Developing Norms and Standards on Disinformation

4. Codes of conduct for researchers, fact checkers, journalists, media monitors, and others

Updated On
Apr 06, 2021
Country Background
Global The Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network has developed a Code of Principles for fact-checkers to follow globally that includes standards around the methodology of the practice. Groups are vetted to ensure that they follow the standards and those that are found to be in compliance are admitted to the network. The network has become the basis for Facebook’s fact-checking initiative, among others that have proliferated globally in contexts ranging from the EU and US to countries across the global south.

 

Fact-checking and other forms of research are generally described in our section on civil society but the concept is derived from key normative frameworks in research and ethical mechanisms for building trust in industries, communities, and society as a whole. The Poynter Center's International Fact Checking Network (IFCN) is a network of newspapers, television, media groups, and civil society organizations that are certified by the IFCN to review content in ways that conform with international best practices. This is basically ensuring that the process and standards for fact-checking follow honest, unbiased guidelines and certify that the organizations and their staff understand and comply with these rules. IFCN standards link with earlier journalistic standards to source, develop, and publish stories, such as the Journalist's Creed, or national standards of journalism associations

Other standards have been developed specifically for journalists, such as The Trust Project, funded by Craig Newmark Philanthropies. The Trust Project designed a system of indicators about news organizations and journalists in order to ensure reliable information for the public and encourage trust in journalism. These have been created to create norms  that media organizations and social media can follow in order to maintain a standard of information released. This group has partnered with Google, Facebook, and Ring to "use the Trust Indicators in display and behind the scenes," according to their website, and has been endorsed by over 200 news organizations such as the BBC, El Pais, and the South China Morning Post. This project has also been translated and replicated in contexts such as Brazil, and invites journalists and organizations from around the world to join.

In a similar project, Reporters Without Borders, the Global Editors Network, the European Broadcasting Union, and Agence France Presse have formed a similar Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) to create similar standards for journalism ethics and trustworthiness. The initiative "is a collaborative standard setting process according to the guidelines of CEN, the European Committee for Standardization" according to its explanation of the process on its website. Also funded by Newmark, through a multiyear, multistakeholder process to develop and validate standards starting in 2018, the JTI seeks to build norms among journalists, promoting compliance within the community of news-writing, particularly to combat mistrust in journalism and disinformation.

Poynter International Fact-Checking Network Standards
  • A Commitment to Nonpartisanship and Fairness
  • A Commitment to Transparency of Sources
  • A Commitment to Transparency of Funding and Organization
  • A Commitment to Transparency of Methodology
  • A Commitment to Open and Honest Corrections

The IFCN standards begin with nonpartisanship and fairness, something that is often difficult to guarantee in ethnically diverse, polarized, or politicized situations. Fact-checking groups must commit to following the same process for any fact check they do, and without bias towards content in terms of source, subject, or author. This ensures the fact-checkers are fair and neutral. They must also be transparent and show their sources and how they arrived at their answer, and this should be replicable and documented, with as much detail as possible. These groups must also be transparent about their funding sources and how they are organized and implement their work. Staff must understand this transparency and work to engage in their business in this way. The methodology that they use must also be presented and practiced in an open way so that anyone can understand or even replicate what the group is publishing. This creates an understanding of a fair and level system for reviewing and printing judgments about content. Finally, when the group gets something obviously wrong, they must agree to issue rapid and understandable corrections.

Groups take courses and pass tests showing that their systems and staff are cognizant of the standards and implement them in their practice. Groups also publish their standards, methodologies, and organizational and funding information publicly. The head of the IFCN Baybars Orsek described the process:

" Those organizations go through a thorough and rigorous application process involving external assessors and our Advisory Board and in positive cases end up being verified, and platforms...particularly social media companies like Facebook and others often use our certification as a necessary, but not a sufficient criteria to work with fact-checkers right now."

Verified organizations that pass these tests join the network, link with partner organizations, participate in training, collaborate on projects, and work with other clients as trusted fact-checkers, particularly social media companies such as Facebook that have engaged fact-checkers from the network in contexts all over the world. This concept is covered further in the Platform-Specific Engagement for Information Integrity topical section, but generally, groups that work with Facebook have their fact checks integrated directly into the Facebook application, allowing for the app itself to show the fact checks next to the content. While this methodology is still being developed, and the efficacy of fact checks continues to be difficult to confirm, it provides a much more visible, dynamic, and powerful system to apply them. Groups that want to join the network can apply and this can help ensure that when a project begins, they have a proper and complete understanding of the state of the field and best practices in terms of fact-checking work. 

Certain organizations have tried to expand normative frameworks beyond journalists and fact checkers to broader civil society, with varying degrees of success. The Certified Content Coalition had a goal of standardizing requirements for accurate content by bringing together various organizations in support of initiatives for new norms and standards. These groups consist of a research cohort of journalists, students, academics, policy-makers, technologists, and non-specialists interested in the mission of the program. The Certified Content Coalition’s goal is to create a widespread understanding of information being disseminated to the public in a way that is collaboratively agreed upon by groups, allowing for a greater sense of credibility. It ultimately stalled, with its founder Scott Yates noting, "[a]dvertisers said they wanted to support it, but in the end it seems that the advertising people were more interested in the perception of doing something than in actually doing something. (In hindsight, not shocking.)" This result potentially highlights the limits of these kinds of initiatives. 

The broader Pro-Truth Pledge is an educational nonpartisan nonprofit organization focused on science-based factual decision making. The pledge is for politicians and citizens to sign to commit to truthful political systems to promote facts and civic engagement. While it has a much wider potential reach, its application and the measurement of its effect is much more challenging. However, as with other norms, it has the potential to raise public awareness around information integrity issues, foster conversation, and potentially grow trust in good information and critical thinking around the bad.

 

Footnotes

8. Interview by Daniel Arnaudo (National Democratic Institute) with Baybars Orsek, Poynter Institute. July 2, 2020.