As part of our 2021 update on our Impact Journey, we caught up with some of our social tech ventures that continue to play a leading role in tackling the social challenges amplified by the pandemic. In this short interview, Louisa Johnson, Head of Fundraising at Full Fact, talked to us about the impact of the pandemic on their users and how our 2019 Techstarter programme helped them prepare.
Q. Tell us about the change you want to see in the world.
A. Bad information ruins lives. As fact checkers we’ve seen first-hand how bad information promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. We all deserve better.
Full Fact fights for the right information to reach the people who need it most, whether that’s individuals making decisions about their health or who to vote for; or politicians debating the future of our country. Our principles are simple. Anyone making serious claims in public debate should be prepared to:
> Get their facts right.
> Back up what they say with evidence.
> Correct their mistakes.
Q. Describe what you do.
A. Full Fact fights bad information. We’re a team of independent fact checkers and campaigners who find, expose and counter the harm it does.
We fact check claims made by politicians, public institutions and journalists, as well as viral content online. We then follow up on our fact checks. By asking people to correct the record when they get things wrong, we can stop and reduce the spread of bad information.
We’re developing world-leading technology and new research to spot repeated claims and find out how bad information can be tackled at a global scale.
We then use everything we have learnt from tackling false claims to campaign for changes that will make bad information rarer and less harmful.
Full Fact is independent and impartial. Our fact checks always use publicly available information and link to our sources, so you don’t have to take our word for what we say.
We never tell people what to think, or what choices to make. We direct people to accurate information from reputable sources, so that they can make the most informed choice possible for themselves.
Q. Tell us about your users and how have they been impacted by the pandemic.
A. Since our first fact check about Covid-19 in January 2020, we have been responding to an avalanche of false and misleading claims about the pandemic, at a time when good, trustworthy information was more important than ever.
Crisis situations often lead to rumour and misinformation. In the early days of the pandemic, we saw widespread confusion and false information about the virus, and the government’s planned response. In a crisis, lives can depend on what information people get, and what information they trust.
In April 2020, 50% of people reported having “come across any information/ news about the coronavirus that you think has been false or misleading in the last week”, according to research by Ofcom.
Q. How did you respond to the needs of your users during the pandemic?
A. As of October 2021, we have published 681 fact checks about the pandemic. We have challenged viral anti-vaccination misinformation and conspiracies about the pandemic itself. We have called out the government for misleading claims about the Covid-19 testing programme, and corrected newspapers’ false case data. Over 21 million users visited our website in 2020, searching for reliable information about symptoms, death statistics, treatment, government rules and restrictions and more.
The volume of information processed, and fact checked by our team over the past year has been higher than ever. Our tech tools, developed in part with support from the Techstarter programme, have helped us to cope with the scale of the problem and use AI to identify the most important claims to be checking each day.
Q. How have the broader social issues that you’re addressing changed?
A. Full Fact recently commissioned research, conducted by Ipsos MORI, which found that 3 in 4 UK adults are worried about the spread of misinformation; our data shows levels of public concern were comparable to fair wages and low pay, crime, law and order, Brexit, the Common Market and the EU and immigration.
A growing majority believe there is more lying and misuse of facts in politics and media in the UK than there used to be.
According to Full Fact’s research, 49% of UK adults believe they often see stories where news organisations have deliberately said something that isn’t true. 1 in 3 find it difficult to distinguish true information about news and current affairs from false online.
Q. How did Social Tech Trust’s support prepare you for this journey?
A. Techstarter from Vodafone and Social Tech Trust helped support the continued development of our automated fact checking tools in 2019. These tools are now an essential part of the fact checking process at Full Fact and they have helped us to manage the increased volume of work during the coronavirus pandemic. The tools are now also helping others around the world: they have been used by fact checkers and newsrooms in the UK, Germany, Argentina, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Senegal.
Q. What role do you think purpose-driven technology plays in shaping a better future?
A. Online misinformation is a complex and growing problem. We will never be able to check all the false claims that the public sees on a daily basis. But technology can help us to keep up with the speed and scale of the problem.
Responsible use of tech in this field helps us to understand and address false claims, with evidence-based fact checking rather than censorship.
Q. What’s next for Full Fact?
A. We will continue to fact check false and misleading claims about the pandemic and the vaccines and use what we learn in the process to make recommendations for reducing the harmful impact of misinformation and disinformation.
Beyond that, we will continue to fight for informed and improved public debate that helps to protect our democracy, health and communities. Most importantly, we want to make it easier for citizens to fact check and challenge false claims made by politicians and the media, and advocate for a higher standard in public debate.
We will also be building up to the next general election, where we will fight for voters to be able to make an informed choice.
Find out more about Full Fact on their website.
Published November 2021