Fact-checking / Network / Multi-language tiplines and media literacy: PesaCheck in Africa

PesaCheck, an initiative of Code for Africa, spans across 12 countries and is one of Africa’s largest indigenous fact-checking organisation. From running tiplines in multiple languages, conducting fact-check trainings for university students and supporting newsrooms and NGOs to set up their own fact-check teams, PesaCheck has adopted a multi-pronged approach to addressing misinformation in the regions that they work in. Since December 2020 PesaCheck has been part of Meedan’s global end-to-end fact-checking project using the WhatsApp Business API and powered by Check, an open-source platform built by Meedan. For PesaCheck, Check is essential in supporting fact-checking through the tipline, as well as the management of their editorial workflow.

In this blogpost, we speak to Enock Nyariki, Managing Editor of PesaCheck about the organization’s strategies and experience of combating misinformation in Africa.

1. You work in over 10 countries of East and West Africa. What are the main sources of misinformation in the region and what are your strategies to address them?

We find misinformation across social media platforms. Facebook is the most popular social platform in most of the countries that we operate in and we tend to find posts containing misinformation on it. We debunk the claims contained on these posts and publish articles on our site 

WhatsApp users also share posts they have seen going round on social media on our WhatsApp tipline number (+254707813834) for us to verify. 

2. You run WhatsApp tiplines in multiple languages. How challenging has this been to set up?

The tipline is currently set up for English, French, Kiswahili and most recently Amharic. We have menus in various languages, and the prompt sent to the user allows them to choose the language of response. 

We already have a team working in different languages which allows us to respond to all the submissions that come to the tipline. We have been educating users on how the tipline operates to ensure they are sharing claims correctly and also the scope of claims we can look into. 

The tipline sometimes receives submissions that are incomplete or outside our verification scope. We share our methodology with the users, allowing them to know what can and what cannot be fact-checked.

3. How have you been able to address COVID-19 related misinformation in the region over the past year? Has misinformation thwarted efforts to keep people safe?

We have debunked hundreds of claims touching on COVID-19 and vaccines in the past year. Our approach has been to prioritize such misinformation, because of the danger it poses to members of the public. We are part of the founding members of the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA), which has helped connect our fact-checkers with the WHO and CDC, helping us to debunk claims faster.

4. You have been using Check to support your WhatsApp tipline and to manage your editorial workflow? Could you elaborate more on both the use cases? How have you been able to integrate Check into your work?

We use Check to manage submissions that we receive through our tiplines, and the main function of this is to automate responses to user submissions. The system allows us to match claims submitted to fact-checks fast through automatic and manual matching of similar items based on content that we have already checked. When a submission is similar to a claim that we have already debunked, the system sends out an automated response, removing the need for manual generation of user reports every time we receive the same claim.

Since we operate in multiple languages, we are currently adapting our workflow on Check to manage the editorial processes. For content that needs translation, we have created folders where translators and to editing and earmarking for publication. Through Check we can track the process and see who completed what stage of the copy flow process. The folders allow us to keep the languages separate which is essential as we have six languages in which we operate.

5. What are your plans to promote the tipline in the country and to widen your audience in the region?

We plan to create awareness around the tipline in the 12 countries that we cover, and in multiple languages. At the moment, most claims are in English, and they come from Kenya and Uganda. We intend to promote the tipline in French, Kiswahili, Amharic, Afaan Oromo and Tigrinya.

6. You conduct media literacy and fact-checking training in universities of the region and support media and NGOs to establish their own standalone fact-check teams. How successful is this in combating misinformation in the region? 

It’s super-important, because combating misinformation requires collaboration. No one fact-checking organization can succeed in fighting the information disorder alone. We have helped set up CheckDesks in tens of newsrooms, which have produced hundreds of fact-checks. We also train journalism students at universities such as Daystar University and Aga Khan University in Nairobi, and we do this in order to nurture future journalists to incorporate fact-checking in their day-to-day reporting. We are also working with media lecturers to include fact-checking courses in their curricula.

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