How we live-factcheck Prime Minister’s Questions
It’s 12 o’clock. It’s Wednesday. It’s time for Prime Minister’s Questions.
All of us at Full Fact are gathered round the TVs in the office ready to factcheck the day’s session.
As proceedings begin someone is tasked with writing down every factual claim in one central document. As this happens our factcheckers begin picking out claims trying to track down the source of the information and understand the figures as quickly as possible. Sometimes an MP will say something we’ve already factchecked in which case we can reuse an existing article. More often than not it’s something new.
As soon as this is done the findings are briefly summarised for our chief Tweeter. This is the person with the enviable task of reviewing the information to check it’s correct and fair before condensing it into 140 characters—and don’t forget the link to the source and add the hashtags before you’re done.
It doesn’t end there. Another factchecker has to check the wording of the tweet to ensure it accurately conveys all the information and is fair and impartial, and that we’re not factchecking one side more than the other. Only then can we hit Tweet.
The office gets noisier.
“What do you think this footnote means?”
“Can you check that figure for me?”
“Shh, I can’t hear the TV!”
And then the Speaker calls time on PMQs and the programme is over.
We can’t factcheck every claim made during the programme. Some need more in-depth research, some we can’t track down the sources for, some of them we just don’t have time to look into, as much as we’d love to (we’re a small team and don’t have the resources to check every claim that’s made). But we try to check as many as we can.
The factcheckers gather to discuss all the claims we’ve written down. We’re aiming to identify four or five claims we can factcheck as our regular roundup post to be published by 6pm. We try to look at claims we haven’t checked before or tweeted about during the programme already.
We prioritise claims we think will get repeated, were discussed at length, or are an important part of an ongoing public debate.
We also make sure that we pick a balance of claims from each party to try and represent the composition of the House of Commons and the amount of air time each party gets.
With that finalised, research begins—inhaling a sandwich along the way.
The phones buzz as we call MPs’ offices to find out what their sources were or an expert to check we have all the information we need.
Our finished articles have to be published before the end of the day to ensure they keep up with the news cycle. Some days we have an even shorter time frame as media partners want something they can publish by mid-afternoon.
Everyone stares intently at their screens, occasionally displaying a condition commonly known as ‘factchecker face’ (a mixture of concentration, confusion and frustration, usually observed when scrutinising a spreadsheet).
Once the articles are drafted another researcher reviews them: that means double-checking all the numbers, picking holes in the way the information is presented and thoroughly proofreading. The final result should be impartial, informative and engaging—a difficult balance to strike.
Where possible, we write to claimants who got things wrong and suggest that they correct the record. Then we publish our roundup on the website and share it on Facebook and Twitter. Only once all that is finished, every last ‘i’ is dotted and all the ‘ts’ crossed, can the team finally begin to breathe a sigh of relief.
Prime Minister’s Questions is done.
Full Fact live factchecks Prime Minister’s Questions every Wednesday from 12pm and BBC Question Time every Thursday from 10.45pm on Twitter @FullFact. Follow along or read our roundups published on Wednesday and Friday respectively.