact checking’ agency be a good solution? It could be an independent federation made up of national fact checking websites and organisations. It could be a voluntary organisation, without any legal or regulatory powers, but with the resources to look at whether there is consistency across a broad range of independent fact checkers when it comes to particularly contentious stories or websites. Would this be a positive step?

To get a response, we spoke to Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive of the Index on Censorship, a campaigning organisation which aims to “raise awareness about threats to free expression and the value of free speech as the first step to tackling censorship”. We asked her if she would support the idea of an international fact checking agency or body. What would she say?

I think we shouldn’t rely on a magic bullet system – and certainly not one which involves regulation – to deal with the phenomenon of fake news. We’ve always had propaganda of varying sorts over the years, and trying to find either governmental mechanisms or individual organisations having mechanisms is not the way forward.

I think what we need to be able to do is ensure that users of information have the tools necessary to interrogate whether something is reliable or not. I think we certainly wouldn’t want to rely on a single fact checking organisation. As we’ve seen in the states, a number of fact checking organisations have popped up that, in and of themselves, are partisan. So, it’s not just about whether facts are true or not, it’s the way in which you present them that can also be problematic. For example, even if you have a fact checking organisation, it might choose to only present facts that support its particular side of the case. So, relying simply on one single fact checking organisation as the solution to this problem is also dangerous.

To get another perspective, we also spoke to Renate Schroeder, Director of the European Federation of Journalists in Brussels. What was her opinion?

Well, first of all, there is a lot of discussion around fact checking at the moment, and I think there are some excellent initiatives; for example, what I find good in Norway is that all the media, plus the public service media, have got together to do fact checking. So, it’s also not one media competing against the other ones, which has a positive impact.

For us, it’s very important that journalists are also involved, because previously it was part of the newsroom; fact checking is part, in a way, of the DNA of journalists. But, of course, we know also with the speed of internet and everything that it’s becoming more and more difficult. So, support is welcome.

Yet to have something at the international level reminds me a little bit of what the platforms are doing at the moment; Facebook, for example, they have a lot of fact checking groups [and] it’s not all positive. There has been quite a bit of criticism around that as well. So, again, you have to be very prudent about how these fact checkers are working. Under what conditions are they working? Are they trained? Are they journalists, or are they just some workers in India or Pakistan who are given 4-5 criteria and then they just delete things? So, the quality is tremendously important, but I think also the context. Because fact checking is never white or black, there is a lot of grey zone, there is a lot of connection with cultural aspects, and we don’t think there is such thing as ‘the one and only truth’.

So, fact checking is not so easy, and it’s maybe easier to start in a national context than to start in the international context. But I know that, in Europe, they are discussing [the issue of fake news], and specifically prior to the elections there’s a lot of nervousness, and things have to be done. So, any project is welcome, but – as I said – we think it’s important to do it in cooperation with journalists, and speed shouldn’t matter, and there shouldn’t be any legislation.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Gábor, who says he would like to see an international rating system of websites, based on how trustworthy they can be considered. Would a voluntary system of certification be a good approach?

How would Jodie Ginsberg from the Index on Censorship respond?

I think this runs into the same problems, which is that the idea that you should have a single body that can identify trustworthiness is problematic. Who decides what is trustworthy? That takes away, I think, some of the agency that’s necessary in the individual reader of news or the consumer of information that’s really important. So, knowing what are the indicators, if you like, that suggests something might be questionable are really important. But relying on an outsourced body to decide that is, I think, problematic.

What about Renate Schroeder from the European Federation of Journalists? What would she say?

It’s not easy to say, because what is an ‘international rating’? You would really have to know a little bit more what the criteria are. There are quite a lot of discussions at the moment, generally speaking but also in terms of journalism, about setting up trust initiatives. It may be a good idea, and you’d have to come up with some very general criteria, like transparency, accountability, self-regulation, we think also working conditions, and all that. But I don’t think it’s very easy, because it’s also a question of what do you want to rate: is it every single article? Or is it the whole website? Is it the owner behind the website?

So, there is a lot of discussion on that. It’s worth exploring. We would propose, for example, to have Source Transparency Indicators, because we think this is really the first thing to start with: transparency. It’s also maybe the least controversial one. From there you could go on, again, with prudence. But why not? We have to develop different strategies, and we are open at the moment to anything, but it has to be really discussed in all its details and by as many stakeholders as possible.

Would an international ‘fact-checking’ agency help stop fake news? Should websites be rated according to how trustworthy they are? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – digitalista; PORTRAIT CREDITS: Ginsberg – CC / Flickr – Index on Censorship


43 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Valentin

    No.But it will increase censorship.

    • avatar
      Max

      how exactly?

    • avatar
      Valentin

      buy eliminating every antisystem opinion on social media platforms,such as Twitter and Facebook. Main stream media is already under the government strict rules. Now the political apparatus wants to ditch the free speech off the internet. Same crap is in the USA.Read about Info Wars and Alex Jones.

    • avatar
      Paschalis

      common max… Seriously…

    • avatar
      Valentin

      do you have another argument?

    • avatar
      Nadya

      Valentin, this debate is about facts not opinions.

  2. avatar
    Michael

    If that were true religion would be dead by now.

  3. avatar
    Peter

    I am amazed how some people have their own version of facts. Facts are facts, how can there be a different version?
    As for the fact-checking agency, I think it would fail in the long run. But we should have agencies on a local or national scale that would post or publicly warn people that this article or news station is spreading lies and provide exact proof. I personally would ban any blogger, news station or reporter calling for murder, genocide or just spreading complete lies without any proof.
    Your rights end, when someone else’s rights begin.

    • avatar
      Riccardo

      There is no such thing as a “fact”: people see things in different ways, perceive events and things according to different sets of mind etc.
      There are some kind of “facts”, but they are “scientific” facts, measurements, experimental evidences, test rusults etc. and we describe them from a mathematical/physical point of view.
      Now, you see that not everything can be described scientifically. It’s a “fact” that the Earth is not flat, but it can’t be a fact that a politician did something, that in a certain part of the world workers are exploited, that we have to stop climate change etc. This kind of things needs “interpretation”, needs a point of view. You may describe every single atom of the body of a politician etc., this will get you a “fact”. Nonetheless, if he’s corrupted or he’s “just” trying to save a company of national interest, it’s a matter of interpretation, and there is no evidence that can help you.

    • avatar
      Peter

      Riccardo, yes there is.
      Let’s take the trickle-down economic system for an example. Many politicians are still trying to push it. We have observable FACTS that it doesn’t work. Why are they still pushing it? Because they want to profit, but the fact is, that they are lying about what is going to happen.
      Another example would be about what Israel is doing.
      This can be applied to almost every aspect of our society.
      Facts are facts, your point of view doesn’t change facts. The only way people see facts as something else is when someone is lying to them or they are choosing to ignore them

  4. avatar
    Gonçalo

    Quis custodies ipsos custodes?
    Who guards the guards? Can “fact checking” be a form of censorship?

    • avatar
      Max

      can it?

    • avatar
      Gonçalo

      Pravda means “Truth” in Russian. Pravda was the name of Soviet state newspaper.

      It was not very trustworthy believe me

    • avatar
      Stefania

      l’informazione deve essere fatta da giornalisti liberi pagati dallo Stato, nessun’altra entità può garantire la libertà all’informazione ma lo Stato deve avere dentro di sè gli organi che garantiscono la democrazia sostanziale quella descritta nella Costituzione italiana . I nostri padri costituenti avevano visto lungo

  5. avatar
    Gustav

    Yes, it could work to at least counter it. But it has to have a very short respons time, preferably hours, and it needs hundreds of thousands of followers who immediately seek out and drown that article in critical comments. Who comment and like each others posts, so that they are shown at the top.
    I follow a swedish group who try to counter hate, by linking articles with a lot of hateful comments, and then urge their members to post loving or reasonable posts. It works, and it drives the haters insane. It has 75k followers. I’m sure it could work against fake news, and I’m sure there are millions of europeans who would like to mess with extremist propaganda.

  6. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    National yes, international no!

    Such an institution if instituted would end up being run by the undemocratic, unaccountable, totally corrupt EU and producing the same biased bilge that the likes of the EU and EuroNews produces.

    • avatar
      Nadya

      And the facts that lead to this prediction and allegations are?

  7. avatar
    catherine benning

    Would an international ‘fact checking’ agency help stop fake news?

    The post following my comment is a comment today in the Daily Express British Newspaper written by a reader of the paper. Are you suggesting a ‘fact checking’ agency would or should be able to remove this persons right to free expression? To an opinion. One he/she believes must be opened up in order to reveal reality. Or, are you suggesting that some other unknown individual, part of an agency, must have the right to decide whether this person has his/her facts right? Or, has absorbed the conclusion the way they, the fact finders, have been advised is acceptable to their agencies agenda.

    Because, that is what you are advocating when you suggest in this thread, others will have the right or power to decide what ‘we’ should see and believe are factual. Have you ever listened to a group of witnesses to an event? All of them standing in the same location, all seeing it from a different point of view. All of them telling the absolute truth and giving the facts as they saw them. If you have then you know full well it is in the eye of the beholder.

    What you are calling for with this notion is complete censorship and permission to reveal. For next you will be suggesting to speak or reveal without former permission and scrutiny is unlawful.

    ————- Express Comment.

    If the referendum was “advisory” you may be right. It wasn’t and you’re wrong. According to the law it’s not treason but sedition that many of our MPs are guilty of. That and showing total contempt for the very people who pay their salaries and expenses. To ignore the democratic choice of the eligible electorate and to not follow the instruction given by that electorate would be at best, stupid. At worst, very, very dangerous. MPs voted to hold a referendum. MPs voted to implement Article 50 knowing that we would leave with or without a mutually acceptable deal in place. MPs voted for an Act of Parliament that gave our departure date as 29 March this year, with or without a mutually acceptable deal in place. 80%+ of MPs were elected on a manifesto platform of leaving the trading bloc, with or without a mutually acceptable deal in place. MPs voted for an Act of Parliament that puts into UK law 20,000+ pieces of enforced legislation from Brussels in preparation for the UK to be a an independent, self governing country, with or without any mutually acceptable terms in place. On 29 March this year the UK is going to leave the trading bloc, with or without mutually agreed terms in place, just as our MPs voted for.

  8. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    Sorry, another weird & unworkable idea! Control, control, control!

    Suppose it was meant and limited for all these political shenanigans at home & abroad?

    One singular event can easily be fact checked by anyone.

    A string of multiple events over time can’t- they become opinions, entrenched, legends, policies, treaties, romance and stereotypes. It is best left to historians to “fact check” them- some time in future.

    Superior education & critical thinking would help in the meantime & it’s mostly free.

    “If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”
    ― George S. Patton

  9. avatar
    Donata Pastore

    No, i think people need reading any news they want and eventually check if they are thruth or not independently…i don’t want others decide for me what i can or can’t see or read about any fact and i think it’s veryvery dangerous for democracy

  10. avatar
    Carole

    Good idea. Will help people realise not everything they read or hear is fact – my daily scare reading mum knows this already …but she still buys and reads them. 👀

  11. avatar
    Oscar

    No, It Will Just regulate news instead of maiking It more transparent. Thus creating a acceptable news that conforms with certain ideals

  12. avatar
    Luca

    ahaha I love european irony <3

  13. avatar
    Nadia

    What about better education systems?

  14. avatar
    Juan

    It is obvious that it would do nothing and would eventually be captured by one group or another. The issue itself of what is true or fake is blurry. One should thus forbid most political campaign messages

  15. avatar
    Boris

    I totally agree with Jodie Ginsberg.
    There’s a quote from the us debate over gun control which says “gun control is not about guns, is about control”. I think we can say the same thing about fake news and fact checking. The key is education. Give people the intellectual tools for understanding and filtering informations.

    • avatar
      jthk

      Few people can acquire sufficient knowledge to understand and filter information particularly when the elites and political leaders are deliberately concealing the fact with all sorts of national security things! Democracy is the “rule of the people”,”rule for the people”, “rule by the people”…Although everything is justified by the word “people”, what rules are set by the people? who rule for what people? and who the people who can rule? The actuality is that the word “people” has a limit, we are told who are the people not everyone belong to the “people”…

  16. avatar
    Ju

    Just turn off the TV, don’t read the papers or listen to the radio, problem solved.

  17. avatar
    Tom

    What is needed is more freedom for the internet , not less freedom .

    • avatar
      jthk

      More freedom to deliver fake news?

  18. avatar
    jthk

    There are so many new media. Nothing can do fact checking against fake news. More importantly, sovereign states would also deliver fake news. Very often, news are not fake but selectively delivered to mislead the public. For example the Canadian Government accused the Chinese government to have put to death a Canadian civilian/national. However, the Canadian civilian/national is not any Canadian but an agent of an international drug trafficking group which were trying to transport over 200 kg of drug to Australia. It is a large scale and organized international drug trafficking agent.

  19. avatar
    jthk

    Very often, it is the national leader who has been delivering fake news such as Trump had accused China of meddling in US midterm election, while Obama and the Democratic Party accused Putin to have meddling in US 2016 Presidential Election…Even more seriously, the US and its allies are accusing China to have colonizing Africa and leading countries to debt crises… how far are these be facts? How can we do the checking? Why fake news can proliferate and difficult to challenge? It is because the majority public is ignorant and vulnerable to fake news issued by political leaders, governments and big and well know media whom they have been putting so much trust and relying heavily on to acquire information and knowledge, which is, these leaders and media have largely failed their mission and betrayed the trust of their people, betrayed their professionalism together with social, political, commercial and all sorts of ethics…

  20. avatar
    jthk

    The Enlightenment Project to find fact has proved to have failed for there exist not only a single fact, when we are looking at an event from different angle/perspective, we can see different facts. Our problem now is that people have been stubbornly and firmly standing at the point where they deliberately selected when seeing/analyzing things, while rejecting and attacking all other views from different perspectives. This is against the so-called science or scientific research (imitating that of the natural science), upon which the knowledge of social sciences claimed to have been constructed. Even worse, very few of our social scientists and students are proud of their own perspective while ignoring and even attacking all others perspective…For example, I find it very shocking that a university professor and a US president, Barack Obama had openly claimed that “the United States and not China must write trade rules for Asia”: (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-obama-trade-idUSKBN0KU0BE20150121)
    Already it is questionable whether China is writing any trade rule for Asia. However, we have to admit that for thousand of years, China has been the “Middle Kingdom”of Asia, China has been writing trade rule of Asia is a fact. It is highly possible that the current rise of the New China is very like to write again the trade rule for Asia. Nevertheless, we need to question what right an American has to write the trade rules for Asia when the US is such a young country? As a matter of fact, the US has already been enjoying its privilege in writing and even dictating the world trade rule ever since the Cold War. What freedom we have with the hegemony of the US, which claimed itself respect freedom ,liberty and democracy. What kind of freedom and democracy the US has been offering the world? Only on grounds that everything should be for the American Greatness! Who is going to check all these misleading concepts and perspectives the global hegemon/leader has been delivering?

  21. avatar
    jthk

    When this debate is asking whether ‘fact checking’is helpful stop fake news, people have already putting forward censorship to confront the idea of checking. We can see how aggressive and hostile discourse is preparing to safeguard its supremacy at the expense of human rights, the right of knowledge, the right to learn the fact, the right to be protected against fake news!

  22. avatar
    Nadya

    Yes, I think it would. It would help public opinion have the facts. However, it will still be down to people to pay attention and get those facts. So, here is one such article on Boris Johnson which can help people make up their minds not only about him as a politician but also the Brexit campaign:

    “Brexit: Did Boris Johnson talk Turkey during referendum campaign?”
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-46926119

  23. avatar
    jthk

    If an international ‘fact checking’ agency is established, would it checks already the US President’s fake news delivered through the Twitter also? This unofficial type of delivering fake news by a US President is highly dangerous for the global political economy. We have seen several time this US President’s administration has been trying hard to rectify and cover up his stupidity… Why no one is criticizing? Even worse many political leaders are taking it seriously. Even washing powder had been used to justify the invasion of a sovereign state and Western allies had joined the invasion albeit the protects all over the world… European soldiers died just for washing powder!

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