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Global Fact 11: Fact-checking supports free speech, not censorship

World's fact-checkers assert that fact-checking is an act of free expression and not suppression of speech.

Jun 29, 2024

Bryan Daniele Manalang

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SARAJEVO – Fact-checking provides crucial context to public conversations and should not be considered suppression of speech, fact-checkers from around the globe declared at the 11th Global Fact-Checking Summit here in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

At least 130 fact-checking organizations in 80 countries across the globe signed the Sarajevo statement, affirming fact-checking as integral to freedom of speech as it requires openness, transparency and preservation of information, at the annual meet coordinated by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) at the Poynter Institute with local partner Zasto Ne.

“Fact-checking seeks to provide additional information, setting out evidence to correct and clarify messages that are false, misleading or lack important context,” part of the statement reads.

“Fact-checking does not seek to expunge or erase these messages, but to preserve them as part of the public debate while offering evidence necessary to accurately inform that debate,” it adds.

The world’s fact-checkers issued the statement after years of coping with constant attacks against them, amid claims of online censorship, leading to several cases of abuse and harassment worldwide. Said claims are baseless because “censorship removes information [and] fact-checking adds it.”

Maria Ressa, co-founder and chief executive officer of Rappler, noted in her keynote address titled “Defending Truth in the Age of Disinformation” that “in a world of exponential lies, [fact-checkers] literally are the first line of defense for everyone.”

Ressa, a 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, urged tech companies “to do something right now to protect democracy, to prevent genocide.”

“What you’re seeing on social media is a mob, and a mob creates a chilling effect. A mob changes reality,” she said.

Tech companies Meta, TikTok, Google and YouTube are among the sponsors of the annual fact-checking conference.

In a separate press release, IFCN Director Angie Drobnic Holan enumerated cases involving several fact-checking organizations all over the world, including the Philippines, facing various forms of hostilities such as death threats, accusations of being enemies of the state and criminal lawsuits.

“The IFCN and its member fact-checking organizations drafted the Sarajevo statement as a response to ongoing attacks and to affirm that fact-checking is an act of free expression that seeks to give the public accurate information and improve information ecosystems,” Holan said.

The Sarajevo statement also says that unless an information causes harm, fact-checkers are not calling for false claims to be taken down or deleted. Instead, the general public should be shown the right context and verification to determine the accuracy of a claim. At the same time, such claims online should not be granted more reach and engagement.

Fact-checking is part of a free press and high-quality journalism, and it contributes to public information and knowledge, the statement asserts.

Read the IFCN’s Sarajevo statement on freedom of expression and fact-checking here.

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