Five ways our fact checking had an impact in May

9 June 2023 | Steve Nowottny, Editor

Bad information ruins lives. Fact checking is one way we can slow and stop its spread, helping more people access the good information they deserve.

Publishing a check is often just the start of our work. As we’ve written before, at Full Fact we don’t just ‘publish and pray’, we ‘publish and act’. 

So, how did that work out in May? Here are five examples of how our fact checking helped improve the information landscape.

1. We got the Ministry of Justice to agree to improve the way suicide statistics are presented

A good example of the kind of wider intervention we’re looking to make came with the fact check we wrote on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s claim that the suicide rate is “going up”

We found that in fact the suicide rate may not have been rising in recent years. While the rate of suicide registrations has risen since 2007, data for the last few years shows a mixed picture, with the rate of suicide occurrences broadly flat. Recent data is also complicated by the pandemic and a change to the way suicide is recorded.

First - we published our fact check. It was read by thousands of people on our site, and our analysis was also included in ITV’s coverage of Mr Starmer’s speech. Then there was a correction - after we asked the Royal College of Psychiatrists about the claim, it amended its statement (which was released by Labour before the speech) to remove a reference to “rising rates of suicide”. 

Something we noted while researching the fact check was that coroners’ statistics cited by Labour in its press release could have been clearer in explaining that data on when suicides are recorded can show a different picture to data on when suicides occurred, which could lead to some misunderstanding. So we also wrote to the Ministry of Justice asking it to consider making a small change to the way the statistics are presented. It has now told us it plans to update the bulletin to make it clearer that suicide “conclusions” are based on when a death is registered, which is dependent on when an inquest concludes.

We’re pleased our fact check may now have a lasting impact on how statistics about this difficult, emotional subject are communicated and reported. 

2. We corrected a familiar claim about school attendance - and started work to stop the same statistic being misinterpreted in future

When we fact checked a claim in a Sun column by Baroness Karren Brady that 140,000 children “never came back” to school after pandemic disruption, it was yet another example of statistics about “severely absent” children being misinterpreted. 

As we’ve written before, these statistics actually describe the number of children who missed at least half of their available school sessions—in this case, in the summer of 2022—rather than the number who’ve left school completely. (Though the number of children missing at least half of their sessions has grown significantly since before the pandemic.)

Once again, we obtained corrections—not only from the Sun, but from the Mirror and Spectator, who’d also reported the 140,000 figure in a misleading way. But the bigger challenge is how to stop this statistic being misinterpreted in future. Our policy team is currently looking at different options for this, and exploring whether there is an information gap which can be filled with more relevant data about children's school attendance to better inform the debate. 

3. We secured corrections from The Sun, GB News and others, plus a clarification from a Labour MP

Other corrections our fact checking prompted last month include The Sun amending a net migration graph which didn’t reflect the latest data, and GB News and the National correcting their reporting of London mayor Sadiq Khan’s suspected heart attack

And while we often find politicians are unwilling to make corrections when we ask them to (as shown by our list of MPs who have not made corrections), it was good to see Labour MP Barry Sheerman tweet a clarification after he shared a viral comparison of junior doctors’ pay with baked beans prices which lacked important context. 

4. We helped Facebook users spot false claims and hoax posts 

One of the most immediate ways our fact checking has an impact is through our participation in Meta’s Third-Party Fact Checking programme. As explained in more detail in this 2019 blog post, this programme allows us to ‘rate’ false and misleading posts and links on Facebook and Instagram, and doing so has an immediate impact—people looking at the post are told we’ve fact checked it, our conclusion, and given the option of reading our fact check. 

Altogether we published around 50 such fact checks in May. Many related to hoaxes posted in local Facebook groups, which is a common trend we’ve seen in recent months—whether about missing people, injured dogs or a deadly rattlesnake. Other fact checks covered everything from voter ID and a false claim about Covid-19 vaccines to AI-generated photos of Prince William embracing Prince Harry

5. We helped a man wrongly identified in social media posts about the Met Police shooting two dogs

Often the impact of our fact checking is felt gradually, or among a wider group, but sometimes it can be of more immediate benefit to an individual. That’s what we found when we fact checked a number of posts on social media which wrongly claimed to have identified a Metropolitan Police officer who attended an incident in London where two dogs were shot dead. 

In fact, the man pictured was not a police officer, has never worked for the police and was not involved in the incident in any way—he’s actually a business owner in Nottingham. But when we spoke to him he told us he’d had a torrid time as a result of the social media claims, having been sent lots of abusive messages and even a number of death threats. 

Thankfully our fact check, and subsequent rating of the Facebook posts, led to him seeing an immediate reduction in the number of messages he was getting.  

This work was only possible thanks to thousands of individuals who donate to support independent fact checking.

Will you join them to help us make a difference this month?

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