Fighting disinformation

At global conference, fact checkers are called to prioritize mental health

Vernise Tantuco
At global conference, fact checkers are called to prioritize mental health
First Draft’s Claire Wardle says some of the fact checkers she has spoken to admit to increasingly not knowing what’s true anymore due to constant exposure to online disinformation and misinformation

Fact checkers around the world need to align on best practices that will prioritize their mental health, First Draft’s Claire Wardle argued at the opening of Global Fact 8, the only annual conference dedicated to fact-checking worldwide. 

In an impassioned 15-minute speech, which was aired on Wednesday, October 20, Wardle said fact-checking organizations need to recognize the disproportionate impact fact-checking has on those monitoring disinformation aimed at their own communities. 

According to an unpublished study conducted by First Draft, she said, monitoring misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories online takes a toll on these people’s mental and emotional health, and has increasingly led to harassment. All of this is set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been a significant theme of false information on social media in the past year and a half. 

Must Read

Filipinos face the mental toll of the COVID-19 pandemic

Filipinos face the mental toll of the COVID-19 pandemic

Wardle leads strategy and research at First Draft, a non-profit dedicated to fighting misinformation globally. 

Some of the fact checkers they spoke to, she said, admitted to increasingly not knowing what’s true anymore due to constant exposure to online disinformation and misinformation.

Wardle said: “It’s really worrying talking to people who just kept saying, ‘I’ve lost the ability to figure out what’s true’ and being really cynical about whether anything is true, thus proving, if you spend all of your time in these spaces…this is what happens. Even if you’re a fact checker, even if you’re a journalist, even if you’re a researcher, it starts to mess with your ability to evaluate truth.”

Wardle also called on fact-checking organizations – 96 of whom are International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) signatories and have full, free access to the conference – to agree on best practices for the industry. They should collaborate to avoid similar fact-checks on the same content, and collect their own data instead of relying on social media companies that continue to gate-keep information from partner fact checkers. 

Fact checkers have long demanded more access to data on their articles and rated posts from Facebook, which partners with IFCN-verified signatories to fact-check content on the platform. 

“I just want to say, this stuff is tough…and I think all of us have had a moment of just wanting to give up recently,” Wardle said, addressing fact checkers at the conference. “And I just want to say thank you for doing the work that you do, it means more than ever before, but it does have harms, it has consequences on all of us in our community.”

Global Fact 8 takes place from October 20 to 23 and will have talks on media literacy in the age of COVID-19 and fact-checking when democracy is under threat, among other topics.

Rappler is a signatory of the IFCN and is a fact-checking partner of Facebook. – Rappler.com