As we have noted in past posts, Zebra Fact Check has moved to focus more on fact-checking accountability than on doing our own program of fact-checking. Of course this altered focus affords many opportunities to check facts. As it stands, there exists no entity dedicated to holding fact-checkers accountable. The International Fact-Checking Network advertises itself in that role, but that purpose is overshadowed by its role in promoting fact-checking. We have called the result “fig leaf” accountability.
Much of the IFCN’s failure on accountability stems from its failure on transparency. For example, the IFCN set up a system where the public can point out when IFCN signatories violate the IFCN Code of Principles. But the IFCN almost completely shields the public from the content of the complaints. The IFCN considers the complaints in secret, deliberates in secret on whether to forward complaints to an “external assessor” and apparently makes no requirement for the external assessor to write an evaluation of the complaints.
We’re left guessing what happens with complaints thanks to the IFCN’s dedication to secrecy.
Zebra Fact Check’s Latest Attempt to Pry Information from the IFCN
PolitiFact, often the target of our fact checks of fact checkers, came due for its annual-ish IFCN review on August 4, 2023. The review can take months.
We’ve long been curious as to what happens to complaints sent while an applicant sits through the review process. We’ve asked the IFCN but have never obtained an answer. To us, it makes sense to give the assessor any complaints submitted and approved before the assessor publishes the assessment, at least up through the deadline stipulated in the IFCN’s own rules.
So, Zebra Fact Check has one complaint filed July 20, 2023 and another filed August 7, 2023. Our complaints sandwich the deadline for the start of PolitiFact’s renewal process.
Right now, the IFCN has approved neither complaint, and we have confirmed via the IFCN (a small tease of transparency!) that it does not forward unapproved complaints to the outside assessors.
In another failure of transparency, the IFCN historically offers no justification and no explanation for deciding which complaints it will forward.
We intend to press for transparency in these cases and others.
The public cannot reasonably trust the IFCN without the type of transparency we’re requesting.
Here’s our latest complaint message directed to the IFCN.