What is live factchecking?

5 October 2016 | Amy Hawkins

Often when there’s a big political event, such as a Conservative or Labour leader party conference speech, or a referendum debate, we’ll live factcheck the claims that are made. We also do this every week for Prime Minister’s Questions and BBC Question Time.

People often ask us what live factchecking is, and how we do it. Here is their answer.

What is live factchecking?

Live factchecking is when we tweet factchecks of claims as soon as someone says them live on air. This might be something we’ve factchecked before, like the impact of immigration on wages, or it might be something that we’re familiar with and can direct people easily to the source data, such an analysis of the EU referendum result.

How do you live factcheck?

We live factcheck from our Twitter account. For big debates, we like to partner with national media platforms such as Sky News or ITV to help reach more people. In the past we’ve worked with BBC Question Time, which according to our BBC contacts has an online following rivalled only by Strictly Come Dancing (although this was before the Great British Bake Off arrived on our screens).

Each event involves careful preparation. We monitor what the key claims are in public debate at that time, and what claims the people in the event have made before.  We prepare 120 character responses to claims that are likely to come up (the last 20 is for the link to the source, the hashtag or a picture).

We only tweet during a live event if we have something useful to add to the conversation — rebutting, confirming, explaining — whatever we think helps the audience to judge the claims. We note down claims throughout the debate so we know we’re being fair to the exact wording of a claim when we respond. It won’t always be possible to respond to claims within minutes or seconds and do them justice, so for some topics we won’t be able to say anything at all.

For these more complex claims, we make a note of them and factcheck them in our more detailed roundups. We often publish these a few hours after the event.

Why do you live factcheck?

The faster you can check a claim, the faster you can stop inaccuracies in their tracks. During the 2015 general election, we managed to get a correction to an inaccurate claim in a Newsnight broadcast, in the same episode it was aired — a model of what live factchecking can achieve. Of course, sometimes the detail and context of a factcheck takes longer to produce — that’s why we do our roundups as well.

Some people say they just go straight to our roundups now, but many people (like Matt, @thechurchmouse, Marc, Lydia and Sammy)  also find it useful to have verdicts on claims as soon as they are made, so you know immediately which claims stack up, and which don’t. We couldn’t do our roundups without the live monitoring anyway, so it makes sense to live factcheck where we can.

Who do you live factcheck?

In all of our work, we factcheck claims, not people. We respond to the things people say, not the people saying them. That said, we focus our live factchecking on the most influential  voices in public debate, so that we’re factchecking the claims which are likely to get the most attention.

When do you live factcheck?

We live factcheck BBC Question Time every week when it’s on, (Thursdays at 22:45) and Prime Minister’s Questions (Wednesdays at 12:00), using the hashtags #bbcqt and #pmqs so that anyone following the discussion can find us.

We also live factcheck major political events. During the Scottish independence referendum, we worked with Sky News to live factcheck the televised debates. During the 2015 general election we worked with the BBC and during the EU referendum, we worked with ITV News to live factcheck the #ITVEUref debate, and the David Cameron and Nigel Farage debate. We also factcheck the major party leaders’ speeches at their annual conferences.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter to keep up with our live factchecking and other work.


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