Does factchecking have a women problem?
We don’t want our factchecks to exist in a bubble, but to interact with and influence the outside world.
That's why knowing more about audience demographics is crucial for factchecker's work to have an impact.
Our mission is to hold people in power accountable, and to give everyone the tools they need to access more accurate information.
But if we’re not cutting through to everyone, it will only go half-finished.
Full Fact’s audience has a problem...
Last autumn, we carried out audience research into exactly who was using us and why. Our results showed that we were consistently reaching men more than women.
I wanted to find out whether this problem of ours extended to other factcheckers too, so in June, I ran a workshop at the international factchecking summit, Global Fact V, to ask factcheckers from across the world: ‘Does factchecking have a women problem?’
...Factcheckers worldwide share the problem
All factcheckers participating in the workshop agreed that in our direct communications we seem to reach more men than women—be it on our websites, on Facebook, on Twitter, or elsewhere.
It is not country-specific, having been shown to affect Full Fact in the UK, Africa Check operating across four countries in Africa, Argentina’s Chequeado, Turkey’s Teyit, and the United States’ PolitiFact.
The gap varied depending on the country and the channel (e.g. our websites or Facebook) - but it was always there.
Five factchecking organisations shared their data with us—some for their website, Facebook and Twitter pages, and some just for one or two of these.
There are 149 factchecking organisations globally so this is by no means an exhaustive study, but it gives us an initial indication of the gender balance of some of the most established factchecking organisations globally.
Google estimates that 60% of Full Fact users between 1st January 2018 to 28th May 2018 were male, and 40% female. For PolitiFact and Teyit, the balance was estimated to be 69% male and 31% female*.
PolitiFact had the closest gender balance out of the factcheckers, with 55% of its Likes over the month to 29th May thought to be male and 44% female. 51% of engaged users over the period were thought to be male, and 48% female.
For Chequeado, 56% of its Likes thought to be male, and 44% female, over the month to 8th June.
The largest gap identified was on Africa Check’s Francophone page (focused on Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, and Nigeria) where 76% of its fans were thought to be male over the month to 6th June, increasing to 85% of engaged users.
The proportion of followers thought to be male varied from around 59% for Chequeado (for the week to 8th June), to 87% for Africa Check’s Francophone page.
These numbers are all estimates that come from the insights provided by the platforms so they may not be completely accurate and vary depending on the date, but they all suggest a general trend of reaching more men than women.
Why is there a gender gap?
It’s a chicken and egg scenario. We need more research to find out whether it is factchecking that is struggling to appeal, or wider political and social factors which have a knock-on effect.
Some surveys have shown that women are more likely to say they avoid news than men and that women may have less political knowledge than men in countries around the world, although there is still an ongoing debate about why this is.
But there are also factors within our control that might have an effect like who we factcheck, what we factcheck, and how and when we communicate.
We’re keen to see research that can help us start to identify what we could be doing differently.
What research do we need?
It’s not just women who we under-reach. In the workshop we discussed that we all want more information on how to reach a range of characteristics.
These include people with low political interest; ethnic minorities; people in rural areas; people with low education levels; people with low or no literacy, and people with little or no access to the internet.
If you’re factchecking health claims in a developing country, reaching the widest possible audience can be a matter of life or death. We also need to explore use of factchecking by age, where we have seen mixed evidence of who is using our work.
We’re developing a programme of research to find out what we’re doing well, what’s not working, and what we can be doing better—building on existing research and identifying areas where we need more research.
Our audience research was the first step for us in finding out more about our public audience.
In the workshop we discussed how other factcheckers can do the same, so that we can start to build up a better picture of factchecking audiences worldwide.
We don’t have all the answers yet
But we’re making positive steps in the right direction. Factchecking is a relatively new area, and there is a long way to go before we can fully understand how we can reach the widest audience possible.
We’re working hard to get more research in the UK and elsewhere around the world that can inform the practical choices we make day-to-day on how we carry out our work.
In time, we look forward to seeing the benefits of this work on who we’re reaching, so that a wider range of people can have better access to and understanding of public information.
If you’d like to talk to us about our research plans, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our thanks to the other factchecking organisations who shared their audience data with us.
*(01/01/18-28/05/18 for PolitiFact and 01/11/16-25/05/18 for Teyit)