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Davit Chichinadze: In 2019, you cannot iMostly FalseIn the statement is the elements of the truth, but the important facts that could have made other impressions
FactCheck’s working principles are based on our editorial code which is fully in line with the principles elaborated by the International Fact-Checking Network – IFCN.
Three Key Principles of FactCheck’s Work:
- Finding the Truth – It is FactCheck’s top objective to show the reader where the truth is.
- Transparency of Sources – Making references to all sources used in an article.
- Multiple Verification – Verification of facts and data as many times and as many sources as possible.
FactCheck’s Everyday Work
Step 1: Obtaining a statement for verification – FactCheck’s analysts seek to find such a component in each statement which is subject to verification. The most important principle of the analysts’ work is to make a clear distinction between facts and opinions. All the facts which have actually occurred or might have occurred could become a FactCheck research topic. In addition, whilst looking for statements for verification, particular attention is given to statements containing statistical information.
Where do We Find Facts to Verify?
1. First of all, FactCheck’s analysts actively follow the current events in the country and consult a variety of information sources.
2. It is impossible to read and listen to everything. This notwithstanding, FactCheck’s analysts pick reliable and active print and online outlets, TV channels, radio station and follow them every day.
3. FactCheck’s team carries out monitoring of the Parliament and Government sessions as well as broadcasts of important speeches of politicians.
4. FactCheck’s analysts watch TV debates.
5. FactCheck’s team employs a special search engine which allows us to find important news transmitted in each media outlet or find statements of any politician. For this service, FactCheck’s team uses the IPM Research company’s special monitoring system: www.mediamonitoring.ge/mms.
6. FactCheck’s analysts actively follow the advertisements of politicians/political parties, the websites of a specific party or a politician and visit social media accounts.
7. During the election campaign period, FactCheck’s analyst note facts to verify from parties’ or politicians’ campaign programmes and leaflets.
8. FactCheck receives facts to verify from readers, too. As part of our Check your Fact service, readers have the possibility to submit any statement which contains a fact and FactCheck’s team will try to verify it. The articles which are produced in this manner bear a respective label that they have been verified upon the request of a reader. Readers can submit facts to verify both by e-mail (email@example.com) and FactCheck’s Facebook account’s messenger option.
Step 2: Selecting topics for verification: It is of uttermost importance for FactCheck’s team to correctly select and prioritise statements for verification. There are a few indicators given bellow based upon which statements for verification are selected (it is only natural that one statement cannot meet all the indicators; however, FactCheck’s team tries to make sure that most of the criteria are met whilst selecting the topics).
1. In the selection phase, the first question is as follows: “Is a particular statement verifiable or not?” Ideologies are not verified; in most cases, future forecasts are also not verified together with such topics whose verification exceeds our ability (for instance, information containing state secrets, personal data, etc.).
2. Public Interest – It is important to define how interesting a particular topic is for the public and whether or not is it a worthy one to spend the analysts’ time and resources.
3. Given the aforementioned principle, the individual author of a statement is of less importance for FactCheck’s team. Statements are not selected on the basis of how recognisable their authors are. All of those facts and topics which belong to the sphere of public interest is important for our team.
4. Controversial Topics – FactCheck seeks to verify such statements which have spurred different opinions in the public and for which there is no straightforward conclusion.
5. In addition, topics which raise a natural question – is this really true? – in the public are also verified. This is particularly evident when a new and previously unknown fact goes public.
6. Our team aims to verify such statements which are actively discussed in the social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
7. There are issues which constantly attract the attention of the audience. In accordance with public opinion polls, as well as based on our team’s experience, for Georgia these issues are as follows: jobs, poverty, occupied territories, education, human rights, social assistance, bureaucratic expenses, independence of judiciary, etc.
8. Those statements which contain statistical data attract particular attention. It is always important and interesting to verify them.
9. Keeping the balance – Although FactCheck’s analysts select statements for verification based on facts given in the statements, it can happen frequently that we find numerous statements of one party/politician whilst none can be found on other party/politician. Naturally, here we are not to blame; however, we still try to equally cover all the parties/politicians and make sure that articles dedicated to their statements are somehow equal as well. This approach is particularly important during the election campaign period.
10. Whilst selecting a statement to verify, FactCheck’s editor and analyst provide the exact definition of what we try to verify. For instance, let us take a politician’s statement: “Fuel expenses at Tbilisi City Hall have increased eightfold whilst furniture expenses doubled. Salaries and bonuses of the bureaucracy are also increased. This is wasted money.” This statement contains several components and quotes for verification which should be distinguished from one another. For instance, do we verify all three statements together and write one article or do we write three separate articles? In addition, we ask question whether or not we can verify the last phrase – “This is wasted money” or shall we consider it as a politician’s private judgment? Therefore, work on an article starts when we know precisely where we try to find the truth.
Step 3: Verification of fact and drafting an article – After selecting an issue for verification, a new and quite complicated phase of fact verification; that is, producing a FactCheck, article starts.
1. Pinpointing a statement – Oftentimes, it is unclear what a politician meant in a specific statement or it is possible that he named such a fact whose source cannot be found. Therefore, we contact the author of the statement and ascertain the factual information he stated. This helps us to avoid steering research in the wrong direction. However, at the same, whilst being asked to be more precise, a politician might try to twist the initial statement. For instance, if understands that the fact he named was wrong, in the follow-up phase he might say that he had meant something else (a fact more convenient to him). In this case, it is difficult to decide which statement is to be prioritised for verification – the one stated earlier or the other stated whilst asked to provide clarity. It is true that each specific case is of an individual nature but FactCheck’s analysts still try to verify the statement said publicly. This happens for understandable reasons – the initial statement was heard by a wider public whist the corrected version was heard by a FactCheck-er alone. Therefore, it is recommended to verify the initial statement and assess the politician based upon the respective result. However, the article should also feature the politician’s explanations in the form of additional information.
2. The following phase of verification is collecting information through secondary sources. Analysts use all of the available means which will be helpful in the verification process: 1. Google search, encyclopaedias, special literature, reports/statements of different organisations and state bodies, etc., 2. The so called Deep Web; that is, sources which are not accessible by a Google search only. This includes free or not free databases of different state or private organisations. For instance, a media monitoring database, Georgia’s Legislative Herald’s archive, Georgian National Tourism Administration’s database, State Procurement Agency’s portal, National Statistics Office of Georgia, National Bank of Georgia’s website, National Agency of Public Registry’s portal, websites and databases of NGOs and international organisations, such as: www.idfi.ge, www.factcheck.ge/page/database, www.data.worldbank.org, etc.
3. In order to understand certain issues, it is necessary to conduct interviews/consultations with respective field experts. These experts can be pro-government, opposition affiliated or neutral. Their opinions will help you to better understand the issue and form your own opinion. However, an expert’s opinion is taken with strings attached and is not used as a fact in the articles.
4. Requesting public information – When information is not accessible on the internet and other secondary sources, we request it from the respective bodies. In accordance with Article 40 of Chapter III of the Administrative Code of Georgia (Freedom of Information): “A public institution shall be obliged to issue public information, immediately or not later than ten days”...
5. After collecting all necessary information, the drafting of a FactCheck article begins when an analyst has collected a large volume of information on a specific case. However, the length of a FactCheck article should not exceed two-to-three pages (excluding exceptional cases) and should be as easily understandable to the reader as possible.
6. FactCheck’s analysts use data visualisation means – charts, tables, etc.
7. Each piece of information used in an article should be carefully analysed and verified multiple times. Please remember that FactCheck’s key principle is multiple verification.
8. For piece of each factual data or other information used in an article we indicate the source with respective hyperlinks – transparency is FactCheck’s most important principle.
Step 4: Final judgment and giving verdict to a statement – We may come across different types of statements. Since each of them requires an individual approach and it is important to know what kind of statements can we find more frequently and how we should assess them.
1. In the first place, a statement must be completely precise and not lacking a significant component.
2. A statement can be mostly precise, although in need of additional clarification or adjustment. For instance, whilst naming figures, people often round up numbers. A politician may say 1,000 instead of 945, etc.
3. FactCheck attaches importance to the context of a statement. Although a politician’s statistics or factual data can be accurate, they can be used in a way to veil reality. For instance, if say that the total annual salary of civil servants who are paid by Georgia’s state budget is GEL 1.7 billion and indicate a negative context that such a large sum of money is spent on bureaucracy, the number in the statement will be accurate but the context will be inaccurate because, in fact, money is spent to keep the army, police and other vitally important bodies in operation and is not only used for bureaucracy. Therefore, portraying the aforementioned figure as entirely bureaucratic expenses gives the wrong impression.
4. Oftentimes, the public is misled by omitting a specific detail from a story. For instance, if authorities claim that “we reduced bonuses in public services,” this is fact which can be confirmed but public services could have their salary supplements increased and sometimes in a scale to cover decreased bonuses. Nothing changes if we take a total figure and, on the contrary, bureaucratic expenses are on the rise. In this case, omitting a specific fact misleads the audience.
5. Selective representation of statistics and data – this is the situation when favourable statistical data get mention whilst negative figures get neglected.
6. The so-called outdated facts – such statistics or other factual data which were once relevant but are no longer fitting to describe the existing situation.
7. It is not uncommon in the statements of politicians to hear phrases in the superlative degree. For instance, the best performance, am unseen achievement or vice versa, the lowest figure, an anti-record, etc. Usually, such types of statements are exaggerations.
8. In addition, there are outright lies which are relatively easy to identify and assess.
9. People frequently make inadvertent mistakes in their public speeches. It is obvious in the analysis of such statements that author did not intend to deliberately mislead the public although he did spread false information.
10. In addition, we also see the so-called slips of the tongue which are not given respective verdicts. For instance, if a politician erroneously named several facts and immediately corrected his mistake, it is obvious that we should not target his initial mistake.
FactCheck’s verdicts are as follows:
✔️ TRUE – Statement is accurate and lacks nothing important
✔️ MOSTLY TRUE – Statement is accurate, although in need of additional information or/and clarification
✔️ HALF TRUE – Statement is partially accurate, although some details are absent and several issues are out of context
✔️ MOSTLY FALSE – There are some elements of truth in the statement but the important facts, which could have made a different impression, are ignored
✔️ FALSE – Statement is inaccurate
✔️ LIE – Statement is not accurate and the claim within the statement is absurd
✔️ MANIPULATION OF FACTS – Facts in the statement are more or less accurate, although the full context is deliberately distorted
✔️ MANIPULATION OF NUMBERS – Figures in the statement are more or less accurate, although they are used to make a false impression
✔️ FAKE NEWS – False or manipulative information spread by some media outlets, politicians or specific accounts in social networks (this verdict is mostly applied to assess the sources spreading anti-Western messages)
✔️ WITHOUT A VERDICT – It is impossible to give verdict to a statement
Step 5: Final verification of information in the article by the author himself – After completion an article, FactCheck’s analysts try to read it critically several times (or ask colleagues for help) and find errors using these questions:
1. How accurately and correctly have we cited the statement which we wanted to verify?
2. Are we able to provide a clear explanation as to the reason we verified this statement and why was it worthy of our resources?
3. Is every source we used whilst writing this article double checked and referenced?
4. How reliable and strong are those arguments based on which we assessed the accuracy or the inaccuracy of a certain statement (is the article based on irrefutable evidence or just opinions)?
5. How clearly did we clarify the arguments and the way we used to arrive at our final verdict?
6. Are the arguments we used clearly explained in the article in order to give a verdict to the statement?
Step 6: Editor verifying the article – When FactCheck’s analyst finishes an article, he informs FactCheck’s editor (and chief economist if the article is on economy) and the process of redacting the article begins. In the process of editing the article, the editor provides comments on the content and style as well as remarks of a technical character as required. In this process, the article might return to the author with respective comments/remarks until it is finalised. In addition, the editor and the author of an article make an agreement on the final verdict. The article cannot get published on FactCheck’s website without a respective consensus being reached.
Step 7: Publishing the article on the website and in social networks – When an article is finalised; that is, when the editor and the author are in full agreement over its content, the article is published on FactCheck’s website. Prior to publication, the technical editor verifies it to make sure it is fine in every respect and that it is reader-friendly. The technical editor is also authorised to make comments on content if he detects any shortcoming in the article. In this case, the article could be amended one more time and finally published on the website. After publication on the website, the article is shared on the Facebook social network and is advertised and circulated in different groups.
Rectifying Mistakes in FactCheck’s Article
FactCheck acknowledges that in certain cases it could be wrong. Therefore, FactCheck offers the authors of the statements that we have verified (or any other stakeholders) to submit their comments and arguments in the case when they disagree with our research and conclusions. Our team will analyse comments and arguments and if they are proven correct, we will amend both our research and the verdict. If importation information which was not previously reflected in the research is added to an article/research study but this does not change the verdict, we will update the article. However, in the case when there is additional information which changes the verdict, we will amend the respective article. It is visibly indicated in the updated or amended article upon whose request or based upon what argument it was updated/amended. In addition, such articles are published anew on FactCheck’s website and Facebook page.
This activity is intended to safeguard FactCheck’s principles of impartiality and complete political neutrality.
If you have any additional questions in regard to FactCheck’s work, please do not hesitate to send your message on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Factcheck.ge/), write an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or contact us by telephone: +(995 32) 2 30 90 25; +(995 32) 2 22 29 13).