Fact check as a political movement
Fact checking is a political exercise aimed at countering disinformation. It is a more demanding task than proofreading as it aims to devalue content already in circulation. Facts are not enough because even factual information can be manipulated to spread misleading narratives. In fact-checking, context is always crucial. Going beyond presenting facts, naming the originator of the disinformation or the group that could benefit from this insidious operation is crucial to educating the public. It is therefore a partisan act in defense of the truth. Unfortunately, those with power also control the resources that could turn inventions into legitimate information. This could be a systematic long fraud that maliciously shapes public opinion through influential knowledge-producing institutions such as schools, churches, media and government bureaucracy. The popular multiplier of disinformation has so far been the Internet. Lies and distortions are embedded in apps and spread by bots. How can our fact-checking win this battle?
There is a misconception that fact-checking should be done by experts or a group of educated individuals with privileged access to truth and knowledge. In this way, fact-checking becomes an elitist specialization that assumes the duty of determining what is fact and what is not in society. Worse, it could replicate the outdated style of pedagogy that relies on a teacher feeding his or her students with the “right” knowledge of the world. This “banking” approach to education treats students as passive subjects with no “cultural capital” that could contribute to the learning process. The learner’s world view is pushed aside in favor of the official curriculum. Our fact-checking should reject this undemocratic practice.
For fact-checking to be effective, it must be accepted by the public. We should mobilize people to carry out this task as part of political organization and narrative building. Nothing less than a mass movement is the best antidote to disinformation that harasses the poor. As we immerse ourselves in the communities we serve, our civic education often begins with learning about the conditions of the masses. Through study sessions, residents can articulate their thoughts and feelings, which could provide clues not only to their political leanings, but also to the type of information they consume on a daily basis. By participating in mass struggles, residents unlearn narratives that reinforce oppression while growing stronger in asserting their rights. Fact-checking should be integrated into this laborious process of political awareness-raising.
In other words, fact-checking initiatives should be complemented by grassroots policies. When toxicity is normalized, internet users could misinterpret hate speech, racism, discrimination, sexism, bigotry, and disinformation by equating them with valid truths that are also shared and published online. We should not underestimate how the “power of falsehood” has enabled many to rationalize the contradictions of modern life. A simple fact check will not suffice and internet users might even reject it, especially if it is coded in a language they are not familiar with. Fact-checking should be backed up by local education campaigns that dissect lies and dismiss state-sponsored disinformation as a manifestation of the bankrupt political system. Improving the political literacy of organized individuals is a key task to defeating the sinister legacy of disinformation.
Another approach is to run community-led fact-checking campaigns, in which residents collectively discuss, ponder, and debunk a viral post whose content is based on fact-biasing. Not all claims can be verified, so the benefit of setting up a localized fact-checking machinery is that it can effectively identify which trending “fake news” content needs to be reported immediately. Community residents are in the best position to identify what type of disinformation is undermining healthy discourse exchange in local society. You may also cite vernacular idioms, history of local resistance, and contemporary references to create a fact-checking report. This can be presented using forms and methods that are of cultural and historical importance to the local community. This is a fact check that is not separate from the real-life struggles that ordinary internet users experience.
When disinformation is being spread in dizzying real-time by hired 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 related to deeper structural weaknesses in society. No fact-checking can minimize the devastating impact of the tidal wave of disinformation unless communities are politically empowered to confront this threat. Our fact-checking should be part of the broader grassroots movement in which the fight for truth and information integrity is focused on winning the fight for genuine freedom, democracy and justice.