The many faces fighting disinformation
  • Academia
  • Digital verification
  • Fact checking
  • International Relations/Politics
  • Journalism
  • Research

Meta-debunking decentralised disinformation

The purpose of VerificaRTVE is to change the culture of the institution.

Dr. Myriam Redondo has pioneered digital verification workshops for Spanish journalists since 2012. She came into contact with RTVE as an external trainer in 2016. An early expert in the field, she released her doctoral thesis on “Internet as a source of information for international journalism” in 2006. The team she is currently part of, the digital verification team VerificaRTVE, includes only 2 full time and two half time employees (though they will be adding new members in 2021). Their purpose is to change the culture of the institution as a whole by teaching digital verification. “This is transversal across RTVE and that is the success. It involves documentary experts and archive experts, designers and journalists, all positions in the team. We publish in multiple formats, radio television, internet…” she explains.

For Myriam, the problem of false news can only be addressed transversally, through journalistic capacity building and a cultural shift.  “We as journalists cannot do it all. If we fight fake to fake, we’ll get tired. It’s like trying to swim in a vast sea.” Instead she suggests the need to meta-debunk, particularly for what she calls distributed disinformation: “We tend to analyse a fake, we take the content and debunk it, but, at least in Spain, liars are sophisticated in their activity. They publish content but it doesn’t include a lie, it’s just a suggestion, then a second liar goes farther, and a third one farther. You have to debunk the whole chain, the idea behind it”.

Steering Clear of Amplification 

RTVE faces unique challenges as a public institution formally dependent on public funds. Under heightened scrutiny from 

audiences and inevitable political pressure at moments, RTVE has to prove their independence day by day and maintain the public interest. In recent months, this has meant focusing more on public health and less on fact checking political statements, which Myriam perceives very often to be “noise”. “Politicians from extremist parties are tempted to use our services to amplify a topic. When we verify a topic we enter their agenda.” 

The team is also strategic in their method of debunking to avoid sharing content more widely than is necessary; they try to respond to queries from citizens in the same channels where they are posed (directly in a WhatsApp message, for instance) and they try to reply to personal questions privately. Of course, this takes massive human resources. Not only is this kind of monitoring time consuming, but it is often not possible in closed messaging spaces. “We cannot clearly see what is happening. We are partially watching what happens in each but don’t have the whole vision”. Myriam explains the need for more tools, in particular tools that provide network analysis and track trends across platforms. She also needs the ability to parse more carefully between countries, to avoid unnecessary transnational amplification through fact checking. 

Myriam wants more collaboration between journalists and specialized institutions. She also sees a need for guaranteeing diversity in the growing industry of digital verification; political fact checking is a clear example of an area where a multiplicity of voices is needed, rather than a monopoly. “I envision a world in which journalists are doing our job, but in which we need [digital verification] organisations for deeper analysis on a given trend of topic. Also, a world in which citizens receive a more robust education on media literacy and critical thought,” she concludes.

Dr Myriam Redondo

It’s important to debunk fake by fake but also to meta-debunk trends and intentions

About RTVE

RTVE is the Spanish Radio and Television Corporation, founded in 1973. It is also the first Spanish national media that began training its staff on UGC (user generated content) and digital verification techniques, at a time when political fact checking was the dominant trend in the country. This was before the election of Donald Trump, “the event that changed everything”.