Fact-checkers on Tuesday emphasized the importance of collaboration in protecting electoral integrity and fighting false accusations of fraud.
Speaking at Tuesday’s IFCN Talk, Gilberto Scofield Jr., director of business and development for the Brazilian fact-checking organization Magnifying Glass Agency, said national elections in 2018 revealed the power of social media to attack the electoral process.
“There was a lot of misinformation coming out before and during the election, saying, for example, that this precinct is not working,” Scofield said. Another viral falsehood claimed that election officials were secretly working for one party or another, so Agência Lupa partnered with Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court to train local, regional and national officials how to combat misinformation.
“The idea was not just to alert them to the threats of disinformation, but also (teach them) how they can produce information to counteract the disinformation that was spreading,” Scofield said. He added that an important imperative is to train Brazilian officials to focus on the misinformation that attacks the electoral system rather than on individual candidates.
“We are talking about a very different ecosystem of disinformation in relation to the electoral process,” he said, adding that he is already seeing examples of disinformation attacking the Brazilian electoral system before the 2022 national elections. “We need to be aware and we need this disinformation training about elections”.
Ghana suit Managing editor Rabiu Alhassan said it was important for his organization to create a fact-checking network in Ghana that could meet the local needs of Ghana’s 16 regions.
“We decided to make sure that we decentralized whatever knowledge and skills we had, going to various media organizations and training and ensuring that these organizations had journalists (with those skills) in-house,” said Alhassan. He noted that his fact-checking team did not have the bandwidth to produce and disseminate fact-checks wherever Ghanaians get their information.
“We created a fact-checking network of more than 100 journalists and created a multi-organizational collaboration that involved credible civil society organizations, observer groups as well as Internet companies so that we can effectively implement our resources and reach the public,” said Alhassan. This network helped flag and distribute verified information across Ghana, but Alhassan noted that it was not immune from political allegations of election fraud.
“There will always be accusations of cheating,” said Gemma Mendoza, head of digital strategy for the Philippine media. rappler, while laughter erupted among the speakers. “Nobody likes to lose.”
However, both Mendoza and Alhassan suggested that fact-checkers should develop their capacity to be able to explain and verify the allegations made about the electoral process.
“It’s all about looking at numbers, logic and systems, and systems should work that way,” Mendoza said. She said that no election is 100% free of some sort of voter error, but she countered that fact-checkers should be able to assess these allegations in context to help their audience understand the gravity.
“Like, ‘This is worrying, but it shouldn’t be considered representative of the whole process,’” Mendoza said. She gave an example of the 2016 election, when a relatively small electoral system error led to widespread speculation about the legitimacy of the election. While this complaint was resolved by the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Mendoza said the seeds of the complaint should have been challenged by fact-checkers, media organizations and officials much sooner.
“When you let that complaint fly without contesting the source of the complaint and asking them to provide more evidence early on, you’re actually creating potential complaints,” Mendoza said.