Fighting misinformation is an ever-evolving problem and we can’t do it alone. In 2016, Facebook started its third-party fact-checking program, working with IFCN-certified fact-checkers around the world to rate and review the accuracy of content on our platform. Since its launch, we have partnered with over 50 organizations with expertise in over 40 languages.
In the second of our Q&A series, ‘Getting to Know Our Third-Party Fact-Checking Partners’, we head to India to hear from Rakesh Dubuddu, the founder of Factly – one of the first such organisations to emerge in the country. We talked about the impact technology is having on fact-checking and how his team raises awareness amongst the public to tackle misinformation.
Can you tell us more about Factly, its mission, how big the team is and how it’s structured?
Before founding Factly, I was involved in campaigning to popularize and educate people on what rights they had to get information from the government, through freedom of information laws that had come into effect. I also trained government officials on the legislation. All those years of work gave me important insights into the need for accurate data, facts, etc. Factly is a culmination of all those years of work and my own understanding. Broadly speaking, Factly aims to educate citizens in accessing, understanding and using high-value government information at all levels. An important part of this mission is fact-checking, where we verify claims as well as debunk viral posts, images, videos, links etc. The team has 15 people, out of which seven are dedicated to the fact-checking operations.
How would you describe the impact that your work is having?
We are one of the earliest data journalism and fact-checking organisations in India. We’re known for highlighting important issues through data. Our impact is in the fact that multiple organisations choose to republish the issues and stories we write about. For instance, we have raised awareness about rules to be followed by cinema multiplexes in Hyderabad (Telangana) and the facilities they are supposed to provide to moviegoers through an explainer video and a detailed article. Many people have used this information to demand free drinking water at these venues and were successful. Another example was an analysis we did of thousands of faculty members’ data. We highlighted that there were duplicate faculty members in multiple colleges across India (as per law, a faculty member cannot be registered in more than one college). After we highlighted this, the issue was raised in parliament and relevant steps were taken to address the issue.
What’s your approach to using and developing technology to help in the fact-checking process?
Going forward, we believe the fact-checking ecosystem will have to do two things in the technology space. One is to standardise processes and formats for writing fact-check stories and the second is to build tools using existing content. We have built an open source publishing platform that solves the standardisation issue for fact-checkers. The platform is called DEGA (www.degafactcheck.com). One can publish fact-checks and the claim-review schema will automatically be taken care of, so there is no need to markup the articles manually. The workflow for publishing the fact-check stories ensures that all the best practices mandated by IFCN are also taken care of. We are internally testing the platform and are inviting other fact checkers to use the platform. In the future, we intend to develop more tools and integrate some of the existing ones to aid fact-checking.
Beyond your fact-checking work, you’ve also done a lot to raise awareness of misinformation in the country – can you talk more about that?
We believe that knowledge and awareness are the first steps to any serious citizen empowerment process and that includes an individual’s ability to differentiate between fake news and facts. Elections are an important time to educate people. During the recent general election, we did a couple of things: one was a special video series related to elections where we explained the important things people need to be aware of, starting from voter registration, the voting process, political funding rules, issues, model code of conduct, the cVigil app (enabling complaints to be filed to the Election Commission), etc. Secondly, we came up with a podcast series called ‘Every Vote Matters (EVM)’ in collaboration with Suno India. The podcast also talked about important issues related to elections. In addition, we have recently released a report titled ‘Countering Misinformation in India – Solutions & Strategies’. The report addresses the major issues relating to the misinformation problem in India and has an extensive section on recommendations and solutions to various stakeholders. We also conduct/organize regular trainings to college students and others on identifying misinformation.
What are your biggest challenges – and what is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt since you started?
The biggest challenge is to gain people’s trust and not be branded as a biased entity. When that trust is gained, people automatically start engaging with us and the things we are saying, leading to behaviour change. Hence the biggest lesson also comes from our biggest challenge: never commit mistakes or errors in our reporting. Even the smallest of issues, we have to be careful. I’m glad to say that we have not had to correct anything in our journey of the last 2+ years. Another big challenge is to find sustainable revenue sources for an independent organization like ours. We are currently working on some ideas and hope to make some progress in the coming months.
What is the future for organisations like yours? What would you like to do?
I believe genuine content producers will always be valued. Hence, I’m fairly confident that the work we are doing will still be relevant, let’s say even five years down the line. The formats and methods might change, but the core remains. Finding ways to become sustainable is going to be one of our key focus areas. We would also like to expand in languages, produce more content in multiple formats and build relevant tech tools.