Spotlight On: RMIT FactLab CrossCheck

Spotlight On: RMIT FactLab CrossCheck

Answers submitted by Dr Anne Kruger, Director, RMIT FactLab CrossCheck.

For someone who has never come across it before, what is CrossCheck and how does it work?
We are online verification experts who alert and guide media of emerging online narratives and trends so they can be ahead of the misinformation e-curve. We're constantly sifting through and working pre-emptively to show our members what information their audiences are searching for and need, and often how this information is not available to them. That's why we focus on "prebunks" rather than just "debunks".

Our work has evolved from looking only at misinformation and disinformation, to now include the intersection with hate speech and racism, which are often unfortunately behind messages that target communities or attempt to derail democratic discussion. To date, we've focused a lot on elections and the pandemic and worked with media partners, including the ABC, Australian Community Media, Crikey, The Guardian, and a diverse range of under-represented community media. We're thrilled to recently have added SBS and NITV.

We also act as an active helpline for senior editors on how to slow down misinformation in news reporting and community. More and more we're being asked by other stakeholders to help educate communities and the public from a "media literacy" point of view. This supports society to think about how they access and interact with information online - much in the way that we're all becoming aware of how not to fall for scams and to have a better awareness of online safety.

Who makes up the team other than yourself?
Most of the key team members have been specialists in this area for about a decade and we're starting to get referred to as "pioneers" in the field, which is something I hadn't thought about until I was described that way at this year's media literacy summit in Sydney!

We all had solid journalism roles before venturing into online verification and OSINT (or Open Source Investigative Techniques). Our Bureau Editor, Esther Chan, came from TV news in Hong Kong and worked in the early days at social media newswire Storyful, and later led fact check teams at AFP.

Our Partnerships and Community Lead Miguel D'Souza spent much of his career at AAP and went on to teach the latest online verification tools as a Google News Fellow in Australia and the Digital News Academy, just to name a few. To prove that we're not just a bunch of digital nerds, Miguel also has some solid hip-hop broadcasting street cred!

We're also fortunate to have experienced researchers, such as Sonny Thomas from RMIT FactLab and RMIT FactCheck, to lend his expertise in fact checking while he completes his PhD in the area.

Ten years ago, I left a TV career spanning CNN, Bloomberg and the ABC, to collaborate on projects with technologists Meedan, who were part of a coalition that had pioneered verification of user-generated content. Other members of that coalition included Bellingcat, First Draft and Storyful.

What is CrossCheck doing to monitor misinformation on The Voice? 
We're focusing our monitoring work and staff resources at the moment largely on the Voice Referendum - we felt we just couldn't ignore this landmark issue. We'll make our guidance available for our previous members, have recently signed an MOU with SBS and NITV, and launched a tipline for the public to report information they have doubts about in the lead-up to the referendum.

Our prebunking work has enabled us to put together articles on trends and common confusions we're seeing. You can check out the latest from our Bureau Editor and researchers on our CrossCheck webpage.

A key initiative is the tipline - how does this work? 
For any offline materials that members of the public find problematic and that haven't been dealt with publicly from what they can see, we ask them to please send a photo and a screenshot of your photo's metadata (swipe up on the photo on both iPhone and Android devices) so that the time and location are corroborated.

From there, we'll sort through the requests, investigate the content and alert our media partners of our findings. Then, our media partners can do explainers, broadcasts or even debunks. We'll also alert RMIT FactLab partners that write the CheckMate newsletter, and conduct third-party fact checking debunks.

The tipline email is 

How will CrossCheck tackle new and emerging media, especially in the world of AI?
Keeping up with various tools and technology is a natural part of our team's work. We're always on the lookout for how this can benefit society. We'll be at the ADM+S Automated News and Media Symposium next month in Sydney. We'll be on a panel that will discuss the role of prebunks, fact checkers and data journalists to fill the challenges and opportunities that AI presents.

In the past, our colleagues have led early research into content authenticity initiatives, which is developing tools that will soon be able to assist journalism in Australia and New Zealand. We keep up with the latest developments and where possible, suggest policy guidance. I'd very much like to see more communication between stakeholders on policy, including from community leaders, scientists, platforms, social media organisations and apps, government, and education.

How can people work with or support CrossCheck
We designed CrossCheck to include training and ongoing support, so we're not just a "fly-in fly-out" provider. We communicate with our members via an online hub and any media organisations who do our training and align with our responsible reporting concepts are welcome to enquire about joining.

We offer membership for free, so are reliant on philanthropy and funding. More and more we're including community media and media literacy NGOs so if any philanthropists want to help us support them, please get in touch. And any editors reading this who aren't already onboard, please also get in touch. 

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