Is fact-checking effective in countering what often feels like a relentless wave of misinformation in the public space?
If we do not ask ourselves this question, we might as well close up and slink away despondently into the night. But aside from the larger existential question, a whole set of sub-questions emerge around the most impactful ways to fact-check.
Which formats result in the highest understanding of a topic? How do politicians respond to fact-checking? How do we package information to ensure we reach a wider audience?
In August 2019, with the support of Luminate, Africa Check and two of our fellow fact-checkers, Full Fact in the UK and Chequeado in Argentina, launched a research programme that aims to answer these questions.
In the first part of this collective research effort, we are producing a series of research briefs that explore the existing evidence-base of our work. The purpose of the papers is to shed light on the contexts in which we fact-check and identify gaps and future research needs. We’re unpacking this across different academic disciplines and regions.
Social media in Nigeria
In November, Africa Check followed suit with the publication of two briefs on the same topic. Developed by a team of researchers at the Africa Centre for Evidence (ACE), the papers provide insights into our Nigerian and South African audiences’ news consumption habits and engagement with politics.
For example, in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, the rapid growth in social media use is accelerating the reach of misinformation and disinformation. A significant number of Nigerians have admitted to sharing political news stories on social media, despite believing that they were false or could be false news. The research brief on South Africa paints a similar picture.
Both countries’ socio-political contexts exacerbate the potential for harm from misinformation and disinformation. In Nigeria, the underlying ethno-cultural and religious divisions contribute to the society’s vulnerability to false news. In South Africa, a tense and racially divisive political climate pleads for increased accuracy in public debate.
In 2020, we will publish more papers. These will range from the impact of fact-checking on public figures and the media to what we know about who shares or is vulnerable to misinformation, and the impact of fact-checking on public health information campaigns.
To ensure the quality and credibility of the research, we have appointed an independent academic advisory group to oversee the research outputs. A sincere note of thanks goes to ten academics who have volunteered to serve on the advisory group. Full Fact’s blog about the launch of the programme provides a full list.
We hope you will follow us on this journey, we promise to keep you updated!
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