Agence France-Presse (AFP) Fact Check has partnered with Meedan on the end-to-end fact-checking pilot project since 2019. The international news agency launched its digital verification service in France in 2017 and has fact-check units across the world monitoring online content in local languages, from Amharic to Hindi, Polish to Portuguese. Meedan has worked closely with AFP Fact Check’s India team in setting up their WhatsApp tipline (+91 9599973984). In this interview we speak to Soma Basu, India Editor with AFP Fact Check about the agency’s experience of fact-checking in India, their use of Check in running the tipline and new initiatives that they have launched in the country.
1. When did AFP venture into fact-checking in India? What was the reason for setting up the fact-check unit?
AFP Fact Check in India started in 2018. It was the same time we launched fact-checking in three other countries – Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. We have an extensive network of global reporters dedicated to debunking online misinformation in 99 countries across the world. We are expanding to include more languages and regions. We set up a fact-check unit because our reach, access and expertise strengthen the global effort in combating misinformation.
2. According to you, what are the main sources of misinformation in the country / region and what are your strategies to address them?
In India, we publish debunks in English and two Indian languages – Hindi and Bengali. Bengali fact-checking is overseen by our team in Bangladesh. Misinformation related to health, politics and religion is the most widespread in India. In South Asian cultures, we give primacy to the concept of "darshan (witness)", so naturally, misinformation alongside visual elements like images and videos are the most viral. We believe in quality more than quantity, and our team focuses more on analytical, in-depth fact-checks. We believe we can burst the echo chambers and filter bubbles in polarised societies only when our debunks are robust, using multiple pieces of evidence. All our fact-checks employ digital forensics along with rigorous investigative journalism to tackle viral claims.
3. AFP has fact-check units across the world. How is fact-checking in India different or similar from that in other countries?
Apart from the scale, fact-checking in India is not much different from other countries. There is very close coordination between the Indian and the global fact-check team in AFP and the nature, tone, visual elements, "call for action" are similar in almost every false claim across the world. Every false post, be it a text or a visual social media message, wants readers to act in a certain way, they intend to extract any kind of strong emotion so readers are compelled to do something, even if it is just forwarding the message to their own circles of family and friends. The messages achieve virality by encouraging the habit of uncritical sharing. The pattern is the same in every country. There is enough academic scholarship to prove that anybody, irrespective of educational background or social stature, can fall prey to misinformation. Our experience from the various countries we have fact-check operations is no different.
4. In what ways has Check supported your fact-checking work?
Check helps us immensely in spotting, monitoring, fact checking misinformation on the private messaging app WhatsApp and also in streamlining our work. Because of ease of usage, WhatsApp is still the most widely used messaging app in India and a potent distribution channel for false claims and misinformation. The tipline is a great initiative that bridges the gap between social media users and fact- checkers. The best part is that we can now reach out to people in various regional languages.
5. What are your plans for expanding your tipline audience and engagement in the future?
We are constantly working on expanding our fact-check operations. We are also thinking of ways to introduce easily shareable visual fact-checks and using the tipline to engage audiences to make the process of fact-check more participatory. We will start a Hindi newsletter soon.
6. Any announcements or new initiatives that you’d like to share with us?
AFP Factcheck has recently launched a Hindi blog - https://factcheckhindi.afp.com/list. We also have a Facebook page dedicated to Hindi fact checks - https://www.facebook.com/AFPFactCheckHindi/. With Hindi, AFP now publishes fact-checks in more than 15 languages in 99 countries.