The normative theories of media highlight that socially-responsible journalism should provide truthful, complete, and accurate information for the citizenship to understand public affairs and participate in the community on an informed basis (Christians, Glasser, McQuail, Norderstreng & White, 2009). Nevertheless, journalism’s ability to comply with this normative goal is increasingly threatened by a combination of profound challenges and provocations, including dwindling resources, the expansion of the “ASAP journalism” (Usher, 2018) hyper-accelerated news culture, as well as the impact of disinformation, which unmistakably poses the latest “existential challenge to journalists dealing with an audience losing its faith in what journalism does” (Richardson, 2017, p. 1).
As democracy-building tools, fact-checking platforms serve as critical interventions in the fight against the expansion of false and/or misleading news (Allcott, Gentzkow & Yu, 2019; Amazeen, 2020; Clayton et al., 2019; Walter, Cohen, Holbert & Morag, 2019). The Duke Reporters’ Lab notes that there are currently 226 active fact-checking sites in 73 countries (Stencel & Luther, 2019), including a wide range of initiatives in the Latin American and Spanish contexts (Palau-Sampio, 2018; Vizoso & Vázquez-Herrero, 2019). In light of this emerging phenomenon, it is of outmost relevance to gain insights on standards, values, and underlying practices embedded in these projects while identifying the specific challenges that these organizations face nowadays.
This study employs in-depth interviews with verification sites’ editors to expand both the theoretical and practical understanding of how fact-checking has been performed by the following independent platforms across six different countries in Latin America and Spain: Chequeado (Argentina), UYCheck (Uruguay), Maldita.es and Newtral (Spain), Fact Checking (Chile), Ecuador Chequea
(Ecuador) and ColombiaCheck
(Colombia). The interviews, conducted in 2019, focused on six areas: (1) description of projects and personnel; (2) volume and frequency of checks; (3) fact-checking procedures and routines employed to choose statements and scrutinize claims’ truthfulness; (4) resources to debunk disinformation; (5) role of the public; and (6) editors’ opinions on the impact of fact-checking platforms as counteroffensives to fake news.
Findings indicate that the analyzed independent outlets carry out an intensive task. Indeed, despite operating on tight budgets and relying on small teams, they are able to produce between 10-13 checks per week. Inspired by best practices in the United States and Europe –including FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, Channel 4, Le Monde, and Libération–, all considered sites employ innovative, robust, and transparent methodologies that guarantee a consistent verification process. These organizations consult a broad range of primary and secondary sources to check data while leveraging the power of digital tools such as Google, Tineye, FotoForensics, InVID and CrowdTangle. Notably, audience active participation is considered critical to help locate and count fake news. Starting from these results, the paper finally discusses ways in which fact-checking operations could be strengthened and expanded to further combat the spread of disinformation, educate citizens, and thus contribute to restoring the credibility of journalism.