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To make fact-checking go viral, ’silence is golden’

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To make fact-checking go viral, ’silence is golden’

Oren Levine | December 20, 2017

When it comes to compelling videos, silence is golden.

This was one of the key insights from the recent TruthBuzz webinar led by two experts in fact-checking and creative storytelling. The webinar featured Giovanni Zagni from Italy's Pagella Politica and Catherine Gicheru from Kenya's PesaCheck, and was moderated by ICFJ Director of Innovation Oren Levine.

Pagella Politica

Pagella Politica earned the top prize in the ICFJ TruthBuzz fact-checking challenge for its series of short time-lapse videos that use text on a blackboard to verify the statements of Italian politicians. These videos are just one part of an active fact-checking operation that publishes its findings in a variety of formats on the web and social media, and even appears weekly on Italian television to verify statements of politicians with their subjects present in the studio.

According to Zagni, Pagella developed the short time-lapse videos after discovering that the majority of their users prefer to watch videos without sound. These 1-minute videos proved to be more popular, and cheaper to produce, than earlier campaigns featuring longer animated videos. The shorter videos, however, require them to carefully choose facts that can be summarized quickly. This can be a challenge, as Zagni explained, because in many cases fact-checking stories are not clearly black and white.

PesaCheck

Gicheru and her team face similar challenges of presenting fact-checking stories in short, compelling ways at PesaCheck, which she started in 2016 with the goal of showing Kenyan citizens how their tax money is being spent. Since then, their coverage has expanded to include budget and public finance fact-checking in Tanzania and Uganda, plus political fact-checking in the runup to the recent Kenyan elections. In addition, they report on issues of health, rural development, water and sanitation, combining analyses of government spending with fact-checking of statements from public figures reported in national media.

PesaCheck creates articles and infographics, which they publish on their website and through partner publications. The infographics feature relevant data and a "truth meter" indicating the veracity of the claim being checked. In addition to the publications in national media, they are also working on adapting material for radio, particularly important in countries where, according to Gicheru, 80 percent of the population relies on radio for news.

PesaCheck discovered that much of its audience is sharing information on social networks, WhatsApp in particular. In response to this, they are developing GIFs that can be shared easily through those channels. One of the first animations illustrates how the salary of one Kenyan parliamentarian is equal to the pay of 20 nurses.

Repeating the message

In response to a question from the webinar audience, the panelists weighed in on the challenge of ensuring that their audiences remember the information they publish over time. Both Zagni and Gicheru stressed the need to repeat claims after their initial publication, to reinforce the message and to respond to those politicians who tend to repeat the same false claims. Gicheru noted that thanks to the work of PesaCheck, some politicians have corrected their statements after being proven wrong by the fact-checkers.

Sharing knowledge

The webinar offered Zagni and Gicheru an opportunity to ask questions of each other, and to compare their experiences reporting the facts in different parts of the world. Zagni was impressed by the multi-country PesaCheck operation, and saw potential for similar trans-national initiatives in Europe. As Gicheru explained, many of the issues PesaCheck investigates are relevant across the region, citing the example of claims of teen pregnancies linked to "bota bota" motorcycle taxi drivers. Although these claims originally came from Tanzania, they nonetheless resonated across the three countries PesaCheck serves.

Gicheru was impressed with the short time-lapse videos from Pagella, and wanted to adopt that format as another tool to reach the young, urban audience PesaCheck reaches.

At ICFJ, we encourage other media organizations to adopt the techniques and models demonstrated by PesaCheck, Pagella Politica and other fact-checking organizations. We have collected the "key ingredients" from all of the TruthBuzz challenge finalists in a convenient guide, which we hope will stimulate more innovation in storytelling around facts.

Watch the full webinar below:

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Sidious Sid

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