In full doubt, fact-checking seeks to reinvent itself

To analyse. Fact-checking, this journalistic discipline popularized in the 2000s and consisting in verifying a public statement, whether it comes from a personality or a person, has never seemed to be so necessary. Covid-19, war in Ukraine, climate change, disputed elections: false information, a term that we will prefer to the overused “fake news”, abounds. “The facts are under heavy attack”, summarizes Baybars Orsek, director of the international network of fact-checking, which brought together, at the end of June, in Oslo, Norway, some five hundred journalists and researchers for the congress of the discipline. Fact-checking appeared there both in full boom and in full doubt.

The pandemic was experienced as the work of Sisyphus. “Seeing the antivax rumors shared twenty-five thousand times a day and, despite our work, finding them so numerous the next day, was taxing on my own mental health”, recognizes Tijana Cvjeticanin, a journalist from Bosnia and Herzegovina. A feeling of helplessness, an infuriating feeling of writing in a vacuum, shared by many fact-checking journalists. “We have corrected a lot of false information. And yet, people still believe in it. It’s fascinating, but strange at the same time,” lamented Alec Dent, verification journalist, on the American site The Dispatch.

Confirmation bias

The limits to the effectiveness of fact-checking are well known. One of them is psychological: confirmation bias. Faced with contradiction, perceived as unbearable, the human brain tends to ignore an overly contradictory argument. A phenomenon that is sometimes due to ” religious “believes Alec Dent, commenting on the stubbornness of Trump supporters to defend the thesis of the ” flight “ of the election. This stubbornness is also often accompanied by a form of aggressiveness towards the verification journalists themselves, compared by their detractors to a “ministry of truth”, when they are not the target of defamation or of harassment. “But why don’t they like us? »despaired a fact-checker, arousing bitter laughter and tight smiles.

Should we therefore throw fact-checking into oblivion, like a failed experiment which consisted in emptying the ocean with a teaspoon? This existential question, all journalists ask themselves on a daily basis.

We can also put it another way: if specialized teams did not make the effort to verify the information, to make available elements of response, context or understanding, if we gave up in the face of a tide of fake news, how could a citizen of good faith find out about this miracle treatment against Covid-19, which he has read the praises of on Facebook but which would be deliberately concealed by Big Pharma? On the alleged evidence of the rigging of the French elections thanks to the voting machines of the American company Dominion (yet used nowhere in France)? About the supposed secret biomilitary laboratories in Ukraine?

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In full doubt, fact-checking seeks to reinvent itself