Fact-checking is a challenge to journalism, says AFP editor

Reporting what is false is hard, as journalists have always been finding out and reporting the truth and filtering out the false, the Asia fact-check editor of Agence France-Presse told students at Hong Kong Baptist University on March 12.

Taking the upcoming Indian election as an example, Karl Malakunas, who joined AFP in 2001, said focusing on and reporting on the “massive disinformation” underneath the election, which affect people’s thinking and the society, is one of the big challenges for journalism.

Seeking and reporting the truth is the way journalists have been operating for a long time, and now it changes, said Malakunas, who has been the AFP social media editor since last year when the agency launched its Asia fact-checking bureaus.

“That was a little bit strange,” he said.

AFP has set up a blog for its fact-checking response to the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation online. It has found a revenue stream from Facebook in 2017, when it started to fact check contents on the platform that the news agency decides warrants verification and puts links to the verification results alongside original the posts.

According to Malakunas, about 90 percent of the fact-checking was done by Google reverse image search, which is like a keyword search engine for images that tries to find out when similar images have been used before.

Another widely used tool is InVID, which is an ‘all-in-one’ tool created by an AFP cooperation with the European Union. The software cuts out keyframes of videos and then does the reverse search for used content online.

Although the algorithms are imperfect and sometimes error-prone, they are practical and fast, easy to use, and free, said Malakunas, adding that people need to be more aware of them.

Malakunas also pointed to the drug war in the Philipines as an example, saying traditional journalism would write the story from the various perspectives, like that of the dead, the human right campaigners, and the president, while stories about fact-checking are presented differently.

AFP, unlike some other fact-checkers that report with a slant in fact-checking, knows their mission is different from traditional news reporting and that it needs to be more sensitive and unemotional.

“We just report cold, hard facts,” said Malukunas, explaining news writing in fact-checking is harder and much more boring.

Malakunas quoted Phil Chetwynd, global news director of AFP, as saying that the news agency is a global reference in the battle against disinformation and that the fight against fake news had become a core component of AFP’s mission.


Chen Yuyang, Mar. 25,  2019

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