A fact checker is the person or organization that checks factual assertions in non-fictional text, either before (ante hoc) or after (post hoc) the text has been published or otherwise disseminated, in both cases to determine the veracity and correctness of the factual statements in the text.[not verified in body] Fact checking before dissemination (ante hoc checking) has been a mainstay of serious publishers of non-fiction since the advent of modern journalism,[not verified in body] and 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 The Washington Post Fact Checker, or TRUTH-O-METER ratings from PolitiFact). The aim for ante hoc analyzed text is often external publication or broad distribution within an organizations,[not verified in body]; in both types, text may arise as transcripts of public verbal statements.[not verified in body] Studies of post hoc fact checking have made clear that such efforts often result in changes in the behaviour, as speakers and writers become more careful in their statements and of the listeners and readers become more discerning with regard to the factual accuracy of content. As well, the studies have provided an array of nuanced insights relevant to theories of human persuasion.
- 1 Definition and types of fact checking
- 2 Impacts and study results
- 3 History
- 4 Operations
- 5 Benefits and controversies
- 6 Prominent fact checking organizations and individuals
- 7 See also
- 8 Further reading
- 9 References
Definition and types of fact checking
Fact checkers are persons or organizations that checks factual assertions in non-fictional text, either before (ante hoc) or after (post hoc) the text has been published or otherwise disseminated, in both cases to determine the veracity and correctness of the factual statements in the text. The aims for the analyzed texts in question can vary widely, but often they are intended for external publication (e.g., in a periodical), or for distribution broadly within an organization or institution. In the digital era, with the rapid transcriptions possible between audio and text, post hoc fact checking has been extended to include public verbal statements and interview and other audio sources.
The result of ante hoc fact checking is most often either corrected text that can proceed to publication or other distribution, or text that is rejected because it fails some confirmations (fails verification). The result of post hoc checking is most often a more formal written analysis (e.g., a published column or report) of the deviations from accuracy, sometimes alongside a customized metric unique to the reviewer or organization (e.g., the 1-4 Pinocchios given for decreasing honesty by the The Washington Post Fact Checker project, the "True" through "Pants on Fire" TRUTH-O-METER ratings from PolitiFact, etc.).
Impacts and study results
Studies of post hoc fact checking have made clear that such efforts often result in changes in the behaviour, in general, of the 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); moreover, there are an array of subtleties and nuances of the impact of fact checking that are relevant to ideas regarding human persuasion and its theoretical basis that remain to be fully understood; 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. Critically, studies have also shown that leading fact checking organizations do not arrive at a consensus regarding accuracy—for instance, in one study of "which political party bends the truth more," one fact checker reported inaccuracies about even (1:1, or a 50-50 split), while another fact checker arrived at a 2:1 excess for one party over the other for the same set of statements being examined by both (CMPA, George Mason University, Chapman University study, premier organizations Fact checker and PolitiFact). Hence, studies support the notion that more than one such fact checking source needs be consulted, to arrive at a consensus of opinion on statements being checked.
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There is some basis to argue[clarification needed] that fact checking began as a recognized effort in the early 20th century. "Any bright girl who really applies herself to the handling of the checking problem can have a very pleasant time with it and fill the week with happy moments and memorable occasions," said Ed Kennedy in Time magazine in the 1920s. By the 1930s, fact checking departments had became a symbol of establishment among publications.
Digital technology has opened the doors for new levels of scalability in fact generation and dissemination. Entire organizations and are now devoted to post hoc fact-checking, including FactCheck, PolitiFact, and NewsTrust's Truth Squad. Craig Newmark of Craigslist is making major pushes for new fact checking tools and is searching for projects that will provide "information he can trust."
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Ante hoc efforts
Fact-checking is most critical for those publishing material written by authors who are not trained reporters — such writers being more likely to make professional, ethical, or mere factual mistakes. Fact-checking methods vary; some publications have neither the staff nor the budget needed for verifying every claim in a given article. Others will attempt just that, going so far as communicating with the authors' sources to review the content of quotations. Fact checking requires general knowledge and the ability to conduct quick and accurate research. The resources and time needed for fact-checking means that this work is not done at most newspapers, where reporters' timely ability to correct and verify their own data and information is chief among their qualifications. Publications issued on weekly, monthly, or infrequent bases are more likely to employ fact-checkers.
According to the Columbia Journalism Review, German weekly Der Spiegel runs "most likely the world’s largest fact checking operation", employing the equivalent of eighty full-time fact checkers as of 2010.
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).
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-checkersm 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."
Prominent fact checking organizations and individuals
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- Africa Check: a South Africa-based organisation checking claims made by public figures in Africa.
- Demagog: joint project in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia (Visegrad Group countries), launched in 2010 in Slovakia and developed in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
- FactCheckEU.org: Created in January 2014, this is Europe's first "crowd-checking platform… born out of the belief that as the EU becomes ever more integrated it becomes increasingly essential to develop watchdogs capable of monitoring the political debate."
- Full Fact: An independent fact checking organisation based in the UK which aims to "promote accuracy in public debate", launched in 2009.
- The FactCheck blog: A fact checking blog run by the Channel 4 News organization in the U.K.
- Les Décodeurs: French fact-checking blog run by Le Monde.
- Pagella Politica: an Italian fact-checking website.
Serving Latin America
- Chequeado.com: Argentine fact-checking website.
- Rete al candidato: Rete al candidato is the first political fact checking digital platform in Central America. It is based in Costa Rica and was launched in 2013 by the weekly newspaper El Financiero to monitor the political debate of the 2014 presidential elections in that country. It is supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
Serving the United States
- FactCheck.org and FactCheckEd.org: non-partisan, nonprofit sister websites that are self-described "'advocates for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics," and serving as an educational resource for high school teachers and students, respectively (the latter founded 2005). They are projects of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and are funded primarily by the Annenberg Foundation.
- Fact Checker (The Washington Post): A project of The Washington Post, known for grading politicians on the factual accuracy of their statements with one to four "Pinocchios." Created September 2007 by Post diplomatic writer Michael Dobbs specifically for the 2008 presidential campaign. Ceased operation November 4, 2008,  but relaunched with a broader focus in January 2011, led by veteran Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Glenn Kessler.
- PolitiFact.com: A service of the Tampa Bay Times - Created August 2007, uses the "Truth-o-Meter" to rank the amount of truth in public persons' statements. 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winner.
- Snopes.com focuses on, but is not limited to, validating and debunking urban legends and other stories in American popular culture.
Serving regional and other locales
- Bama Fact Check: An Alabama-based, statewide partnership of newsgathering organizations which checks factual claims by politicians and public figures in Alabama. Partners in the project include The Anniston Star, The Decatur Daily, The Dothan Eagle, The Florence TimesDaily, The Opelika-Auburn News, The Tuscaloosa News and WVTM-TV in Birmingham.
Alumni of the role
The following is a list of individuals for whom it has been reported, reliably, that they have played such a fact checking role at some point in their careers, often as a stepping point to other journalistic endeavors, or to an independent writing career.
- Susan Choi – American novelist
- Anderson Cooper – Television anchorman.
- Esther Dyson – technologist
- Nancy Franklin – New Yorker staff writer
- William Gaddis – American novelist
- Virginia Heffernan – New York Times television critic
- Roger Hodge – Former editor, Harper's Magazine
- David D. Kirkpatrick – New York Times reporter
- Daniel Menaker – Former editor-in-chief at Random House
- David Rees – cartoonist
- Sean Wilsey – McSweeney's Editor and memoirist
- Silverman, Craig (23 October 2007). Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute The Press And Imperil Free Speech. Penguin Canada. ISBN 9780143186991.
- Amazeen, Michelle (2015) "Monkey Cage: Sometimes political fact-checking works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Here’s what can make the difference.," The Washington Post (online), June 3, 2015, see, accessed 27 July 2015.
- Davis, Katy (2012) "Study: Fact-checkers disagree on who lies most," The Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), George Mason University (online, press release), October 22, 2012 see,
- Lewis-Kraus, Gideon (2012) "RIFF: The fact-checker versus the fabulist," The New York Times Magazine (online), February 21, 2012 [print edition, February 26, 2012, p. MM45, title, "I Have Taken Some Liberties"), see,(subscription required) accessed 27 July 2015.
- Heffernan, Virginia (2010) "The Medium: What 'fact-checking' means online," The New York Times Magazine (online), August 20, 2010 [print edition, August 22, 2010, p. MM14). Accessed 27 July 2015.
- Silverman, Craig (2010) "Top fact checkers and news accuracy experts gather in Germany," Regret the Error (online), September 4, 2010, see , accessed 28 July 2015. Cited by Tobias Reitz & Kersten Alexander Riechers (2011) Quo vadis Qualitätssicherung? Corrigo, Konzeption eines Crowdsourced Media Accountability Services," p. 151, Fachbereich Media, May 31 2011 (Hochschule Darmstadt, University of Applied Sciences), see ], accessed 28 July 2015.
- Amazeen, Michelle (2015) "Monkey Cage: Sometimes political fact-checking works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Here’s what can make the difference.," The Washington Post (online), June 3, 2015, see , accessed 27 July 2015.
- Davis, Katy (2012) "Study: Fact-checkers disagree on who lies most," The Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), George Mason University (online, press release), October 22, 2012 see , accessed 27 July 2015.
- Craig Silverman: Inside the World's Largest Fact Checking Operation. A conversation with two staffers at Der Spiegel, Columbia Journalism Review, April 9, 2010.
- Moshe Benovitz et al., 2012, "Education: The Social Media Revolution: What Does It Mean for Our Children?" Jewish Action (online), August 24, 2012, New York, NY, USA:Orthodox Union, see , accessed 28 July 2015.
- Dowd, Ann Reilly (1998). "The Great Pretender: How a Writer Fooled His Readers". Columbia Journalism Review. Archived from the original on February 14, 2004. Retrieved August 28, 2015.
- Lyman, Rick (2013-07-23). "Nonpartisan Fact-Checking Comes to South Africa". NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
- "FactCheckEU.org". FactCheckEU.org. 2014-01-01. Retrieved 2014-01-11.
- "About US". FactCheckEU.org. Retrieved 2014-01-11.
- "Full Fact". FullFact.org. 2012-02-15. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- "The FactCheck Blog". Channel 4. 2012-02-15. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- "Fact-checking blogs turn up heat on French candidates". France 24. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
- "Italian politics: Pinocchio's heirs". The Economist. 2013-02-22. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
- "Chequeado.com: Fiel defensor de los hechos". Lanacion.com. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
- "El Financiero lanzó aplicación para retar a los candidatos presidenciales". elfinancierocr.com. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
- "About Us". FactCheckED.org. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
- Rucker, Philip. "Fact Checker". Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2009-06-07.
- Kessler, Glenn. "About the Fact Checker - Fact Checker". Blog.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2009-06-07.
- "washingtonpost.com Launches "FactChecker"". Findarticles.com. 2007. Retrieved 2009-06-07.
- Rucker, Philip. "Fact Checker". Voices.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2009-06-07.
- Kessler, Glenn (2012-07-19). "Welcome to the new Fact Checker". The Washington Post.
- "St. Petersburg Times Online". Politifact.com. Retrieved 2009-06-07.
- "Bama Fact Check". www.bamafactcheck.com. 2010-08-31. Retrieved 2010-11-07.
- An Interview With Susan Choi at the Wayback Machine (archived February 18, 2001)
- "CNN.com – Transcripts". Transcripts.cnn.com. 2006-06-01. Retrieved 2011-10-18.
- Contributors at the Wayback Machine (archived March 19, 2006)
- "William Gaddis (American author) – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2011-10-18.
- Skurnick, Lizzie. "Content". Mediabistro.com. Retrieved 2011-10-18.
- Hodge, Roger D. at the Wayback Machine (archived March 8, 2007)
- Kirkpatrick, David D. "David Kirkpatrick". The New York Times.
- "Swarthmore College Bulletin". Swarthmore.edu. July 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-18.
- "News & Features | Rees’s pieces". Bostonphoenix.com. Retrieved 2011-10-18.
- "Sean Wilsey – About Sean Wilsey – Penguin Group (USA)". Us.penguingroup.com. Retrieved 2011-10-18.[verification needed]
- Amazeen, Michelle (2012-12-14). "Sometimes political fact-checking works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Here’s what can make the difference.". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
- Study: Fact-Checkers Disagree on Who Lies Most at the Wayback Machine (archived March 9, 2015). Accessed 28 July 2015.
- Lewis-Kraus, Gideon (2012-02-21). "The Fact-Checker Versus the Fabulist". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-08-26.