The elections in Argentina, which occurred during the fall of 2019, offered a perfect opportunity to develop a collaborative project to fight against election disinformation. We based our project, Reverso, on lessons learned by colleagues elsewhere who had to deal with similar challenges during elections in their own country.
We wanted our project to be capable of surprising those who were already familiar with initiatives of this sort.
In order to pull it off, we needed to figure out what to do differently, while incorporating the things that others had done well. The consortium, led by Chequeado (my home organization), Agence France-Presse (AFP), First Draft and Pop-Up Newsroom, in collaboration with more than 100 other news organizations, also sought to add value to the space by identifying what things worked for Reverso that could help others, too.
What we’ve been working on
We've explored using the Google Assistant — a platform that was unknown to most of the team. Incorporating our fact-checks into every space that people use has always been one of the objectives of Chequeado since its inception in 2010, and it became a goal of Reverso as well.
Although we are still developing the technology, we believe that what we have learned with this experiment will allow us not only to be leaders in the field, but also to add clarity as to how this human to “robot” voice-based process of back-and-forth communication works — one on which the world’s media is betting.
We also know that in Argentina WhatsApp is part of the day-to-day activities of our audience, both in the home and at the workplace. We know this because they send us content to have it fact-checked, as misinformation circulates on this chat platform. We thought, “What better way to join the conversation than to use the same system that millions of Argentinians use to communicate with each other: WhatsApp audio messages?” Therefore, every Friday we recorded — and sent to those who requested it — an audio with fact-checked content using the conversational tone a friend would use, and the same background noise and sound quality. The result was very positive.
“I share it because it’s easy” is the answer that people frequently give when asked why they shared something that was probably fake or questionable. With “La desinformación en primera persona” (Disinformation in the first person), a series of fact-checking reports and videos focused on victims of disinformation, we seek to shed light on the damage caused by thoughtlessly sharing content. Not only does this hurt celebrities and politicians, but also ordinary people who, despite not being exposed because of their vocation or line of work, are harmed because disinformation about them rapidly goes viral. These are videos of people like Nayruvi De León, a delivery woman with a company called “PedidosYa,” who does not take her baby to work as many are saying, have created a great deal of buzz on social media.
Ella es Nayruvi De Leon. Vos la conoces como la chica de PedidosYa, pero acá te cuenta mas sobre quién es y cómo se vive ser víctima de la desinformación. pic.twitter.com/LrC0XePp2s— Pablo M. Fernández (@fernandezpm) October 11, 2019
Another challenge we have faced when fighting against disinformation has been how to incorporate technology into our work before those who spread disinformation do.
Mindful of the importance of audio messages in the Argentine WhatsApp ecosystem, we wanted to find a way to analyze the audios — using scientific principles — to determine whether the person in an audio was actually who they seemed to be. After a search that took months, together with the Laboratory of Sensory Research (LIS), part of Argentina’s National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (Conicet), and using its tool Forensia, we were able to fact-check five audio messages with a degree of certainty we lacked when using other techniques.
Finally, we thought it was important to have an appealing advertising campaign that would draw our audience to such a complex issue as the fight against mis- and disinformation. In addition, we wanted this piece to help us make better use of our airtime on television channels that are members of Reverso, and therefore sharing this message for free.
The good news was that advertising agency BBDO agreed to develop a video for Reverso with the message “Disinformation may come from anywhere. Don’t let it come from you.” Using deepfake techniques and humor, the agency managed to create a video that was organically shared on social media by media outlets, journalists and all sorts of editorial lines. The video was recently awarded three prizes by Círculo de Creativos Argentinos, and has drawn attention to our organization.
Pablo M. Fernández is the Director of Innovation at Chequeado and Editorial Co-Director at Reverso.
Graphic by Reverso.