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FactCheck: A reader's guide to how it works, and how you can take part

Everything you could possibly want to know about how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how to suggest a fact check.

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THIS ARTICLE SHOULD tell you everything you need to know about what FactCheck is, how it works, and how you can take an active part in it.

What is FactCheck?

We check factual claims made by public figures or entities, about newsworthy and topical issues. Occasionally we check or debunk memes, hoaxes or viral content which may not have a single, specific, high-profile author.

A factual claim:

  • Is an assertion or allegation, made in public, and based on facts (as you might have guessed)
  • Involves public actions, statements, votes, policies, or publicly available statistics (not rumours)
  • Is not a subjective value judgement, or an ideological or philosophical stance
  • Is not a prediction or a counter-factual (a claim about what would have happened if events were different)

A public figure or entity:

  • Is anyone in the public eye with an influence over society, economics, politics, sport, culture, and so on
  • Can be an elected politician, a political party, a candidate for office, a civic leader, a non-profit organisation or its leaders, a union or its leaders, an academic or academic institution, an activist or campaigner, a judge – you get the picture.

A newsworthy or topical issue:

  • Is an important issue which is of particular relevance at the moment
  • An important issue that is of ongoing interest
  • An important issue from history that happens to be in the news at the moment

How do we find and choose fact checks?

The biggest single source of our fact checks so far has been you, the reader. (26 out of 63 FactChecks, up to 23 September 2016, or 41%).

If you’re curious or unsure about a claim you’ve seen or heard, send all the relevant details to factcheck@thejournal.ie, tweet @TJ_FactCheck, or send us a direct message on Twitter.

We also watch and listen to a lot of Irish TV and radio, read the news, tune in to Dáil and Seanad debates, and keep an eye on what politicians, public figures and activist and non-profit groups say on social media.

We do our best to fact-check a wide range of issues, and examine the claims of a wide range of individuals and organisations. This is to try and ensure fairness and an even distribution in our fact checks, and avoid concentrating too much on one issue, or one person or group.

Our efforts on this will inevitably be imperfect, so if you ever feel this is the case, please let us know.

Occasionally, this might mean that we can’t fact-check a specific claim, even if it’s been requested by more than one reader.

Who can submit a fact check?

Anyone. This is a departure from our original guidelines, which limited FactCheck requests to members of the public.

As of now, though, we will check claims submitted by politicians, their staff, political parties, non-profit groups and unions – essentially, the types of people and organisations who are normally the ones being fact-checked.

However, if you fall into this category, we will only accept your suggestion on the understanding that the article will mention the source of the request.

So if, for example, Political Party A’s press office asks us to fact-check a claim by Political Party B, we’ll only do it if Political Party A agrees to be named in the article.

For general readers, we certainly ask if we can mention your name and (roughly) where you live, but you don’t have to.

How to suggest a fact check

  • Email factcheck@thejournal.ie, tweet @TJ_FactCheck (bearing in mind that a request in this format is public), or send us a direct message on Twitter
  • Tell us who you are, roughly where you live, and whether it’s ok for us to include that information in the fact check
  • Be as specific as possible about the claim you want checked, the person or organisation who made it, and where you saw, read, or heard the claim being made. If you can, include links. Suggestions with this information are far more likely to end up as fact checks.
  • As much as we’d love to, we can’t research questions you are simply curious about. FactCheck is about examining the truth (or otherwise) of claims that have been made about specific issues
  • We can’t fact-check claims that involve someone’s beliefs or ideology, counterfactual claims or predictions.
  • We’re particularly grateful for any memes or viral content that you may see circulating on social media. The internet is a big place, and we can’t keep an eye on all of it, so if you see something that can be fact-checked or debunked, please get in touch.

How we check claims

  • In almost all instances, the person or entity who made the claim in question will be asked to provide evidence. This is for two reasons: it holds them to account, and also gives them the right and opportunity to defend their claim and argue their case.

We then evaluate the evidence they give us, but also research the issue independently.

  • Insofar as is possible, we use the most official, authoritative sources available as evidence
  • And we always try to get to the root of a claim.

If we come across a statistic in a speech, press release, meme or video, we look for the raw data that led to that statistic.

  • Then, we evaluate the quality of that data or information, the quality of the methodology used to acquire it, and the reliability of the entity who gathered it in the first place. (i.e. did this come from a peer-reviewed study in a reputable journal, a state agency, a government department, the Central Statistics Office, an international organisation like the UN, OECD, WHO, or Eurostat?)
  • We don’t “take the word” of reputable organisations, but we do know that some data and information is more reliable than others.
  • We seek out contradictions. This means that, rather than searching for evidence that supports or refutes a claim, we deliberately try to find evidence that supports and refutes every side of a particular issue. We are deliberately awkward in our research.
  • We weigh evidence. If we find 20 pieces of peer-reviewed scientific research which refute a claim, and one that supports it, that claim is likely to get a rating of FALSE or Mostly FALSE.
  • If a claim involves a public statement, we look at official transcripts, but also (where available) at audio and video recordings, to ensure what someone actually said wasn’t misrepresented in a transcript or news report.
  • We very often speak to experts, to help us interpret and evaluate evidence, but also to give us their own expert assessment of a claim.

And we try to speak to as many experts as practically possible, in order to avoid any bias in the way evidence is interpreted and evaluated.

  • We use public sources, wherever possible. We want readers to be able to replicate the research we do, and come to their own conclusions, so we will use evidence that is already publicly available, or seek permission to make evidence public in our fact checks.

Very occasionally, we will use evidence that is not publicly available, but we will explain why.

  • We do not accept off-the-record statements as evidence.

How we rate claims

After gathering, evaluating, testing and weighing the evidence available, we give each claim a verdict. In our view, a verdict should be read along with the evidence available, and the (often quite nuanced) rationale behind it.

But we understand that many see the verdict as the most essential part of each fact check, so it’s only fair that we explain what they mean.

TRUE: The claim is accurate, and is not missing any significant details or context.

Mostly TRUE: The claim is close to accurate, but is missing significant details or context. Or, the best available evidence weighs in favour of the claim.

Half TRUE: There are elements of truth in the claim, but also elements of falsehood. Or, the best available evidence is evenly weighted in support of, and against, the claim.

Mostly FALSE: There is an element of truth in the claim, but it is missing critical details or context. Or, the best available evidence weighs against the claim.

FALSE: The claim is inaccurate

NONSENSE: The claim is wildly inaccurate, logically impossible, and/or ridiculous.

UNPROVEN: The evidence available is insufficient to support or refute the claim, but it is logically possible.

Corrections and Updates

Occasionally, we will get things wrong. When that happens, we’ll say so.

If any significant information has been added to an article, that update will be briefly described at the bottom of the article. If there was a factual error, the error will be fixed and the correction will be briefly described at the bottom of the article.

If we change a verdict (either due to the discovery of an error or new information), we will explain that change in the article.

In addition, any updates, corrections or verdict changes will be tracked on our Updates and Corrections page.

International Fact-Checking Network Code of Principles

FactCheck at TheJournal.ie is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles, which you can read in full, here.

Send your FactCheck requests to factcheck@thejournal.ie.

Read: The International Fact-Checking Network Code of Principles>

Read: FactCheck’s Updates and Corrections>

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