Factcheck in Central Asia: Interview with the founder and editor in chief of Factcheck.kz

Factcheck in Central Asia: Interview with the founder and editor in chief of Factcheck.kz

The founder of FactCheck.kz, Adil Jalilov, and the chief editor of the project, Pavel Bannikov, talk about the
challenges that Kazakhstan’s factchecking are facing, and in which direction the first Central Asian factchecking
will evolve.

Adil Jalilov: Do you remember when the topic about Ukraine divided people into two, even in Kazakhstan. Then
people argued everywhere: at work, at home. Some were for Russia, others for Ukraine, depending on the sources of
information they followed. It was obvious that there was no resource that coolly relied on logic and rechecked facts
with which we were generously and daily presented through the news. I began to study the topic in more detail and
found that there is factchecking – a fairly common genre in Western journalism.
The problem of misinformation and manipulation of information is global; it is also relevant for Kazakhstan and is
not limited to the Ukrainian topic.

Then I decided to create and develop a fact-checking project. People need to logically perceive the facts, be able to
verify them, and there is something to check from officials and leaders to the most ordinary users.
However, there was a need to master the tools, methodology, as fact-checking is not the easiest genre. There are a
lot of very cool fact-projects in the world, but we chose Ukrainian experts as the most advanced in this genre in the
Russian-speaking space. Members of our editorial office traveled to Kiev, learned from several fact-checking
projects. This helped to determine the editorial policy, methodology, objects of verification.
Pavel: For a year and a half, we conducted about a dozen trainings in editorial offices, two large trainings for
Almaty journalists. I think we have given quite a lot of tools that Kazakhstan journalists are currently using at the
stage of preparing materials. Initially, we aimed precisely at the professional community and we know that our
journalists read us, including the section of the methodology.

We are now working to reach a wider audience. First of all, these are students, young people who are in the thick of
information noise, and who find it difficult to understand this stream. We want to give the audience tools so not only
for journalists, but also readers with developed critical thinking are guided in the information agenda.
Several groups appeared in Facebook at once, which are checking photos and videos, including our open group,
where we talk about the methods and practices of fact. Not only journalists, but also users of social networks are
interested in fact. There are activists who themselves are interested in verifying the facts, sometimes we publish on
the site works of our group members on Facebook.
Adil: After launching the project, we faced several problems. For example, do we have “flags”, that is, forbidden
topics and people, how we choose the object of verification. In fact, everyone has the problem of self-censorship in
Kazakhstan, but we have practically got rid of it. This is a very important point in the concept of Factcheck.kz.
Choosing the object of verification, we decided to rely on the canons of classical journalism and focus on the public
interest and public importance. We defined for ourselves the criteria for selecting topics and objects. By default, the
objects of fact-checking are all state officials, decision-makers, who determine the development of a country, budget
allocations, in general, everything related to budget funds and what affects people's lives.
But we do not break the law, do not use the forbidden methods of extracting information, and do not violate the
boundaries of private life.

Pavel: In fact, they tried to put pressure on us only once, and this led to nothing. The fact is that we rely only on
open data, and arguing with them is hard enough. Any complaint rests on the fact that we will not remove anything
from the site, since all the information is freely available. If someone made a mistake or made an intentional
informational stuffing, then you need to answer for your words. Fortunately, with open data everything is fine so far,
and we can check practically any informational materials related to economic, financial or demographic statistics.
Adil: We had a case where one of the editors made a mistake that caused a great resonance. We rechecked and made
a tough verdict. The editors did not take offense at us; instead we were invited to conduct training for our journalists.
By the way, we regularly teach Kazakh and Russian-language editions. We are sure that the mission of the fact-
checkers is to share the methodology in the name of finding the truth.

We are also regularly receiving requests from state authorities. They are asked to train their employees, for example,
to understand the accuracy of the information and to be able to identify fake mailings in instant messengers. We also
train university teachers, students.

The fact is that faktcheck is not only fighting fakes. In general, the term fake news itself made Donald Trump
popular, calling it all his critics. In fact, factchecking is a few large blocks: fact-checking, debunking, promising
tracking, and propaganda deconstruction (for example, fields of the Ukrainian Stopfake or Russian "Monitor").
Pavel: Last year my colleague Tasha Sokolova (the “Monitor” project) wrote a theoretical work on fact; it was
published in the scientific journal of Kiev University and the university in Chernivtsi is already using our best
practices to train journalism students. Factcheck is now actively developing in several Central Asian countries – this
year the site of factcheck.kg was launched, and just recently a fact-checking project was launched in Tajikistan. It is
nice to know that there is our participation in this, because we conducted trainings for journalists in these countries.
These are our own projects that we would like to merge into a regional network and help each other, because in our
countries there is pressure on journalists. A large international network will help develop the genre and can become
an “umbrella”, “airbag”.

Adil: It was not easy, but we entered the international fact-checking network of IFCN, it consists of large, serious
projects and publications.

For all fact-checking projects, a big problem is the separation of the audience. Conventionally, the audience is
divided into three types.
The first is your supporters, the core audience. This is the sophisticated public, journalists, experts, generally
advanced people with critical thinking. The second group is the complete opposite of the first, they have other
values, and they can’t be persuaded. These are so-called bigots; many arguments you offer, they don’t want to
believe. The third group is those who are outside the “camps”, the middle layer. They have not yet decided on the
position, perhaps because of various reasons they did not come across certain media resources. They can be
persuaded, they hypothetically perceive the arguments, but just are not interested in the topic yet.
For many media, this audience is the only chance for growth. For us, this is a big challenge and a strategic task – to
attract this group of people to the ranks of our readers. Our long-term goal is to increase the number of project
readers by a third at least.
Another problem is the technical development of fake stuffing. Technologies based on neural networks, artificial
intelligence, appear, allowing creating so-called deepfakes, fake videos of such quality that it is practically not
identifiable. International experts are confident that the technology deepfake will become the main tool of
disinformation for the near future. And this means a large object of fact-checking. It is possible that the diplomats
will become the topic of the next 10 years, as they will be able to destabilize any society if this society does not have
immunity for media competence and media literacy. But such good journalism could grow, as well as the ability to
double-check information, fact-checking, the introduction of media literacy in schools and universities.
And in this regard, it is very important to understand that society and the state should be interested in high-quality
professional journalism, in fact-checking and media-educated audiences.

The problem of misinformation was, is and always will be. But it becomes a concomitant major problem when the
state uses the fight against “disinformation” as a pretext for curbing the “nuts” and restrictions on freedom of speech
to fight against dissent.
If I have a choice: blocking all power generators or freedom of speech, including for those who are lying, then I will
choose freedom of speech. It is important for us to preserve this basic principle, not to offend the legal balance.
Factchecking is not only a journalistic genre. Once it was part of the so-called "controlling" journalism, along with
the investigation. Now factchecking has transcended the limits of journalism and has become the most important
methodological element in raising media literacy of the audience. And it is, probably, the only tool to combat
disinformation that does not violate the principle of freedom of speech. Moreover, all block will not work. But it is
possible to inculcate the ability to recheck information, rely on logic, and not emotions.
That is, fact-checking and media literacy is the fight against disinformation without blocking; it is the respect of the
audience, because it is given a choice.
Pavel: The modern information flow is so huge that it washes away all the boundaries between truth and falsehood.
If you do not want to live in a lie, there are skills that anyone can master; they help to live in real reality, and not in
reality, distorted by someone's evil will. This is the most important task of the factchecking and our most important
Source: www.soros.kz