NewsTrust on Fact-Checking and the Wisdom of Crowds

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NewsTrust is shifting its focus to devote more time and resources to TruthSquad.com, a collaborative fact-checking site it launched in 2010

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Last week in New Hampshire, Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry challenged the validity of climate science, saying, "I think we're seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change."

"Reviewing a variety of links about a claim can help you weigh the evidence from all angles."

Luckily, the Pulitzer Prize-winning site Politifact.com came to the rescue by fact-checking the governor's claim, which it found to be false. The Washington Post's fact checker looked at the same statement and declared that "the governor is willfully ignoring the facts and making false accusations based on little evidence." But fact-checking politicians heading into election season is akin to playing Whack-A-Mole. No matter how many claims these and other fact checkers beat back, new whoppers keep popping up.

But what if you could scale these laudable efforts by harnessing the wisdom of the crowds? That's what NewsTrust, a nonprofit news aggregator, set out to do when it piloted its collaborative fact-checking site Truthsquad.com in 2010. Now, just over a year later, NewsTrust is shifting its focus to devote more time and resources to that effort.

I spoke with NewsTrust executive director Fabrice Florin by email to learn more about how he and his team plan to leverage crowdsourcing to fact-check the 2012 elections. For more on traditional fact-checking, see my interview with Factcheck.org's Brooks Jackson.


NewsTrust is shifting its emphasis, from filtering and aggregating quality journalism from other sources to crowdsourced fact-checking. Tell me more about NewsTrust, about what you have been doing, and why you decided to shift your focus.

NewsTrust helps people find good journalism online, so they can make more informed decisions as citizens. We're nonprofit, nonpartisan, and committed to factual information, news literacy and civic engagement. NewsTrust.net, our social news network, features a daily feed of quality news and opinions from mainstream and independent sources, based on ratings from our reviewers.

Our Web review tools enable the public to evaluate accuracy, fairness, context, and other core journalistic principles -- and help people become more discerning news consumers in the process. Since we launched our site in 2006, we have attracted a growing community of citizens, students, educators, and journalists, who share a passion for quality news and information, serving over 1.3 million visitors last year. Our media partners include the Washington Post, USA Today, and PBS NewsHour -- and our educational partners include Stanford University, Stony Brook, and Towson University, to name but a few.

We're proud of what we've accomplished over the last five years, but news sharing on the Web is now shifting to large social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, reducing the need for curated news sites like NewsTrust.net. Instead, we see an emerging need for quality fact-checking services and collaborative evaluation tools, which we think we can effectively provide by extending our innovative social media platform to serve partner communities on their sites.

As a result, NewsTrust is now pivoting from a standalone news curation site to a consultancy that will serve the needs of larger partners and help their communities become better informed about important public issues. Our initial focus will be on fact-checking services to expose misinformation in the public debate. We will also explore partnerships that enable us to provide news literacy and civic engagement services through popular consumer and educational channels.

With your latest project, Truthsquad, you are leveraging crowdsourcing to fact-check political claims. Can you explain to readers what that means in a nutshell?

Truthsquad is a new pro-am fact-checking service we are developing with the Center for Public Integrity, to help journalists and citizens separate fact from fiction together.

We are combining the best practices of crowdsourcing with the knowledge of a large nonprofit newsroom and the reach of major news partners. This unique approach empowers citizens to collaborate with journalists to investigate controversial statements from politicians and newsmakers. Participants are invited to post questionable claims online, research factual evidence supporting or opposing these claims, and verify their accuracy as a community, with professional oversight.

Our goal is to launch a daily service in early 2012 on Truthsquad.com and a few select partner sites. We aim to provide a one-stop destination for fact-checked information -- featuring our own findings, as well as promoting the work of other trusted research organizations like FactCheck.org and PolitiFact. Our advisors include Brooks Jackson (FactCheck.org), Craig Newmark (Craigslist), Dan Gillmor, Jeff Jarvis, Ellen Miller, and Jay Rosen, with more advisors and partners to be announced in coming weeks.

One thing I think you've already gotten right is asking readers not just what they think but what they've seen or read. Users can rate statements true or false and add comments, but they are also encouraged to add links and describe whether the link supports or opposes the claim. What made you decide to add this feature?

For each claim we fact-check (example), our editors provide links to factual evidence supporting or opposing that claim. We then invite our community to review these links before giving a final answer. Participants can also add more links, as described in our pilot FAQ.

The purpose of this key feature is to encourage participants to base their answers on facts, not just their own opinions. Reviewing a variety of links about a claim can help you weigh the evidence from all angles and reach a more informed decision. We also think that getting citizens to reach beyond their comfort zone and regular news sources can help them develop a more open mind, build their research skills and appreciate the value of looking at the world from different perspectives.

You can read more about our approach and overall mission in this article from the Nieman Journalism Lab.

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Walter Frick is a Staff Writer at BostInno covering technology and venture capital. He has also written for The Atlantic, Nieman Journalism Lab, and The Energy Collective, among other publications.

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