Experts explore fact checking practices and experiences in Ghana

Fact checking has become crucial in the age of information, especially when the risk of misinformation and its attendant consequences is on the rise.

In view of that, the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Ghana has held a webinar to explore the practices and experiences of fact-checking and its impact on the media space in Ghana.

Speaking at the webinar, Ms. Caroline Anipah, the Programmes Officer at Dubawa – Ghana, distinguished between fact-checking and verification, noting that fact-checking is substantiating suspicious information that has been published, while verification deals with journalists scrutinizing information to check its truthfulness or otherwise before releasing it into the public domain for consumption.

Tracing the history of fact-checking, she stated that fact-checking started and became prominent in Ghana in 2016 via the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) project, and gained more grounds in 2020 when several media houses created more awareness on the subject matter.

Ms. Anipah further underscored that traditionally, fact-checking was limited to cross-checking political claims made by political actors.

In fact-checking, a claim that is usually viral or topical in the public domain is usually identified, and such a claim is investigated through thorough research from primary and authoritative sources to determine whether the claim is true or false.

A claim can be rated as either “True”, “False”, “partly true” or “not true” depending on the preferred rating scale of the fact-checking organization. Ms. Anipa was of the view that fact checkers require more networks and team members to go beyond mere debunking of claims, to actual investigations on the grounds.

On his part, the Deputy Director of Programmes at Penplusbytes, Mr. Jerry Sam emphasized the relevance of using technology for fact-checking activities.

He encouraged the use of digital technologies such as TIPAYA and an Information Verification Matrix for fact-checking. He explained that TIPAYA is a software that monitors and tracks various contents about elections on several platforms including social media; while the Information Verification Matrix is responsible for organizing all the sources by subject matter expertise as well as their geographical location.

Mr. Sam noted that the platforms used by his company are not only focused on curbing fake news surrounding elections but also act as early warning systems to detect and deal with real time occurrences on the ground. Issues that relate to electoral violence are quickly relayed to the police service for action and vice versa.

The Programmes Officer for MFWA, Mr. Kwaku Asante said that fact-checking does not usually require huge team membership but rather entails the use of more tools and resources to combat fake news. He noted that the fight against fake news would be more complex with the evolution of technology.

He argued that fake news - misinformation and disinformation; is a huge threat to the decency of society as it challenges set standards. With the gate keeping role gradually shifting to all members of the public, the media stands to suffer from the fake news menace in terms of credibility.

Despite the numerous challenges information disorder and fake news pose, Mr. Asante highlighted software and digital tools such as Google Reverse Image Search, Tinae and Forensically, that can be used to detect fact from falsehood and also recommended reliance on credible news and fact checking sites.