In December 2020, Meedan completes one year of running a global fact-checking project using the WhatsApp Business API. Meedan worked with WhatsApp, Facebook and Facebook’s third party fact-checking organizations (3PFCs) from India, Brazil and Africa to run the end-to-end fact-checking project on WhatsApp tiplines and Check, an open-source platform built by Meedan. Our fact-checking partners include BOOM, India Today, Africa Check and AFP (Brazil and India), Factly, Vishvas News, Estadão Verifica, Agência Lupa, and Webqoof.
During this period, the fact-checking community addressed misinformation around elections, current news events and a pandemic which is yet to recede.The pandemic and resulting lockdowns, induced a greater reliance on digital technologies to remain connected. Simultaneously, misinformation soared and our partners’ tiplines saw a surge in submissions. Amid this major upheaval, the gritty and relentless work of fact-checkers and our team is a huge accomplishment.
In this post, we discuss the highlights of the project and document the insights gathered through this partnership.
Highlights of the project
Doubling our partnerships in one year
Our collaboration with five global fact-checkers - BOOM, India Today, Africa Check and AFP (Brazil and India), in phase I of the project was key to further customizing Check to meet the needs and demands of fact-checking misinformation in closed messaging networks.
"We are amazed with the progress with the tool. If you look at the tool from the beginning to now, you can see how much it’s made customizable. You really want to know our needs and you try hard to do your best to make the tool fit with our needs" – Elodie Martinez, Coordinator AFP Latin America
"In just that last two months we have already found that it has really been a force multiplier in being able to track down fake posts." – Ritu Kapur, Founder and CEO, The Quint
With more collaborations and focussed efforts we have been able to scale up distribution of fact-checks. As of November 2020, all ten tiplines interacted with over 600,000 unique users and distributed over 15,000 fact-checks across India, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. Within 5 months of launching the Phase I tiplines, Check had distributed around 5,800 fact-check reports.
"Partnering with such diverse organizations and maintaining a constant stream of feedback and ideas flowing has helped us improve the platform tremendously, shaping it to fit the specific needs of our growing community of fact-checkers. As a result, our 2021 roadmap is both precise and ambitious, with a focus on more automation, integration and new bot features with the goals of scaling audiences." - Pierre Conti, Director of Product, Meedan
Check has become an integral part of partners’ workflow
The progress we made is most evident in Check, the tool that powers this project. "Our goal with Check," explained Meedan’s Director of Product Pierre Conti, "is to build a scalable human and AI system for fact-checkers to efficiently size the demand for verification directly from their audience, cut through the noise, and maximize impact by helping them to prioritize their response to the most pressing misinformation."
Week after week, hinging on a global team and constant input from our partners, Check matured into a robust platform for fact-checking and information crisis response. We redesigned interfaces and experience from the ground up, created an easy-to-deploy multilingual bot system to collect claims from users and publish content, and added new layers of automation to content triage and algorithmically match similar claims, making it easier and faster for journalists to focus on emerging yet viral claims and respond at scale.
"In 2020 we had an exciting set of new features and scalability improvements in order to accommodate the needs of different partners that came onboard. It’s great to see how the software has evolved. I hope we can keep evolving together in 2021." - Caio Almeida, Director of Engineering, Meedan
Program and product support: We provided critical health expertise and developed strategic guidance for each partner
At Meedan, we believe that ideas, people and vision give purpose to technology. As a result, we have integrated strong programmatic elements in our service. Some of the program elements are listed below:
- Recognizing the need for expert advice and knowledge to address misinformation around a newly emerged disease - COVID-19, Meedan’s Digital Health Lab set up the COVID-19 database. Our expert panel proactively identify potential misinformation and address queries from fact-checkers within a 24-48 hours timespan. This has expanded to cover other health misinformation as well. All our partners can submit a query directly from the Check workspace through an integrated intercom service.
- In November 2020 we introduced a newsletter, CheckPost with the aim of sharing best practices & insights from the WhatsApp end-to-end fact-checking project with all our partners.
- The team worked with partners to implement advertising campaigns supported by Facebook in order to promote tiplines. Based on our weekly analysis of data and insights from all partners, we have provided regular feedback on the bot menu and advertisement content to each partner. This has increased conversations and resulted in more submissions to the tiplines.
- Meedan’s program and product teams regularly test tiplines and inspect Check workspaces to identify bugs and the need for new features.
- By integrating intercom service in the workspace, partners are able to reach out to us with bug reports or any other technical difficulties round the clock.
- Data is key to understanding what works, since September we provide weekly data updates to partners and discuss Key Performance Indicators during weekly check-ins.
"Close coordination among fact-checkers, public health institutions and other communications stakeholders is essential for addressing the unique midinformation challenges we face today, where informational ambiguity based on scant or conflicting evidence, or emerging scientific knowledge can exacerbate the spread of disease. Tiplines offering localized, relevant and up-to-date health information is a new frontier of health communications and health literacy, and fact-checkers are at the forefront." –Nat Gyenes, Program Director, Digital Health Lab, Meedan
Key insights from the project
- Bots can engage WhatsApp users; they are the new audience engagement paradigm. Designing effective bots with clear and unambiguous scripts and updated menus can generate quality submissions for WhatsApp tiplines.
- Following the news cycle is important for tiplines. Large events have generated more misinformation and have resulted in more submissions for the tiplines.
- Fact-checkers need no-nonsense, no-code interfaces in multiple languages.
- With well devised plans, machines in the loop augment quality human efforts
- Analysis of workspace data and agility in adopting new strategies are important for building WhatsApp audience and staying ahead of the curve.
"Working in regions where WhatsApp is among the most popular messaging platforms, the tiplines are a great strategy to engage with WhatsApp users and provide credible and verified information. By making available information and resources in local languages on the tiplines, our partners have been able to provide high quality content to WhatsApp users. This year COVID-19 misinformation has shown us how important it is to follow the news cycle to address misinformation. This helps us prepare for 2021 and get ready to address COVID-19 vaccine related misinformation through the tiplines." - Shalini Joshi, Program Director - APAC, Meedan
The fight against misinformation is a continuous process and fact-checking more than ever needs to stay ahead of the curve. As the world witnessed a misinfodemic, narratives that challenge the integrity of elections and institutions in democracies, there is a need to scale up the work of fact-checkers.
In the coming year we will:
- Continue to share insights and best practices across all partners and build collective knowledge
- Improve Check for greater automation for scaling up fact-checking and optimizing the time of fact-checkers
- Support media literacy campaigns and training programmes to srengthen the skills of fact-checkers
- Online conversations are heavily influenced by news coverage, like the 2022 Supreme Court decision on abortion. The relationship is less clear between big breaking news and specific increases in online misinformation.
- The tweets analyzed were a random sample qualitatively coded as “misinformation” or “not misinformation” by two qualitative coders trained in public health and internet studies.
- This method used Twitter’s historical search API
- The peak was a significant outlier compared to days before it using Grubbs' test for outliers for Chemical Abortion (p<0.2 for the decision; p<0.003 for the leak) and Herbal Abortion (p<0.001 for the decision and leak).
- All our searches were case insensitive and could match substrings; so, “revers” matches “reverse”, “reversal”, etc.