Dissecting “Fake News” With Fact-Checking Reporter Daniel Funke
Daniel Funke covers fact-checking and online misinformation for the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). He begins his day by reviewing the RSS feeder he created to stay updated on news trending worldwide. At the IFCN, a project of the Poytner Institute, Daniel focuses his writing on “fake news.” The term populated airwaves and television screens for the last year and a half.
We recently sat down with Funke to discuss how to dissect “fake news” and how it affects voters.
KH: Thanks so much for joining us. At The Andrew Goodman Foundation, our Vote Everywhere Ambassadors and supporters are extremely passionate about voter education. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do as a fact-checking reporter?
DF: I report on a large swath of the fact-checking space. This includes best practices that fact checkers are fostering at their independent organizations to the latest hoaxes surrounding current news events. I also cover platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. where I try to answer concerns about what fake news looks like on those platforms and what they’re doing or not doing to combat it.
My colleagues at the IFCN are more on the programming side. They work on convening fact checkers and help to maintain a code of principles, ensuring all the fact-checking organizations are abiding by the most rigorous journalistic standards.
KH: Fact checking has been recognized as a highly valued form of journalism. In 2009, PolitiFact won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for its coverage of the 2008 Presidential Election. Can you discuss why you decided to pursue this particular form of journalism?
DF: Previously, I was a Google News Lab Fellow reporting on the general media beat. Poytner received a grant to hire two new people for the IFCN and I knew it was an incredible opportunity.
“Fake news” is such an important issue right now and it seems like one of the most important beats in media. It’s an area where we need a lot of clarity. It’s also nice to be in contact with people who are on the frontlines of this work.
KH: The idea of “fake news” has been a topic of conversation since the 2016 Presidential Election. It’s made its way into political discussions in various ways. Do you think this has improved or hurt the credibility of fact checkers?
DF: Fact checkers are more visible than they have ever been. From a research perspective, it’s been shown that when presented with a fact check, or when their opinion is corrected, people generally accept the fact check. Fact checkers are not facing the same criticism that big media organizations are facing, or have faced, over the last couple years.
That said, people have accused fact checkers, like PolitiFact, with being biased but their importance has only grown in the past year. This has received a lot of attention recently, even in the form of partnerships with Facebook or Google.
For example, Facebook has partnered with fact-checking organizations around the world to help limit the spread of misinformation on their platform. Right now, fact checkers will check claims on Facebook and send them to Facebook. Once Facebook has received them, they work on the back-end to limit their spread in the algorithm, by adding a disputed tag so that fewer people see it. Those things are going on as a direct result of what we saw during the 2016 Presidential Election.
People have come to understand and appreciate the work of fact checkers. These kinds of projects are sprouting up, not only in the US, but around the world.
KH: How do you believe “fake news” affects a voter’s ability to make an informed decision about who to vote for?
DF: It’s important to note that “fake news” has always been around. It’s trendy to talk about now, but it’s always been a staple of democratic society… Propaganda or fake information trying to sway voters’ opinion.
The variable here is we now have such a diverse and complex internet ecosystem that we are all relatively new to. It’s only really been about 25 years since the internet has been around.
It’s hard to address fake news on social media platforms that were founded based on the idea of free and open expression.
I don’t know to what extent that influences votes per se. Academia shows that fact checks change people’s minds about certain claims but people will still have the same views. For example, if PolitiFact fact checks something a politician said, his or her supporters may say, “Ok, I understand that is false but I still voted for and support that candidate.”
Fact checks may change opinions but they don’t necessarily change votes in the end.
KH: On November 7th, there will be elections across the country in multiple states. What should voters be doing to make sure they are getting quality information as they prepare to cast their vote. How can they recognize fake news?
DF: I would say read your local credible newspaper. Take everything online with a grain of salt. When you do come across something on your Facebook feed, take a second and pause before you share it. Check the URL–URL’s are some of the most manipulated things on the internet. Don’t look at a logo and assume it’s a legitimate source.
The media has certain standards they have to uphold. Look for spelling errors, giant capital letters in headlines, questionable images. That’s what you want to be looking for.
Being a conscious news consumer is the thesis of what you should do.
About the Author
Kevin Hurtado is the Communications and Development Associate at Andrew Goodman Foundation. He graduated from Ramapo College of New Jersey with a Bachelor’s in International Studies and a minor in Human Rights and Genocide. Previously, Kevin worked as an Executive Assistant and Office Manager at Newark Charter School Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting educational equity in the city of Newark.