Fact checker

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A fact checker is the person or organization that checks factual assertions in non-fictional text, either before (ante hoc) or after (post hoc) the text has been published or otherwise disseminated, in both cases to determine the veracity and correctness of the factual statements in the text.[not verified in body] Fact checking before dissemination (ante hoc checking) has been a mainstay of serious publishers of non-fiction since the advent of modern journalism,[not verified in body] and aims to remove errors and allow text to proceed to dissemination (or to rejection if it fails confirmations or other criteria). Post hoc checking most often is followed by a written report of inaccuracies, sometimes with a visual metric from the checking organization (e.g., Pinocchios from the The Washington Post Fact Checker, or TRUTH-O-METER ratings from PolitiFact). The aim for ante hoc analyzed text is often external publication or broad distribution within an organizations,[not verified in body]; in both types, text may arise as transcripts of public verbal statements.[not verified in body] Studies of post hoc fact checking have made clear that such efforts often result in changes in the behaviour, as speakers and writers become more careful in their statements and of the listeners and readers become more discerning with regard to the factual accuracy of content. As well, the studies have provided an array of nuanced insights relevant to theories of human persuasion.

Definition and types of fact checking

Fact checkers are persons or organizations that checks factual assertions in non-fictional text, either before (ante hoc) or after (post hoc) the text has been published or otherwise disseminated, in both cases to determine the veracity and correctness of the factual statements in the text. The aims for the analyzed texts in question can vary widely, but often they are intended for external publication (e.g., in a periodical), or for distribution broadly within an organization or institution. In the digital era, with the rapid transcriptions possible between audio and text, post hoc fact checking has been extended to include public verbal statements and interview and other audio sources.[citation needed]

The result of ante hoc fact checking is most often either corrected text that can proceed to publication or other distribution, or text that is rejected because it fails some confirmations (fails verification). The result of post hoc checking is most often a more formal written analysis (e.g., a published column or report) of the deviations from accuracy,[citation needed] sometimes alongside a customized metric unique to the reviewer or organization (e.g., the 1-4 Pinocchios given for decreasing honesty by the The Washington Post Fact Checker project, the "True" through "Pants on Fire" TRUTH-O-METER ratings from PolitiFact, etc.).[1]

Impacts and study results

Studies of post hoc fact checking have made clear that such efforts often result in changes in the behaviour, in general, of the both the speaker (making them more careful in their pronouncements) and of the listener or reader (making them more discerning with regard to the factual accuracy of content); moreover, there are an array of subtleties and nuances of the impact of fact checking that are relevant to ideas regarding human persuasion and its theoretical basis that remain to be fully understood; observations include the propensities of audiences to be completely unswayed by corrections to errors regarding the most divisive subjects, or the tendency to be more greatly persuaded by corrections of negative reporting (e.g., "attack ads"), and to see minds changed only when the individual in error was someone reasonably like-minded to begin with.[1] Critically, studies have also shown that leading fact checking organizations do not arrive at a consensus regarding accuracy—for instance, in one study of "which political party bends the truth more," one fact checker reported inaccuracies about even (1:1, or a 50-50 split), while another fact checker arrived at a 2:1 excess for one party over the other for the same set of statements being examined by both (CMPA, George Mason University, Chapman University study, premier organizations Fact checker and PolitiFact).[2] Hence, studies support the notion that more than one such fact checking source needs be consulted, to arrive at a consensus of opinion on statements being checked.[1][2]

An experimental study found that fact-checking might help improve political discourse by increasing the reputational costs or risks of spreading misinformation for political elites. The researchers sent "a series of letters about the risks to their reputation and electoral security if they were caught making questionable statements. The legislators who were sent these letters were substantially less likely to receive a negative fact-checking rating or to have their accuracy questioned publicly, suggesting that fact-checking can reduce inaccuracy when it poses a salient threat."[3]



There is some basis to argue[clarification needed] that fact checking began as a recognized effort in the early 20th century. "Any bright girl who really applies herself to the handling of the checking problem can have a very pleasant time with it and fill the week with happy moments and memorable occasions," said Ed Kennedy in Time magazine in the 1920s. By the 1930s, fact checking departments had became a symbol of establishment among publications.

Modern innovations

Digital technology has opened the doors for new levels of scalability in fact generation and dissemination. Entire organizations and are now devoted to post hoc fact-checking, including FactCheck, PolitiFact, and NewsTrust's Truth Squad. Craig Newmark of Craigslist is making major pushes for new fact checking tools and is searching for projects that will provide "information he can trust."


Ante hoc efforts

Fact-checking is most critical for those publishing material written by authors who are not trained reporters — such writers being more likely to make professional, ethical, or mere factual mistakes. Fact-checking methods vary; some publications have neither the staff nor the budget needed for verifying every claim in a given article. Others will attempt just that, going so far as communicating with the authors' sources to review the content of quotations. Fact checking requires general knowledge and the ability to conduct quick and accurate research. The resources and time needed for fact-checking means that this work is not done at most newspapers, where reporters' timely ability to correct and verify their own data and information is chief among their qualifications. Publications issued on weekly, monthly, or infrequent bases are more likely to employ fact-checkers.[citation needed]

According to the Columbia Journalism Review, German weekly Der Spiegel runs "most likely the world’s largest fact checking operation", employing the equivalent of eighty full-time fact checkers as of 2010.[4]

Benefits and controversies


Among the benefits of printing only checked copy is that it averts serious, sometimes costly, problems, e.g. lawsuits and discreditation. Fact checkers are primarily useful in catching accidental mistakes; they are not guaranteed safeguards against those who wish to commit journalistic frauds

The possible societal benefit of honing the fundamental skill of fact checking has been noted in a round table discussion by Moshe Benovitz, who observes that "modern students use their wireless worlds to augment skepticism and to reject dogma," but goes on to argue that this has positive implications for values development. He argues:

"We can encourage our students to embrace information and vigorously pursue accuracy and veracity. Fact checking can become a learned skill, and technology can be harnessed in a way that makes it second nature… By finding opportunities to integrate technology into learning, students will automatically sense the beautiful blending of… their cyber… [and non-virtual worlds]. Instead of two spheres coexisting uneasily and warily orbiting one another, there is a valuable experience of synthesis…".[5]

He closes, noting that this constitutes "new opportunities for students to contribute to the discussion like never before, inserting technology positively into academic settings" (rather than it being seen as purely as agent of distraction).[5]


One journalistic controversy is that of admitted and disgraced reporter and plagiarist Stephen Glass, who began his journalism career as a fact-checker. The fact checkers at The New Republic and other weeklies for which he worked never flagged the numerous fictions in Glass's reporting.[citation needed] Michael Kelly, who edited some of Glass's concocted stories, blamed himself, rather than the fact-checkers, saying: "Any fact-checking system is built on trust ... If a reporter is willing to fake notes, it defeats the system. Anyway, the real vetting system is not fact-checking but the editor."[6]

Prominent fact checking organizations and individuals


Serving Africa

  • Africa Check:[7] a South Africa-based organisation checking claims made by public figures in Africa.

Serving the U.K. and E.U.

  • Demagog: joint project in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia (Visegrad Group countries), launched in 2010 in Slovakia and developed in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
  • FactCheckEU.org:[8] Created in January 2014, this is Europe's first "crowd-checking platform… born out of the belief that as the EU becomes ever more integrated it becomes increasingly essential to develop watchdogs capable of monitoring the political debate."[9]
  • Full Fact:[10] An independent fact checking organisation based in the UK which aims to "promote accuracy in public debate", launched in 2009.
  • The FactCheck blog:[11] A fact checking blog run by the Channel 4 News organization in the U.K.
  • Les Décodeurs:[12] French fact-checking blog run by Le Monde.
  • Pagella Politica:[13] an Italian fact-checking website.

Serving Latin America

  • Argentina: Chequeado.com [14]
  • Chile: Del dicho al hecho [15]
  • Uruguay: UYcheck [16]
  • Central America: Rete al candidato:[17] Rete al candidato is the first political fact checking digital platform in Central America. It is based in Costa Rica and was launched in 2013 by the weekly newspaper El Financiero to monitor the political debate of the 2014 presidential elections in that country. It is supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

Serving the United States

Serving regional and other locales


  • Sarah Harrison Smith spent some time and also headed the fact checking department for the New York Times. She is the author of the book, The Fact Checker's Bible.
  • Jim Fingal worked for several years as a fact-checker at The Believer and McSweeney's and is co-author with John D'Agata of The Lifespan of a Fact which is an inside look of a battle between himself as fact-checker and author D'Agata regarding one of his essays that pushes the limits of "artistic license" that is acceptable of a non-fiction work.

Alumni of the role

The following is a list of individuals for whom it has been reported, reliably, that they have played such a fact checking role at some point in their careers, often as a stepping point to other journalistic endeavors, or to an independent writing career.

See also

Further reading

  • Silverman, Craig (23 October 2007). Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute The Press And Imperil Free Speech. Penguin Canada. ISBN 9780143186991.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Amazeen, Michelle (2015) "Monkey Cage: Sometimes political fact-checking works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Here’s what can make the difference.," The Washington Post (online), June 3, 2015, see,[36] accessed 27 July 2015.
  • Davis, Katy (2012) "Study: Fact-checkers disagree on who lies most," The Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), George Mason University (online, press release), October 22, 2012 see,[37]
  • Lewis-Kraus, Gideon (2012) "RIFF: The fact-checker versus the fabulist," The New York Times Magazine (online), February 21, 2012 [print edition, February 26, 2012, p. MM45, title, "I Have Taken Some Liberties"), see,[38](subscription required) accessed 27 July 2015.
  • Heffernan, Virginia (2010) "The Medium: What 'fact-checking' means online," The New York Times Magazine (online), August 20, 2010 [print edition, August 22, 2010, p. MM14). Accessed 27 July 2015.
  • Silverman, Craig (2010) "Top fact checkers and news accuracy experts gather in Germany," Regret the Error (online), September 4, 2010, see [4], accessed 28 July 2015. Cited by Tobias Reitz & Kersten Alexander Riechers (2011) Quo vadis Qualitätssicherung? Corrigo, Konzeption eines Crowdsourced Media Accountability Services," p. 151, Fachbereich Media, May 31 2011 (Hochschule Darmstadt, University of Applied Sciences), see [5]], accessed 28 July 2015.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Amazeen, Michelle (2015) "Monkey Cage: Sometimes political fact-checking works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Here’s what can make the difference.," The Washington Post (online), June 3, 2015, see [1], accessed 27 July 2015.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Davis, Katy (2012) "Study: Fact-checkers disagree on who lies most," The Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), George Mason University (online, press release), October 22, 2012 see [2], accessed 27 July 2015.
  3. Nyhan, Brendan; Reifler, Jason (2015-07-01). "The Effect of Fact-Checking on Elites: A Field Experiment on U.S. State Legislators". American Journal of Political Science. 59 (3): 628–640. doi:10.1111/ajps.12162. ISSN 1540-5907.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Craig Silverman: Inside the World's Largest Fact Checking Operation. A conversation with two staffers at Der Spiegel, Columbia Journalism Review, April 9, 2010.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Moshe Benovitz et al., 2012, "Education: The Social Media Revolution: What Does It Mean for Our Children?" Jewish Action (online), August 24, 2012, New York, NY, USA:Orthodox Union, see [3], accessed 28 July 2015.
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  7. Lyman, Rick (2013-07-23). "Nonpartisan Fact-Checking Comes to South Africa". NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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