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FactCheck: A reader's guide to how it works

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

Updated June 2022

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. We also check or debunk memes, hoaxes, rumours and viral content which may not have a single, specific, high-profile author.

How do we find and choose fact checks?

While our work is informed by topical issues of the day, we do our best to factcheck 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 person or group.

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

We 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 also look at Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other social media platforms for claims.

Readers can submit suggestions for claims by sending the details to factcheck@thejournal.ie, tweet @TJ_FactCheck, or send us a direct message on Twitter. You can also forward claims to us on WhatsApp on 085 221 4696.

When deciding on which claims to prioritise, we can’t get to every single one so we focus on ones that have the most potential to cause harm or have a negative impact in people’s lives, as well as claims which are being shared widely.

What do FactChecks look like? 

The growth of misinformation in Ireland during the coronavirus pandemic led to an expansion of the number and type of factchecks we do. These are the different types of factchecks that you’ll see on the site: 

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 factchecked.

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 provide this information.

How to suggest a fact check

  • Email factcheck@thejournal.ie, tweet @TJ_FactCheck (bearing in mind that a request in this format is public), send us a direct message on Twitter, or WhatsApp message us on 085 221 4696
  • 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 factcheck 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 for a FactCheck 

  • If the claim was made by a specific person or entity, in almost all instances they 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.
  • 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.

Why should you take our word for anything? 

You don’t have to. Our aim is to give you the information that you need to make your own mind up. A lot of the time things aren’t black and white. We want to get good information out there to cut through the noise.

How we rate claims

When it comes to FactChecks which require a verdict, our view is that 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.

MIXTURE: 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

MISLEADING: The claim either intentionally or unintentionally misleads readers 

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.

Making a difference

A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article.

Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can make sure we can keep reliable, meaningful news open to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.

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.

About us

The Journal is owned by brothers Eamonn and Brian Fallon, who set up property listings website Daft.ie in 1997. In July 2015, their Distilled Media group merged with the Oslo-listed Schibsted Media Group to form Distilled SCH. However, The Journal and its sister publications The42 and Noteworthy remained separate and solely owned by the Fallon brothers as the independent Journal Media Ltd.

FactCheck is a project run out of The Journal newsroom and largely funded from the central newsroom budget. Read more about The Journal FactCheck unit here

We also factcheck content on Facebook as part of its Third-Party Fact-Checking Programme. You can read about how that works here.

All newsteam members with The Journal are required to declare to the editor any political affiliations or allegiances, business interests or other external activities which could affect their journalistic endeavours, including and especially the impartiality necessary for carrying out a The Journal FactCheck.

This requirement is enshrined in our newsroom handbook and overseen by the editor.

International Fact-Checking Network Code of Principles

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

How can I help?

The most direct thing you can do is contribute to The Journal so we can keep factchecking, explaining and informing. Factchecking is some of the most expensive and resource-heavy work we do in the newsroom so every contribution helps.

Aside from that, let us know if you have a claim you want factchecked, and share our work on social media and in your groups if you can.

Send your FactCheck requests to factcheck@thejournal.ie.

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

Read: FactCheck’s Updates and Corrections>

About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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