How COVID drove the evolution of fact-checking

Publication Year
Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review
  • Using Twitter’s new research API, we collected the engagement metrics and Twitter activity of fifteen locally-focused fact-checking organizations around the world for 2019 and 2020. The 15 organizations were selected for variation by geography and popularity in our data tracking COVID misinformation narratives since March 2020 (Shapiro et al., 2020). Thirteen of them are independent fact-checking organizations while two, Liputan6 and Agencia Lupa, are fact-checking bodies within larger news networks.
  • We examined the scale and composition of fact-checking activity as well as user engagement across 2019 and 2020. We found a significant increase in the debunking efforts of fact-checking organizations in 2020 driven largely by fact-checking of COVID misinformation. Much of this activity was not new; it did not appear to substitute for fact-checking on other topics. 
  • User engagement did not follow as clear a pattern as the increase in fact checkers’ activity. Coronavirus may have driven user engagement in the early months of the pandemic, but region-specific salient events and one-off viral tweets influenced user engagement in the later months of 2020. There is substantial heterogeneity across fact-checking organizations and regions in how engagement with coronavirus-related content correlates with overall engagement on fact-checks.
  • Our findings contribute to the literature on the potential for fact-checking and pre-bunking to improve individuals’ perceptual accuracy of political and medical (mis)information (Clayton et al., 2019; Roozenbeek et al., 2020; Walter et al., 2019; Walter et al., 2020). We show that the grassroots fact-checking community has the ability to respond to sudden changes in the misinformation environment. However, our findings also indicate that fact-checking alone may not be the solution to rampant misinformation. 

Siwakoti, S., Yadav, K., Bariletto, N., Zanotti, L., Erdoğdu, U., & Shapiro, J. N. (2021). How COVID drove the evolution of fact-checking. Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Misinformation Review.

Publication Topic
Politics and Public Opinion
Publication Type
Policy Article