We live in a world where the exchange of information happens real-time. The advancement in access to information with its many benefits has resulted in rapid and far-reaching spread of information, accurate and inaccurate. Many experts including the United Nations identify this as an “infodemic”. Even though fact-checking is not a new phenomenon, due to the unprecedented level of false news that is in circulation, the need for fact-checking has become a necessity. Based on this need, fact-checking, which used to be the responsibility of journalists and media institutions, has evolved to be a responsibility of the wider society, including civil society.
Disinformation is widespread in Sri Lanka. Hashtag Generation as an organization which strongly believes in securing the free flow of accurate information with an eye on strengthening democracy, accountability, sustainability, transparency and, right to expression as recognized by the Constitution of Sri Lanka, has taken initiative to engage in fact-checking.
Our fact checks are based on the cycles of disinformation on social media, identified as a result of our regular analysis. The topics that receive significant attention on social media that can create a harmful impact on society will be recognized and prioritized based on their effect on relations between those from different religious and ethinic groups. We will also focus on specialized areas such as technology, health and education. Additionally, any interested party can forward their requests to us via our website.
We follow a transparent procedure to check the accuracy of the information and verification. Our procedure is simple and easy to understand. We follow international standards and processes recommended by organizations such as IFCN and AFP . Our localized expertise supports the process.
We follow the primary strategies used by journalists to verify information on social media. When required, we also deploy tools that are helpful to verify information that falls outside the ambit of more “traditional” methods.
The following are some basic tools that we use regularly. However, based on the information that is being fact-checked, these could vary.
- Expertise – We reach out to experts and professionals (Eg. For Covid-19 related mis/disinformation, experts in the health sector – such as doctors, medical professors and researchers)
- Google Reverse Image Search – (To verify the authenticity and the origin of an image)
- TinEye – (also too conduct reverse image searches)
- Yandex Image – ( To search images )
- Invid Toolkit – (A toolkit developed for the use of journalists )
- Amnesty YouTube Data Viewer – (A tool developed to verify the content on videos by Amnesty International and YouTube)
- AFP Getting Started Guide and AFP Fact Checker starter toolkit
- Visual Cues
- Google Maps and Google Street View
- Google Earth
In verifying information, we strictly follow ethics in journalism and the ethics adopted by The International Fact-Checking Network for online fact-checks. The key principles that we adhere to are as follows:
- Systematic selection of news/events /content for review and ensuring impartiality and fairness of the process
- Transparency of sources
- Transparency in the overall process and funding
- Transparency in the fact-checking process
- Honesty and openness for corrections
The Fact Checking Process
Hashtag Generation mostly focuses on Online platforms. Therefore we look and identify most trending and publicly important matters and issues that are discussed in Social Media. This is how we identify Fact Checkable claims. Then we look into the context and start writing the Fact Check. We look into all the primary and secondary sources that are available. We reach out to the necessary authorities and experts if needed. Meanwhile we collect data, information and visual claims as well as screenshots to explain the Fact Check to the public. After considering and writing what is available and accurate we finish the Fact Check with conclusion. These write ups reviewed inhouse at least two times.