The other side of fact-checking

TRANSLATED BY CARA EVANS-GILLEN AND PROOFREAD BY JOYCE CHEN

Fact-checking services (the verification of facts) are a new tool being used by the media which allows them to tackle the spread of rumours and misinformation. The volume of information and the speed at which it spreads have increased considerably since the invention of the internet and its widespread dissemination. Spreading false information has never been easier and fact-checking aims to put a stop to this, but that’s not all that it does.

The origin of fact-checking

Fact-checking first came about in the 2000s in the US, but it’s only been around in France since the end of the first decade of the 2000s. One of the pioneers of fact-checking in France was the newspaper Libération with its platform ‘Désintox’ in 2008. One year later, the newspaper Le Monde used the same tool with its column ‘les Décodeurs’.

The news media seems to have adapted to this new way of circulating information with ease. Fact-checking columns are thriving, and they’re very much needed due to the proliferation of ‘fake news’ (false information) which can have very real consequences. These columns are not the ones written voluntarily by well-known satirical newspapers, such as Le Gorafi, who are likely to challenge larger print or television media groups. For example, fact-checking allows the media to correct figures and information given by so-called ‘experts’ or political figures. It is also a way to increase audience interest and restore credibility to the press sector, which is suffering from an unprecedented legitimacy crisis.

The downfalls of fact-checking

Fact-checking is a practice increasingly rooted in the way that the press operates. According to ACRIMED, a media watchdog, the process of fact-checking at the moment has its limitations: it teaches very few new things, focusing on ‘the fact’ sometimes obscures what the debate is really about, and concentrating on how the information is presented, rather than the idea it carries, skews the information itself.

Among the fiercest critics of this new practice of fact-checking is Frédéric Lordon, whose blog is associated with the newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique. According to Lordon, fact-checking is a “frenzy[…] at the highest representative level of post-political journalism […]  in which there is nothing more to discuss, except factual truths”. He adds, “it’s the fact that to have unlearned to think for so long, any attempt to start thinking again… is hopelessly futile, like the philosophy of fact-checking […] the ‘Raft of the Medusa’ for sinking journalism”.

The age of post-truth politics

Whether it’s ‘Désintox’ for Le Monde et Arte or ‘le vrai du fake’ for FranceInfo, the choice of words suggests the ethical and professional superiority of the main news media. A detailed analysis would undoubtedly reveal that the process of fact-checking is sometimes abused. Biased information taken out of context can lead to missing the real issues at stake in the debate. The main actors in the media world claim to be the sole guarantors of detoxifying, decoding and giving the truth. In return, they present the information in the dichotomous and Manichaean way of “true or false?” or “fact or hoax?”.

Faced with the amount of information and the speed at which it spreads, some claim that ‘fact-checking’ is part of the era of ‘post-truth politics’.

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