Fact-checking is a political exercise intended to counter disinformation. It is a more challenging task than proofreading because it seeks to invalidate content that is already in circulation. Facts are not enough because even factual information can be manipulated to spread misleading narratives. Context is always essential when making a fact-check. It does not stop at presenting facts because naming the perpetrator of disinformation or the group which stands to benefit from this insidious operation is crucial in educating the public. It is therefore a partisan act in defense of the truth. Unfortunately, those who wield power also control the resources that could turn fabrication into legitimate information. This could be a systematic long con maliciously shaping public opinion through influential knowledge-producing institutions such as schools, churches, media, and government bureaucracy. So far, the popular multiplier of disinformation is the internet. Lies and distortion are embedded in apps and propagated by bots. How can our fact-checking win this battle?
There is a wrong assumption that fact-checking should be done by experts or a group of literate individuals with privileged access to truth and knowledge. If viewed this way, fact-checking becomes an elitist specialization that arrogates the duty of identifying which is factual or not in society. Worse, it could replicate the outmoded type of pedagogy which relies on a teacher spoonfeeding his or her students with the “correct” knowledge of the world. This “banking concept” of education treats the students as a passive subject with no “cultural capital” to contribute to the learning process. The worldview of learners is cast aside in favor of the official curriculum. Our fact-checking should reject this undemocratic practice.
For fact-checking to be effective, it must be embraced by the public. We should mobilize the people to carry out this task as part of political organizing and narrative building. No less than a mass movement is the best antidote to disinformation victimizing the poor. If we are immersed in the communities we serve, our political education often starts by learning the conditions of the masses. Through study sessions, residents are able to articulate their thinking and sentiments which could provide hints not only about their political leaning but also the kind of information they are consuming everyday. Through their participation in mass struggles, residents unlearn narratives that reinforce oppression as they become more empowered in asserting their rights. Fact-checking should be integrated into this arduous process of political conscientization.
In other words, fact-checking initiatives should be complemented by political action at the grassroots level. When toxicity is normalized, internet users could misunderstand hate speech, racism, discrimination, sexism, bigotry, and disinformation by equating them with valid truths that are also shared and posted online. We should not underestimate how the “force of falsity” has allowed many to rationalize the contradictions of modern living. A simple fact-check will not suffice and internet users might even dismiss it especially if it is coded in a language that is not familiar to them. The fact-check should be sustained by localized education campaigns where lies are dissected and state-backed disinformation is rejected as a manifestation of the bankrupt political system. Improving the political literacy of organized individuals is a key task to defeat the sinister legacy of disinformation.
Another approach is to pursue community-led fact-checking campaigns where residents collectively discuss, deliberate, and debunk a viral post whose content is based on the distortion of facts. Not all claims can be verified that is why the advantage of establishing a localized fact-checking machinery is that it can effectively identify which trending “fake news” content needs to be immediately flagged. Community residents are in the best position to determine what type of disinformation is undermining the healthy exchange of discourse in the local civic space. They can also cite native idioms, history of local resistance, and contemporary references in making a fact-checking report. This can be presented using forms and methods that have cultural and historical significance to the local community. This is fact-checking that is not divorced from the real-life struggles experienced by ordinary internet users.
When disinformation is widely shared at a dizzying realtime speed by paid cyber mercenaries, can fact-checking stand a chance? There are short-term and long-term interventions that may require the enforcement of technical and regulatory mechanisms. For our part, we must not lose sight of the political solution because the roots of the information disorder are also linked to deeper structural infirmities in society. No fact-checking can minimize the destructive impact of the tidal wave of disinformation if communities are not politically-empowered to face this threat. Our fact-checking should be part of the broader people’s movement where the fight for truth and information integrity is anchored on winning the struggle for genuine freedom, democracy, and justice.