Africa fact-checking grows amid challenges

Data availability continues to be an obstacle to effective and efficient fact-checking in Africa, says Africa Check Kenya Editor Alphonce Shiundu.

“Data availability, funding, digital literacy skills, the obvious exigencies of the political economy of Africa’s media are just some of the challenges in the journey towards effective and efficient fact-checking in Africa,” he said.

During a country’s election period, Shiundu said sourcing information is difficult because when investigating a claim, Africa Check may not always have access to the latest credible information because it may not even exist.

“[Or], the governments don’t want to release the data because it will paint the ruling party or the sitting president in a bad light,” he said.

This year, the fact-checking organisation has researched various election claims including South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s claims around job creation and housing before South Africa’s May elections. Both claims were proven untrue.

“Perhaps, what we have seen in Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal and South African elections, is that just because politicians make statements on public platforms, does not mean they have checked their figures or their story.

“What we see is that they sometimes mangle their numbers, spice up their claims, and dress up the facts to tell their best story, which may not be the correct story,” Shiundu said, who noted a renewed journalistic focus on keeping public figures honest during election time.

“Anecdotally, what we have seen is heightened fact-checking around this period, which may give an impression that there’s so much false information being spread around.”

Shiundu said there are multiple sources who spread false information for different reasons. He added that it is difficult to pinpoint that one “source” which spreads the most false information.

“We have people who put out false information out of ignorance; we have those whose job is to put out false information for pecuniary or political reasons; we have those who do it for fun (even though it isn’t funny),” Shiundu said.

As a result, the themes Africa Check fact-checks includes a wide range of topics which includes health, development, migration, the environment and any topic with a “public policy impact”.

“We try to grow the palate of themes and topics that we look at, to ensure that people have accurate information about the whole menu of public policy,” he added.

Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp provide a platform for false information to spread almost instantly.

Shiundu said people should be “critical thinkers” to not be susceptible to false information.

“First, one has to ask the mother of all questions whenever they hear something: Is there evidence to support what this person is saying or to back up this claim?”

While the unavailability of data may make verifying information difficult, Shiundu said “inconsistencies” in a claim may be indicative of it being false.

“Something as small as a typo or a date can be a clue that something is phoney,” Shiundu said.

In the 2018 Information and Communication for Development report, Boutheina Guermazi, the World Bank’s digital development director, said governments in developing countries can use data to provide better service delivery to its citizens.

“People’s lives can benefit greatly when decisions are informed by relevant data that uncover hidden patterns, unexpected relationships, and market trends or reveal preferences,” the report added.

Africa Check’s website includes tips such as this guide on identifying for false information and these tips about combating misinformation on WhatsApp.

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