fact-checking political speech

What may be behind slumping growth for internet fact-checking

The past decade saw a boom in fact-checking organizations across the internet, according to annual census results from the Duke Reporters’ Lab. The momentum seems to have trailed off in the 2020s, however, with the total number of active organizations dedicated to fact-checks staying roughly the same since 2021.

The group counted 417 fact-checkers when its most recent results were published in June 2023, up dramatically from 151 in 2015. Still, growth has stagnated and the count is down single digits from both of the past two years. And it’s not hard to understand why.

The 2016 presidential election and the rise of misinformation in 2020 during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic spiked demand for clarity and underlying reporting or research to contend with an abundance of bad info. In the meantime, Meta and Twitter invested in fact-checking countermeasures to vet info that was making it to the tops of algorithm-driven feeds. Now, those efforts are being reconsidered. In the meantime, organizations that became reliant on social media platforms for funding have seen those opportunities dry up, The New York Times reported.

Judging from a new Axios report showing that Facebook and Twitter/X traffic to major news sites has fallen off a cliff in recent years, social media users’ reading habits are in flux. That may be an opportunity for smaller organizations — but it’s also a sign of the times in a personality-driven social media era that in some ways echos the rise of cable news programming.

Personally, my biggest takeaway from this situation is that media literacy has never been more important. At a time when increasingly robust generative AI is making deepfakes more convincing, the need for solutions that can be helpful at scale is clear. No app, however, can outperform a diligent reader who can ask some basic questions and double-check claims or questionable media being recommended to them.

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