The Checklist–read misinformation news from around the world
The 2020 Ghana election happened in the midst of a pandemic, meaning that journalists had the double task of informing the public on public health issues while simultaneously reporting on presidential and local elections. As with a number of other countries, Ghana has seen an increase in the spread of misinformation online as the number of people relying on the internet as their source of information grows.
This poll had the potential to be a ‘lightning rod’ for false information which could be overlooked, given that it happened a short time after the US election, as well as during a pandemic that dominated global headlines. However, the country has remained relatively stable, and is looked at as a model on how to run and manage electoral processes for other democracies in West Africa. It was therefore important to keep false information locked down, especially given its potential to destabilize and derail crucial information flows.
As with other elections around the world, fact-checking is essential to prevent the manipulation of information that seeks to sway voters. We worked with GhanaFact, the country’s first full-time fact-checking organization, which is a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. They have been in operation since 2019, flagging disinformation, false content and misleading claims, as well as assessing the delivery of promises by politicians, and holding leaders to account.
According to GhanaFact managing editor Rabiu Alhassan, this election was unique because for the first time in the country’s history, a sitting president, Nana Akufo-Addo, and a former president, John Mahama were going head-to-head, with this contest playing out both online and offline across the country. According to Rabiu, the Ghana Fact-Checking Network set up ahead of the election was the largest fact-checking collaboration in Ghana’s history, with more than 30 newsrooms across the country’s 16 regions. It was therefore essential to respond to misinformation quickly and efficiently, given the likelihood of a large volume of false information ahead of the polls, which highlighted the need for fact-checking to prevent chaos and stop the weaponization of misinformation online.
Ahead of the election, the GhanaFact team acknowledged that they would have to work around the clock to fight misinformation in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and heavy political activity on social media. The double task of managing these two likely avenues through which false information could impact public order needed a collaborative platform for proper management, which is where Check came in.
Earning the public trust was essential, and GhanaFact collaborated with the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), the largest local election observer group in Ghana, as well as the National Elections Response Group of the West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP) to flag misinformation before, during and after election day.
The team also built a national fact-checking network, which involved more than 100 journalists across 35 traditional media organizations in the 16 regions of the country to flag misinformation and help republish fact-checks to increase reach.
This network used Check to collect claims to look into, as well as to collaboratively annotate and visualize the fact-checks for sharing on social media and through messaging platforms.
In total, the team worked on 112 alerts across all platforms, producing 62 debunks and 13 explainers. The fact-checks ranged from videos taken out of context and misleadingly misrepresented, doctored images, and false claims about incidents in various parts of the country.
Overall, the journalists who worked on GhanaFact’s election fact-checking initiative needed to move quickly to debunk false information around the election. To do this, they had established and trained a network of journalists to spot misinformation, and adopted a decentralized public alert approach, using a WhatsApp tip line to both collect and disseminate information.
Ghanaians joined in on our fact-checking of the elections by sending us claims and alerting us to bad actors who created and deliberately shared false information. This inspires our hope that fact-checking in Ghana is becoming more mainstream - Rabiu Alhassan, GhanaFact managing editor
It is essential to move fast to respond to false information, particularly in situations where a lack of credible information can have significant consequences. The main takeaway in my opinion is that events which require a high level of monitoring need a significant amount of preparation, community-building, and linkages with partners both upstream - such as election monitoring organizations - and downstream - with members of the public who are likely to consume and share false information. These partnerships are crucial when monitoring and responding to potentially false information, so one key activity that needs to be done early on is to map out who these people and organizations are, figure out their needs in terms of information and media literacy, and work with them to reach others as well, turning them into allies and collaborators in the work of verifying information.
There are a number of elections scheduled for 2021, and the Ghana partnership was a great case study of how we can partner with local organizations and work together to respond to the very real threat of false information. Having worked in election fact-checking initiatives before, this was a great opportunity to figure out where the needs are, as well as how the tools we work with can be deployed quickly and effectively.
Additionally, the election engagement led to further collaboration with GhanaFact as part of the Check Global program. Using collaborations like these, we can grow our network and visibility on the continent, and these engagements can in turn contribute to the work of other partners in other regions, and this is something that truly excites me.
One key lesson for me from this election fact-checking exercise is that fact-checking and verification needs to be inclusive and promote ownership in a way that earns the public’s trust. The work of verification during elections is highly visible, and parallels can be drawn with the COVID-19 infodemic, especially considering the likely consequences of getting it wrong, and of people consuming questionable information. If done quickly and accurately, fact-checking can boost the integrity of the information we consume, and the resulting trust is a useful tool in the fight against the spread of false information.
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