Fact-Check: There’s No Such Thing As ‘Fact-Checking Websites’ 

Fact-Check: There’s No Such Thing As ‘Fact-Checking Websites’ (Pixabay)
  • Fact-checking as we know it does not exist, and what we see in its current shape and form today, is merely a bunch of political spokespersons masquerading as well-meaning news analysts. Simply put, it’s a charade, be it on Twitter or an independent website.

In the world of print and digital journalism today, those who choose to claim that a complete, unbiased, elaborate fact-checking mechanism exists are the intellectual equivalent of the ones who believe that the earth is flat.

The parallels are simple. The ones who believe that the earth is flat base their argument on the landmass they are able to see, and the ones who claim to be fact-checkers for the news industry base their claims on the news they can see, or rather, what they choose to see.

Posturing themselves as the saviours of social media and digital news and the testament to the one and only truth, the one they believe in, these self-proclaimed fact-checkers, not only in India but across the world, are now imposing their self-proclaimed morality on users online, and this has consequences.

Only yesterday, an infamous fact-checker from India tweeted a scripted video. After the revelations by the law enforcement agencies on the ground, he chose to delete it.

Clearly, no attempt was made by the fact-checker in question, or his fact-checking website, to coordinate with the local law enforcement agencies or the journalists in that area nor was any attempt made to validate the facts before declaring the nation unsafe for minorities. No responsibility was shown towards the sensitivity of the issue, given the video had enough potential to cause a law and order violation in the area.

The damage extended beyond the fact-checking website and its editor. By then, many other independent journalists and media institutions had published reports of the incident. Even after the ‘so called fact-checker’ has deleted his tweets, citing the police reports, many journalists are choosing to stick to the story. No fact-checker has bothered to correct them so far.

Twitter, which otherwise loves labelling every other tweet from one party as a manipulated one, has not yet marked any tweet still carrying the story as fake or manipulated. Guess Jack Dorsey’s fact-checking is quite an exclusive privilege, reserved for the centre-right alone.

What happened in Uttar Pradesh, how it was publicised on social media, and how it was then used to carve a narrative is not a one-off incident. This has happened since 2014, starting with the intolerance debate to demonetisation to the 2019 elections to anti-CAA riots to the pandemic and most recently, during the farmer protests.

No reason to believe that similar practices will not be employed for the 2022 elections in Uttar Pradesh, issues of policymaking, and the 2024 national elections, but on a far greater scale, and perhaps, as the events from yesterday (June 15) reveal, at a far greater cost.

The process is fairly simple. Cherry-pick, propagate and repeat.

Today, many social media platforms want to engage in the business of fact-checking. Realising that they cannot outsource their moral responsibility to an algorithm, the likes of Facebook and Twitter have tried partnering with news agencies and third-party fact-checking websites to regulate the content posted online. The success has been little.

Jack Dorsey may want to believe he can fact-check everyone starting with former President Donald Trump or Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, but the fact is that it is manually impossible for Twitter or its hired fact-checkers to study 6,000 tweets made per second, around 360,000 tweets per minute, for every 500 million tweets made in a day and for every 200 billion tweets made every year.

Imagine the manpower required to check the factual accuracy, context and history, and the relevance of every tweet made.

The same is the case with fact-checking websites. For the thousands of news websites that exist along with their social media channels including images and videos, a sweeping fact-check is virtually impossible, and in an alternate universe, even if it were, the manpower required would be tremendous. One would have a better shot at mining a bitcoin, perhaps.

The problem is not of volume alone, but of context and subjectivity as well. Can every opinion of every political leader or influencer be fact-checked with the exact context it has been spoken in? How does one tell satire apart from the serious analysis? How does one weigh-in perspectives from different socio-economic backgrounds and geographies and then fact-check any word published or spoken?

The question of ideology is also important. While the constitution gives everyone the right to have a political ideology, the fact-checking work warrants one to make it public. While the fact-checkers and social media companies have professed their love for the leftist ideology in public, how can one ensure the balance between contrasting ideologies in the political, economic, social, and cultural ecosystem?

The fact-checkers have only themselves to blame, for their repeated patronisation of one side in the garb of political correctness and their constant attacks on the other side in the name of freedom of speech have left them exposed. For the social media companies, especially Twitter, the onus lies with them to prove their political neutrality.

Cherry-picked stories do not make for fact-checking websites but for political propaganda, financed by gullible donors and backed intellectually by self-proclaimed authorities on societal morality. In some cases, the finances are not entirely transparent and warrant further investigation too.

Some of these fact-checking entities are sinister, vicious, and claim to have a moral stance higher than that of the voters, the government, the judiciary and every other institution of democracy.

Fact-checking as we know it does not exist, and what we see in its current shape and form today, is merely a bunch of political spokespersons masquerading as well-meaning news analysts. Simply put, it’s a charade, be it on Twitter or an independent website.

Who called it fact-checking and not selective-targeting.

Tushar Gupta is a senior sub-editor at Swarajya. 


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