i3 conference at RGU in Aberdeen. was Amy Sippitt (Research and Impact Manager, Full Fact)
Sippitt started by talking about how a false statistic about the percentage of people aged under 18 who were engaged in knife crime, and how this overestimate (roughly doubling) led in the end to a law being introduced. There were lots of opportunities for the office of national statistics or government departments to correct the statistic, but they did not. This false information had serious consequences.
Full Fact started in 2010, inspired by a fact checking organisation in the USA. However, they felt that fact checking on its own would not work. They therefore adopt a carrot and stick approach, involving, for example, working with organisations to help prevent false information being disseminated, and (the “stick”) pressuring for correction. Incorrect information may be sometimes a result of the unhelpful presentation of statistics etc. in, for example, national statistics. They have found responses to these pressuring have improved from months to hours, due to Full Fact’s persistent work.
Sippitt described their reaction to the surprise announcement of the UK 2017 general election: to get out out high quality fact checks, work with partners in getting out correct information, and strategic interventions in areas that had been problematic in the past. They have lobbied for changes to the purdah rules that restrict information given out by the government during an election period, as this can also be a barrier to disseminating correcting information. Full Fact reacted to key stories where facts would correct/ illuminate issues (e.g. “the dementia tax”) and paid attention to the places where people get their news, notably social media. They found that graphics were more effective than videos in conveying information.
For a key TV debate they were based in the studio, tweeting and blogging to provide a factual commentary. They have developed a fact checking tool which also enabled them to generate informative tweets very quickly to respond to things under discussion.
The number of fact checking organisations has grown, throughout the world. Sippitt felt that they were relatively lucky in the U.K., since they have access to officials and official sources, whereas in other countries the fact checkers may have less access and cannot have the same relationship with official organisations.
Full Fact would like to know more about the people i.e. the general population, who they want to influence. There is research evidence that people are misinformed about some issues, that people don't trust politicians, and may end up choosing between total faith and total cynicism.
Sippitt went on to list some research questions they would like to investigate. At the moment there was research whether we change our minds, but there were a lot of research gaps. A lot of the research was carried out in North America, which obviously may not transfer to other countries and cultures.
They wanted more research on: how Full Fact can best communicate; how Full Fact can demonstrate their credibility; how people consume information e.g. what makes people share their work, why do people get interested in fact checking, how can they reach people who are not currently interested; Full Fact’s impact on the people they fact check e.g. are they changing their behaviour.
Photo by Sheila Webber: a fact checking tweet that Sippitt showed for our amusement