Fact-checking: Work like a professional

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Are you going to fact-check a claim made by someone in power?
Or check the veracity in the claim of an individual “case”?
Whatever the situation, methods have been devised by fact-checkers around the world.
Use the checklist below for fact checking.

  1. Find out exactly what was said in the claim in question. So far, this is not particularly difficult when it comes to TV or radio. If it is in print or online, you have to assume at this stage that the person has been quoted correctly.
  2. Who said this?
  3. Where is it published?
  4. The claim should be based on information that can be found in, for example research, reports, official statistics or other credible source. In this way, normative claims or predictions about the future are excluded.
  5. The claim should be relevant, whether it is true or false should make a difference, and it should not be obvious it was a slip of the tongue.
  6. The claim should also be important and of interest to a lot of people. It should also have been subject to a certain degree of dissemination.
  7. When the above criteria have been met, start by directly approaching the person in question, and ask them to tell you which particular sources the claim is based on. Ask for links, supporting evidence, documentation, or whatever you can think of. In addition, try to find out if there were any particular circumstances surrounding the claim that are relevant – such as a provocation, a lengthy discussion that ended in something else, or something similar. For many individuals audited in this way, there are often press departments that can be of assistance.
  8. Then review the material you receive in the usual way – who is the author? Where is it published? Are there other sources that substantiate it? Is it reasonable? What have other media published? Is there anyone who may hold a different point of view on this issue, and what is the basis for his/her point of view?
  9. If you can’t get hold of any material, roll up your sleeves and start from scratch. Search with keywords and key phrases. You can find more search tips and links in the Search Tips section. 
  10. Remember to make notes and save links for all the checks you make so that you can then be open and transparent in your own publication of how the fact checking has been carried out.
  11. Sometimes no clear originator can be identified for claims that are relevant, important and widely disseminated. They can, of course, be reviewed anyway, but this makes point 7 above difficult. A substitute for point 7 is to contact the individuals who have shared the material and ask them about its origin.
  12. Sometimes you might need assistance to interpret what is revealed by such a review. In which case, contact an expert in the field. Take care to avoid a situation where you, as fact checker, point a finger at the person who was in the wrong (or right for that matter), and instead try to set the claim in a wider context for your audience. Or use the expert for your own sake, to make sure you yourself are in the right.

Finally: Give a thorough account of how you reviewed the claim, and link to sources in your publication.