Sri Lanka’s first firstever fact checking company Fact Check (pvt) Ltd launched its official website www.myfactcheck.com coincide with the International Fact-Checking Day that inaugurated on April 2, 2017.
Fact Check (Pvt) Ltd is a company incorporated in Sri Lanka with the sole objective of providing fact check service to those who wish to have an authoritative confirmation of various claims, statements or allegations made by any person.
In doing so, the FactCheck will use its resources and expertise to undertake research, and thereafter provide a certification as to whether or not a given claim, statement or allegation is factual or otherwise. In support of the certification, the company would also provide a list of research or verification sources as well as an explanation of assessment or analysis or logic, which assisted the company to arrive at the given conclusion.
Fact checking is the act of checking factual assertions in non-fictional text in order to determine the veracity and correctness of the factual statements in the text. This may be done either before (ante hoc) or after (post hoc) the text has been published or otherwise disseminated.
Fact checking before dissemination (ante hoc checking) aims to remove errors and allow text to proceed to dissemination (or to rejection if it fails confirmations or other criteria). Post hoc checking most often is followed by a written report of inaccuracies, sometimes with a visual metric from the checking organization (e.g., Pinocchios from The Washington Post Fact Checker, or TRUTH-O-METER ratings from PolitiFact). The aim for ante hoc analyzed text is often external publication, as in journalistic endeavors. Several organizations are devoted to post hoc fact-checking, including FactCheck, PolitiFact, and NewsTrust’s Truth Squad.
Studies of post hoc fact checking have made clear that such efforts often result in changes in the behavior, in general, of both the speaker (making them more careful in their pronouncements) and of the listener or reader (making them more discerning with regard to the factual accuracy of content); observations include the propensities of audiences to be completely unswayed by corrections to errors regarding the most divisive subjects, or the tendency to be more greatly persuaded by corrections of negative reporting (e.g., “attack ads”), and to see minds changed only when the individual in error was someone reasonably like-minded to begin with.
A 2015 experimental study found that fact-checking might help improve political discourse by increasing the reputational costs or risks of spreading misinformation for political elites. The researchers sent “a series of letters about the risks to their reputation and electoral security if they were caught making questionable statements. The legislators who were sent these letters were substantially less likely to receive a negative fact-checking rating or to have their accuracy questioned publicly, suggesting that fact-checking can reduce inaccuracy when it poses a salient threat.”
A 2016 study found little evidence for the “backfire effect” (correcting false information may make partisan individuals cling more strongly to their views): “By and large, citizens heed factual information, even when such information challenges their partisan and ideological commitments.”
A study of Trump supporters during the 2016 race similarly found little evidence for the backfire effect: “When respondents read a news article about Mr. Trump’s speech that included F.B.I. statistics indicating that crime had “fallen dramatically and consistently over time,” their misperceptions about crime declined compared with those who saw a version of the article that omitted corrective information (though misperceptions persisted among a sizable minority).”
One experimental study found that fact-checking during debates affected viewers’ assessment of the candidates’ debate performance and “greater willingness to vote for a candidate when the fact-check indicates that the candidate is being honest.”
Benefits and controversies
Among the benefits of printing only checked copy is that it averts serious, sometimes costly, problems, e.g. lawsuits and discreditation. Fact checkers are primarily useful in catching accidental mistakes; they are not guaranteed safeguards against those who wish to commit journalistic frauds
The possible societal benefit of honing the fundamental skill of fact checking has been noted in a round table discussion by Moshe Benovitz, who observes that “modern students use their wireless worlds to augment skepticism and to reject dogma,” but goes on to argue that this has positive implications for values development. He argues:
“We can encourage our students to embrace information and vigorously pursue accuracy and veracity. Fact checking can become a learned skill, and technology can be harnessed in a way that makes it second nature… By finding opportunities to integrate technology into learning, students will automatically sense the beautiful blending of… their cyber… [and non-virtual worlds]. Instead of two spheres coexisting uneasily and warily orbiting one another, there is a valuable experience of synthesis…”.
He closes, noting that this constitutes “new opportunities for students to contribute to the discussion like never before, inserting technology positively into academic settings” (rather than it being seen as purely as agent of distraction).
Controversies and criticism
One journalistic controversy is that of admitted and disgraced reporter and plagiarist Stephen Glass, who began his journalism career as a fact-checker. The fact checkers at The New Republic and other weeklies for which he worked never flagged the numerous fictions in Glass’s reporting. Michael Kelly, who edited some of Glass’s concocted stories, blamed himself, rather than the fact-checkers, saying: “Any fact-checking system is built on trust … If a reporter is willing to fake notes, it defeats the system. Anyway, the real vetting system is not fact-checking but the editor.”
Political fact-checking is often criticized as being opinion journalism. Morgan Marietta, David C. Barker and Todd Bowser examined published fact-checks in a number of different areas, and found “substantial differences in the questions asked and the answers offered”. They concluded that this limited the “usefulness of fact-checking for citizens trying to decide which version of disputed realities to believe.”
In September 2016, a Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey found that “just 29% of all Likely U.S. Voters trust media fact-checking of candidates’ comments. Sixty-two percent (62%) believe instead that news organizations skew the facts to help candidates they support.”