Journalist Jarmo Mäkelä (left), head of journalism training at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences Anne Leppäjärvi, seminar moderator, journalist Raine Tiessalo and Faktabaari manager Mikko Salo analyze the results of fact checking in the Päivälehti Museum on 21 April.
Fact checking became a natural part of Finnish election journalism as fact checking service Faktabaari investigated the veracity of a good thirty claims made during the Finnish Parliamentary elections campaign this spring.
Only eight of those claims held up under scrutiny, which proved the need for meticulous fact checking.
“The need for checking facts clearly extends beyond just election debates. As regards complex claims and issues fact cheking also needs to be complemented by well argumented factual discussion”, stated Faktabaari manager Mikko Salo in the summary seminar of the Parliamentary elections project held in the Päivälehti Museum in Helsinki on 21th April 2015.
As part of the summing up speech the claim was made that Faktabaari has become an integral part of election journalism. This claim met with the audience’s approval.
Faktabaari is an online fact checking service which makes use of crowdsourcing. The European elections in 2014 were Faktabaari’s first project.
During the European elections project Faktabaari was introduced to the public as a pilot project. The Finnish Parliamentary elections saw Faktabaari mature and broaden its scope to include journalism students of Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences as fact checkers working together with Faktabaari staff.
“Compared with the European elections project, Faktabaari’s Parliamentary elections project saw us get more involved with the coaching aspect”, Salo said.
The journalism students were involved in the checking of nearly all the facts that were taken under scrutiny.
“The work was motivating, but at times it was difficult to tell what the candidates really claimed and what they actually wanted to say when making their claims. I also learned that you need to set aside time in your calendar for fact checking. Time is a fact checker’s worst enemy as claims spread out quickly especially in social media”, Haaga-Helia journalism student Kati Oksman explained.
In addition to the journalism students the blog Ilmastotieto (direct translation: climate info) and its staff were involved in the fack checking project. They looked at election debate statements, news and claims dealing with energy policy and climate change.
“This work has been very stimulating. The fact checking and correcting done by Ilmastotieto has shown that it is possible to say many inaccurate things about broad climate and energy questions without being entirely in the wrong. The correcting of one’s own errors has also been quick, which boosts credibility”, reasoned Aki Suokko from Ilmastotieto.
The effect of Faktabaari’s Parliamentary elections project was based on crowdsourcing, openness and good journalistic principles as well as on the quickly growing social media following resulting from awards won and facts checked. A positive deterrent was created using a neutral style and by extending Faktabaari’s reach. On the election day Faktabaari’s social media following had roughly quadrupled from the numbers reached at the completion of the award-winning European elections project.
Of individual events both the following on Twitter of over one thousand newly announced parliamentary election candidates and the award won (Best Journalism Act of the year 2014) at the live televised journalism award gala introduced the service to the general public via more traditional media and secured a following which can be regarded as guaranteeing the desired effect.
On the election day the service, which is based on an open source code, had 4108 Facebook likes and 3741 followers on Twitter. Roughly 10 per cent of the Twitter followers, that is some 400 individuals, could be classified as media representatives or journalists whose job it is to share content. The number of active Twitter users was evident e.g. during the election week as quick reactions to the live fact checking done by Faktabaari while election debates were underway.
During the summing up seminar it was established that sticking to facts and scrutinising them closely paid off. Faktabaari was able to promote fact-based public debate by checking both small and bigger facts. Faktabaari did not speculate on why or how the erroneous facts had come about. It is unlikely any facts could be found on that. Commenting was left to the followers and corrections made by the individuals who had made erroneous claims were, whenever possible, broadcasted also through Faktabaari’s social media channels.
Coming up in Faktabaari
Now that the Parliamentary elections project has drawn to a close Faktabaari embarks on commercialising and extending the service abroad on the basis of experiences gathered and prize monies won. In a high level media innovation competition held by the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications this past spring Faktabaari won a €30,000 of seed money to be used for developing the service.
Europe Information, operating under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has this spring awarded the Open Society association which runs Faktabaari with a state grant of €10,000, which is to be used for Faktabaari’s technical development. The Finnish Society for Scientific Information (Tieteen tiedotus ry) granted the Open Society association with a €3,000 grant for the science pilot realised in collaboration with the Ilmastotieto blog.
During autumn 2014 the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation granted Faktabaari a total of €59,000 to be used for producing content during the Parliamentary elections in 2015.
“Alongside the continued analysis of the election projects we will also develop our link with Debattibaari”, Salo explained.
The next step for Faktabaari is to open a debate in its sister service Debattibaari on what kind of fact checking is needed in Finland and how Faktabaari can finance its operations without compromising its independence. This debate will serve as the starting point of a journalism seminar Faktana, kiitos! (direct translation: Facts, please!) organised jointly by Haaga-Helia journalism training and Faktabaari on 7 May 2015.
Debattibaari is a forum for experts where they can present their arguments under their own name without distracting Twitter-type commentary or anonymous trolling. A moderator working under his own name will select the participants of the public online debate on the basis of openly expressed criteria.
“Debattibaari refines and enriches expert knowledge to support public decision making and journalism. At the same time it provides all citizens with access to smart and clear factual debate”, Salo summed up.
For further information, please contact:
Mikko Salo, Manager, Faktabaari and Debattibaari, tel: +358 40 5565050
Tuomas Muraja, Editor-in-chief, Faktabaari, firstname.lastname@example.org