The International Fact-Checking Network has updated its system for verifying fact-checking organizations’ compliance with its “Code of Principles” in 2020. But in practice so far the new IFCN system seems no better than the one Zebra Fact Check tested in 2019.
In 2019 the review of PolitiFact failed to mention complaints Zebra Fact Check submitted. The IFCN failed to deliver those complaints to the outside assessor. The IFCN belatedly sent the complaints to the assessor but published no evaluation of the complaints. The public would not know from the IFCN the complaints were ever submitted. Thankfully, the outside assessor, Michael Wagner, modeled appropriate transparency and shared with Zebra Fact Check the evaluation he sent to the IFCN.
Here We Go Again?
The Washington Post Fact Checker came due for its annual IFCN review on June 20, 2020. Zebra Fact Check submitted a complaint about the Fact Checker a few days later on June 29, 2020.
We caught the Fact Checker offering a false version of a news report as part of a fact check on the alleged connection between “antifa” and violence at a “Black Lives Matter” protest. Zebra Fact Check sent a formal complaint to the Washington Post on June 26, 2020, but the error remains months later.
Zebra Fact Check interpreted the Fact Checker’s failure to fix the error as a failure to adhere “scrupulously” to an open and honest policy on corrections, hence the June 29 complaint we sent to the IFCN.
On Aug. 20, 2020 the IFCN published its approving review of the Fact Checker. The review, by the same assessor who reviewed PolitiFact in 2019, contained no mention of any complaints about the Fact Checker.
Had the IFCN (incredibly) failed again to forward the complaint to the assessor?
Had the IFCN decided we submitted the complaint too late to consider for an annual review due on June 20 and published on Aug. 20?
Zebra Fact Check asked the IFCN to settle those questions with an Aug. 28, 2020 email.
When we failed to obtain a response, we repeated the request with a Sept. 7, 2020 email.
IFCN’s Fig Leaf Accountability
A system of accountability that ignores complaints and does not require compliance with its “Code of Principles” fails its mission.
That system instead promotes the appearance of accountability without the substance.
A true system of accountability would transparently evaluate complaints on their merits. And after that expect fact checkers to improve on any identified areas of weakness.
At the IFCN complaints are apparently routinely buried, with no changes expected in response to apparently valid complaints.
The new accountability system does not function as advertised.
Update Sept. 14, 2020: Post updated with a pair of links to email outreach attempts.