Fact-checkers have changed newsrooms: Jency Jacob, Boom

He says fact-checkers have changed newsrooms. Today, a mainstream media newsroom is also aware that some viral video or image that they are picking up to write about, there could be a chance that there is misinformation around it. In this podcast with Mrigashira, Jency Jacob, Managing Editor, Boom, speaks on the importance of fact checking in combating fake news.

Listen to the podcast here. (https://www.digitales.co.in/industry-insights/mrigashira-podcast/radha-radhakrishnan-in-conversation-with-jency-jacob-on-the-importance-of-fact-checking-in-combating-fake-news/)

A recent study by MIT says that debunking the claim after reading the news is more effective than pre-bunking the news or putting it right at the beginning. What has been your experience at Boom? 

I think this study is quite interesting. MIT’s study a few years back found that the speed at which false news spreads is several times higher than the debunk news or the fact-finding of that news. 

For example, suppose we fact check a piece of information that may have gone viral on Twitter or Facebook earlier. We debunk that information. In that case, it may not find the same virality as the misinformed post. I understand this because our experience is similar. We take all the pain, find out what that claim was, and explain why it is not true. We don’t find the same virality as much as probably the claim before that would have seen virality. 

This study now suggests that if you show people the fact check later, there is a better chance of revising their views than probably showing them the label before. It is a fascinating point. I would want to study this a bit more and probably check with our readers as well, whether it works or not. My only disconnect with the study is that once someone has read a piece of false information. They move on to another claim. They don’t bother to go back to check what they had read earlier was true or not. Which is why probably platforms put the label immediately. The challenge and the need are to stop the virality of fake news immediately. Suppose the study shows why it is not good to display the label before. In that case, it should come much later, and I don’t know how that changes the operational aspect of busting misinformation. But as far as fact-checkers like us are concerned, it does not alter the way we work because for us, whenever we receive a claim, we will go ahead to fact check them.

Not many people go beyond the headline or the paragraph before they share it with others, right? To that extent, isn’t it counterproductive?

Yes, I agree with you. That is our experience also. When we share our stories on Twitter, we found that the engagement with the Twitter post has nothing to do with the traffic on the story. We find most people don’t bother to click on the story. Some time back, Twitter used to add a layer asking people whether they would like to read the story before sharing. I don’t think Twitter does it any longer, maybe because it found that people found it irritating. 

In today’s times, we give importance to the truth or the facts that we believe are true, which is one reason why probably fact-checkers fight a battle which is so lopsided against them. 

Social Media platforms are taking measures to call out misinformation and fake news. But it seems to be not just enough. What is lacking?

I wouldn’t say that their heart is not in the right place. I interact with all these platforms, and my observation is that their heart is in the right place. But I see a tension between people who build the policy and those who want to influence policy. The ones influencing are usually from the business side, focusing on the bottom line of the platform. For start-ups, their valuation depends on the engagement. 

Regarding political conversations on these platforms, we discussed political parties and politicians during the pre-platform era, when we met friends, or when travelling on the train, or bus, or probably at an adda, like Chai ki Tapri, or some social setting. Even then, we always thought that we had something extra to give. We were adding tadka and masala and talking. What we were talking about one to one has got amplified multiple times. 

Let us not forget it’ been only a decade that we have figured out how much misinformation badly influences our daily lives. You could be a complete nobody. But you may have attained some form of influencer status on some platform, and you have started reaching the people directly. And this engagement is good for the bottom line of the media. While they have understood that this misinformation is creating a lot of havoc in the real world, it helps them with their bottom line. I think that is the tension platforms are constantly battling.

These days, media entities themselves have started putting out, at least around, the stories that they have reported, whether it is fake or misinformation. How is Boom going to be relevant and unique in this scenario?

When we started four years ago, we were all from traditional media publications. We found that a lot of the information floating around on social media was not getting any attention from anyone. Still, it was creating a lot of virality. 

The reason why mainstream media lost credibility is that we completely fail to see that there was an entire population who were getting the news on social media. They could see through some of the false narratives that even mainstream media were pushing out because of whatever narrow goals they had. Today, I can say after four years of our fact-checking, we have created a fundamental principle of how a story should be, how we have to go back to the first source and so on. You will not find anonymous source-based reporting on Boom, unless it is in a rare instance. It is not to say that what Boom does, no one else is doing. Of course, many others are doing it. I don’t think it is an either-or situation. Every story when we pick up, we are only asking one question – do we have the primary source? And can we fact check that beyond any doubt or any scope of people raising a question or saying you did not check this properly. If we are faithful to that principle, there will always be takers for us. 

Today, a mainstream media newsroom is also aware that some viral video or image that they are picking up to write about, there could be a chance that there is misinformation around it. That change brought in their newsrooms is thanks to the work that fact-checkers like us have done.


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