In the current news ecosystem, one of the most demanding challenges for any news company is the problem of ‘fake news’.
The creation of content, which focuses on spreading non-real data instead of informing, has been booming, especially during electoral and political processes across the world. In other words, it would seem that, in the digital era, elections and referendums are a breeding ground for misinformation.
This year, Latin America has seen the emergence of various collaborative journalism and fact checking efforts that seek to address this digital phenomenon. Verificado 2018 was the first collaborative project in Mexico, which brought together more than 60 media outlets, platforms, organisations and universities with the aim of fighting misinformation in the context of this year’s presidential elections.
Verificado 2018 was a joint initiative from AJ+ Español, Pop-Up Newsroom and Animal Politico. We spoke with Alba Mora Roca, Executive Producer of AJ+ Español, about how this project was created, how the role of social media and the approach to the audience was defined, the challenges of verifying information on chat platforms such as WhatsApp and future fact checking projects in the region.
WAN-IFRA: What was the relationship between AJ+ Español and Verificado 2018?
Alba Mora Roca: Verificado 2018 was an initiative originated and co-founded by AJ+ Español that was born from our constant need to innovate.
In addition, it was the first of its kind that formally brought together high-quality multimedia journalism outlets. The proposal we made from AJ+ was innovative: we combine formats that break with predefined models of fact checking and present the information in an attractive and concise way, with elements that motivate the interaction and participation of the audience. We do not limit ourselves to videos. We seek and adapt other formats, such as loops, graphics, GIFs, WhatsApp states, live broadcasts, social network cards, among others.
WI: What role did the use of video and/or visual material play in this project? Why do you think it’s relevant to the type of audience you were trying to reach?
AMR: Multimedia content was central to the scope of Verificado 2018, we have proved this through audience data and the great success that the project had in social media (144,405 followers on Twitter and 130,707 fans on Facebook, with an average weekly growth of 15,000 and 10,000 new followers respectively).
The content that we produce at AJ+ is designed specifically for social media platforms and this was crucial to position Verificado 2018 as an essential actor in the electoral conversation on the internet.
WI: Can you compare the engagement of written posts and videos? Which format do you think has a stronger or better impact on Mexican voters?
AMR: Yes, of course! From the audience reports, we see that the native video for social media is the content with the most engagement and virality of the initiative.
For example, this tutorial on how to verify a suspicious image from your cell phone was the publication with the highest interaction ratio that Verificado 2018 had.
WI: How did you define the strategy and visual identity? On what basis did you work?
AMR: When we designed the visual identity of Verificado 2018, we prioritised clarity. Our goal was to help the audience distinguish what is true from what is not. Then it was essential that the design was clean and easy to read. Another relevant aspect was an UX absolutely optimised for the cellphone screen, specifically for Twitter and Facebook.
Regarding the strategy, Verificado 2018 was the first initiative of this type that formally included a vertical on educational content, focused on digital, fact checking and electoral issues. At AJ+ we work hard to show our audience how to verify content with video or image fact checking tutorials, what they are and how digital misinformation strategies work.
For me, the fight against misinformation requires education and the active participation of the community. One of our objectives is to take advantage of our impact to, in addition to inform create a culture of media verification in Mexico, raise awareness about misinformation campaigns on social media and empower people with tools and techniques of basic verification processes.
WI: What were the challenges of verifying false news on WhatsApp? (In terms of formats, engagement with the audience, etc).
AMR: WhatsApp was key, it is one of the main platforms for distributing false information. Personally, it is the part of the innovation that we contributed from AJ + that I found more challenging. Being a closed messaging service, it represents a totally different challenge to social networks.
I wanted our WhatsApp line to interact in a personalised way with our audience. It bothers me a lot when they send me things that I have not asked for WhatsApp, it feels very intrusive. Instead of using mass dissemination lists, we opt for an individual relationship: we respond in a personalised way to the information that each user sends us to verify.
But the platform is not yet ready to handle an account of more than 10,000 subscribers … We crash the application very often. In many ways, we had to manually perform functions that could be automated, and therefore, required to have a team of two people only for this channel.
But we use the rest of the formats offered by the platform. Through the status function we share content verifications that circulate both on the platform and in social networks, in order to generate a reliable information ecosystem. Our subscribers could have these visual stories on their own WhatsApp, requesting them by message, to share them with their contacts. This way, our community on WhatsApp appropriated the content of Verificado 2018 and became an active spokesperson and distributor of reliable information.
WI: How and why did AJ+ VERIFICA emerge? How will this initiative work?
AMR: AJ+ VERIFICA was born in July 2018 at the offices of AJ+ Español, in Mexico City. We are a team of journalists specialised in fact checking, dedicated to detecting and verifying the information that circulates on WhatsApp and social media. It is the result of our commitment to journalism that fulfils a social function, the innovation and our audience’s request to continue the efforts of Verificado 2018. With AJ+ VERIFICA, we continue to fight the damn fake news and build a strong community against misinformation.
AJ+ VERIFICA continues the efforts of Verificado 2018. The same multimedia innovation team of Verificado 2018 now forms part of this section of AJ+ that fights fake news beyond the Mexican electoral campaign. With the help of the latest digital tools, we verify and give factual context to the stories with the most impact among the Spanish-speaking audience. Our priority is focused on audiovisual formats, mainly videos and images.
Not only that; with AJ+ VERIFICA we seek to better understand and inform about the mechanisms of misinformation. Part of our mission focuses on helping the audience to unravel and discuss the current digital ecosystem.
WI: How would you define Verificado 2018 in one word?
WI: Tell me about you … Where are you from? Any hobbies?
AMR: I’m from Barcelona, but I’ve been living abroad for more than 10 years and I feel like a citizen of the world (although my heart is Mexican). I love walking in the mountains, hiking connects me with the pachamama and balances my digital life.
WI: Have you been to Bogota? What attracts you most from there?
AMR: I know Bogotá! I’ve been a couple of times, I love the city. I really want to go back.
To learn more about best practices in terms of data verification and native video for social media, don’t miss Alba Mora Roca’s presentation at Digital Media LATAM 2018, in Bogotá from November 14 to 16. Alba will address the issue of fake news and misinformation, and how to fight them through different digital platforms and social networks.
Read the Spanish version of this article here.