El Poder de Elegir: the collaborative fact-checking project, from Colombia to Latin America
The problem of misinformation and the impact on citizens’ decision-making
On average, a person spends 455 minutes of their day consuming large amounts of information on social networks. According to Colombia’s Ministry of Technology and Telecommunications, 60% of Colombians regularly use WhatsApp. In Colombia, the results of the plebiscite presented new challenges for the media and citizens. The viral messages that circulated on WhatsApp before and during the plebiscite demonstrated how fear and manipulation strategies, which sought to misinform, spread doubt and increased the generalized uncertainty in an already-polarized country and played a decisive role in the decision making of voters.
The social context of political polarization and disinformation aimed at persuading voters through social networks is not new. The substantial difference in recent years was the exposure of the power of WhatsApp not only to influence people, but to extend that influence quickly among large groups.
The development of tools to monitor platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has been widely explored for years. However, WhatsApp is a platform that, due to its encryption characteristics, makes the monitoring process more complex.
It is difficult to obtain an accurate count of the viral messages circulating on the platform. There have been initiatives that contemplate WhatsApp as a means of collecting strings to verify, but there are few collaborative check models in this platform and there is little observable exploration to efficiently send a verified message. It is in this sense that this project is designed as a pioneer in monitoring presidential elections using WhatsApp as the main means of communication between the user and the journalist.
With this project we aspire to strengthen and contribute to journalism in the region and replicate the methodological structure and workflow of El Poder de Elegir in different countries of Latin America through the Chicas Poderosas network – and possibly globally.
How it all started?
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The first step to consolidate El Poder De Elegir was taken on August 11, 2017, when the Chicas Colombia team organized a workshop. Forty participants, mainly women, were invited from different regions of Colombia. The purpose of the workshop was to offer training in monitoring tools and to reflect on the challenges presented by electoral coverage. In addition, a collaborative network of journalists interested in covering the vote in real time was organized. During the course of this program, Claire Wardle, director of First Draft and Nic Días and an expert in data and computing, shared incredible techniques used to verify advanced information in social networks using the Python programming language. Maria Teresa Ronderos, director of the independent journalism program of the Open Society Foundation, also accompanied us on this journey.
Take note! As an input to this workshop, there were online Nic Días classes on monitoring social networks. To learn more about these classes, click here.
The timeline of El Poder de Elegir
November 4, 2017: Presentation of El Poder De Elegir, at FITS Colombia
December 13, 2017: Socialization of the fact-checking methodology at the Datos & Guaros event.
January 25, 2018: Release of the Check (spanish version), a fact-checking tool.
February 8, 2018: Training event on checking and verification of data for Colombian journalists, with Facebook, Consejo de Redacción and Chicas Poderosas.
Colombia Chequea Web Page that went out http://facto.datasketch.co
The challenge of working with WhatsApp
WhatsApp is a network with a lot of power to disseminate information and reach. However, it is known that it is a closed drawer that is difficult to monitor and its security features make it difficult to access data automatically to obtain traffic measurements or scopes. Faced with this, the challenge is to design a methodology that allows data to be obtained manually and generates closeness with the audience.
- We will experiment with the platform: It is important to be clear that this is an experiment, and will be developed further based on additional trial and error. The search and research of El Poder de Elegir seeks to find new ways to capture information (chains) on WhatsApp, verify the content, design a product with the verified information, and share the findings through the same platform.
- We will create new ways to communicate to the user and be able to be closer to this process. Why? First because this project aims to help citizens contribute to develop a pool of information. Second, you have to fight fire with fire. Many times, the pieces of verified information have much less impact and scope than pieces of misinformation. This is because you lose the initial user and segment the public considerably, if you collect WhatsApp information in the form of short text, meme or a gif and then transform it into text published on a website.
- Try to make a characterization of the active user that sends strings with the goal of collecting information about the most-used speech and most-efficient formats. These data will serve in the future as an input to create pieces that are more inclusive and therefore closer to the information inputs of real citizens.
Start being sexy for users
In this project, design is seen as an articulator, cultural mediator and researcher.
It was vital to start generating an image in the audience before starting, to be close, to use common network languages, to use humor. A communication strategy was structured to achieve that. See more.
The concept for the redesign of the brand was based on female power and adopting an attitude of calm, amid so much hate speech. After making an analysis of everything that circulated at the graphic and language level, we noticed that the vast majority of the discourses and color palettes were strongly aggressive, competing with each other for attention: red with black, black with white, red-gray, black-yellow, high-neutral – masculine contrasts. In this process, we ran into great paradigms such as, “it’s too feminine” “it’s pastel and it does not look serious” and big questions about why we think it’s bad that it looks feminine? Why is the soft and delicate seen as unserious?
Learn about fact checking and verification tools
To take the first step and start with a fact checking project, we first had to understand what it was to verify, how it was done and what it aimed to achieve. As part of our process, we had training on verification and monitoring tools used in social networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Learning to use these tools facilitates the work, especially when you want to work with social networks. It’s an applicable knowledge in the daily work of the journalist and the citizen.
This was just the beginning.
With allies such as Meedan, Chequeado from Argentina, First Draft and Colombia Check, we managed to have a more complete picture about the operation of fact-checking projects and the method they use, a very similar way and used all over the world. An example of this is the Chequeado from Argentina method, an important ally at a methodological level with whom we manage to have mentoring for the team once a week for the team. (See here the eight steps for a good check). In the process, it also has been important to see what fact-checking involves when looking for official and alternative sources during the verification process.
The training is fundamental for the team because this project has been a learning process in all senses. Document your experience with fact-checking, how you contact experts in the subject you are looking into, how you understand their methodologies, best practices and how they can be adapted to your own project.
Although very valuable, there are few examples of people doing fact-checking in Colombia. When we began to think about who would work on our project, we realized the bleak panorama in Colombia. There are only two organizations working on the subject: La Silla Vacía, consisting of an editor and two fact-checkers whose interest is “power” and Colombia Check, which focuses on “political discourse.” The Colombia Check team is made up of an editor and two fact-checkers, with two years of experience.
For this reason, we decided to train our own team, without losing one of our main focuses: strengthening regional and collaborative journalism and women’s role in this process?
The data: Of the 662 municipalities that the Foundation for Freedom of Press Freedom-FLIP has mapped, 338 correspond to silent areas, places where there are no media that produce local news. The picture is not very good.
How to search for allies
One problem is that we started to undertake a fact-checking project without allies that knew how to do it and without us knowing how to do it. It also was an opportunity.
Alliances are created to reduce efforts and not increase them. Before we started having meetings with other organizations for possible alliances or financing, we were clear about what we wanted and where we wanted to go. The most important thing has been to find out what our value proposition is to understand what we were doing that no one else was doing and our innovative factor.
Knowing how to sell the proposal is vital when looking for funding, support, volunteers and partnerships. In our case, our partners have been vital to train journalists and designers, first giving them tools to strengthen their trade and, by doing this, to a certain extent helping the development of these professions in the country. It was education as a development tool.
First, we did an online search in Colombia to find out who was working on these issues. Then we search for international examples. Why? It is likely that there already is someone in a very distant country who already has had the same idea as you.
Looking at it this way, it is easier to understand what we need to know to proceed: What can the potential allies offer that we lack and want for our project? What potential can we offer and what can we build together that diminishes efforts and does not increase them. The allies do not always arrive at the beginning of the project and will not always cover all of your needs.
What is negotiable and what is not negotiable? What phases of the project can be entered and in what ways? What commitments need to be reached?
Life-Saver Note: Before each meeting or when making decisions, create a snapshot of the state of the project: What is done so far? In what proportion, what is left to do? What do we need and what is its level of importance for the project?
We have this system:
Our value proposal is NOT to check data in WhatsApp and return it, because there already are organizations that have worked in this practice. The intelligent way is to ally and not try to invent what has already been invented.
Our value proposition is to create a methodological guide to adapt existing tools to create an online, fact-checking collaborative newsroom focused on WhatsApp. In this sense, this pilot called #ElPoderDeElegir is the first step in a series of subsequent steps to combat strategies misinformation.
The methodology: Here we share with you our methodological step by step (Spanish version).
Use and adapt existing tools
Our model puts the Check platform in the heart of our workflow. So the first step was to translate the entire platform, a process which helped us learn about its utilities, functions and scopes. We also have 100% support from Check’s developer team to solve questions and make modifications.
Data collection: Check allows us to collect all types of data, these data are important when making subsequent diagnoses, such as which formats are most popular, which speeches are the most used depending on each country, which are the most relevant topics.
Research: We hope that all results and data that emerge from the project are subject to research projects, in terms of discourse analysis, study and characterization of audiences.