Tell Me the Truth (TMT): Fact-checkers in an Age of Epistemic Instability
The project researches journalistic fact-checking, offers critical reflections on the current practice and works with fact-checkers to improve the practice through action research. The project asks fundamental questions like: What is a fact? How can we check them? What is the journalists' role in this?
The TMT project worries about the current epistemic instability and acknowledges that journalists should play a key role in contributing to the stabilisation of a shared, solid knowledge foundation—as this is crucial for being able to discuss the development and common decisions in democratic societies. At the same time, the project is critical towards the existing ontology and epistemology of fact-checking practices. To discuss and nuance such understandings, the project draws on rhetorical argumentation theory and rhetoric of science as resources for understanding how facts are brought about and established and sometimes dis- and reestablished through argumentation by different actors in different contexts. Through such insights, the project aims to foster constructive ways of joining the political conversation and guide fact-checkers to be more aware of their role and communicative practice. In this endeavour, the project work with national and international fact-checkers and arrange workshops for media institutions.
The project is devided into four sub-projects that are individually delimited but closely related. The person in brackets is responsible for the subproject, but the whole group works together in a collaborative effort.
SP1 Epistemic contestations: Facts as arguments (PI, Mette Bengtsson) determines the underlying axiology, ontology and epistemology of the fact-checking practice and argues for understanding the establishment of a fact and the journalistic fact-checking practice as a rhetorical, argumentative practice where fact-checkers place themselves and take responsibility in a privileged position. Sub-project 1 delivers the theoretical foundations on which the other sub-projects will rely.
SP2 The journalistic practice: Role perceptions and daily journalistic practices in journalistic fact-checking newsroom (PhD, Sabina Schousboe) analyses and discusses the journalistic fact-checking practice and its role perceptions. In an action-oriented research practice, the sub-project works with fact-checkers as it moves through theoretical insights from sub-project 1 towards practical implications with the aim of qualifying and guiding future practice. The project involves cases from the Danish fact-checking organisation Tjek Det and the European EFCSN project.
SP3 Comparative study of fact-checking across different media systems (Postdoc, Johan Farkas) takes a comparative perspective on fact-checking practices. With case studies from the democratic corporatist model, the polarised pluralistic model, and the liberal model of media and politics, sub-project 3 explores and discusses how fact-checking journalists rhetorically try to build credibility and authority as knowledge gatekeepers and position themselves as trusted purveyors of truth. The comparative lens enables a qualitative discussion of similarities, differences, and potential risks and developments in these different contexts.
SP4 The audience/reception perspective: Experiences of being fact-checked (PI, Mette Bengtsson) investigates the experience of being fact-checked and potential tensions that fact-checkers might create when labelling ‘false’ claims from citizens on social media. Initially, fact-checkers were primarily investigating factual claims from elite actors (as, for example, politicians), but cooperating with Meta’s third-party fact-checking Program fact-checkers now also identify, review and rate viral misinformation from citizens across a range of digital platforms. Hence, the corrections are no longer from one elite actor (fact-checking journalist) to other elite actors (politicians or others) but of citizens which taps into existing tensions between elite and populist discourses. The sub-project discusses the potential pitfalls in this endeavour.
All sub-projects pay special attention to fact-checking practices as highly digital and dataficed processes highlighting that fact-checking happens in a world where traditional authorities and institutions are severely challenged, while, at the same time, the rise of the internet, social media, algorithms, AI, and machine learning are fundamentally reshaping media and politics, making it possible for new types of actors to gain power in a hybrid media system.
- Associate professor Carsten Madsen, Aarhus Universitet
- Professor Emerita Charlotte Jørgensen, University of Copenhagen
- Professor Emeritus Christian Kock, University of Copenhagen
- Professor Jean Wagemans, University of Amsterdam
- Professor Joseph Uscinski, University of Miami
- Associate professor Maria Kyriakidou, Cardiff University
- Tenure track assistant professor Sille Obelizt Søe, University of Copenhagen, Absence of information in decision-making processes (ABSENCE)
- Professor Steen Steensen, OsloMet, The Source Criticism And Mediated Disinformation (SCAM)
Project period: September 2022 – August 2025
PI: Associate professor Mette Bengtsson