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How DW fact-checks fake news

March 13, 2023

Tired of the daily flood of fakes, propaganda and misinformation in your social feeds? Don't know what to trust? Here's a quick guide to how DW's fact-checking team sorts facts from fiction.

Symbolbild Faktencheck fact checking fake news
Image: Andre M. Chang/Zumapress/picture alliance

It has become more important today than ever before to fact-check and verify content for news items and social media content produced by media outlets, be it spotting fake news or verifying images and videos that circulate online. This is especially true now that so many people consume news on social media rather than through traditional mediums like TV, radio and print or through direct access to news websites or apps.

According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2022, Japan has the lowest news consumption via social media at 28%, but in contrast to Kenya it is as high as 82%. Germany is at the lower end with 32%, Canada lies in the middle with 55% and Greece is closer to the top with 71%.

Users are at the receiving end of news when disseminated through social media. And this has become a weak link, where they can be intentionally manipulated. We have seen many cases in recent years where dis- and misinformation have been used to influence users, for example in elections.

One of the first and most prominent examples is the US elections in 2016 . But we also witnessed manipulation attempts in the federal elections in Germany in 2021 and in Brazil in 2022

Other major news events have also become targets of mis- and disinformation, like the COVID-19 pandemic, and most recently Russia's war on Ukraine. Every time a major news event occurs, it is the duty of news editors and fact-checkers to identify fake claims, check their virality, verify them and inform users on the web about them. 

People around the world say fake news is affecting their daily lives, with 40% of Germans feeling overwhelmed with the verification of fake news in 2019. In the same year, 80% of Germans also thought fake news was endangering democracy. And a year before that, 83% of respondents to a survey by the EU said fake news represented a danger to democracy. They were particularly concerned about intentional disinformation aimed at influencing elections and immigration policies.

This shows there is a clear demand for fact-checkers to follow up on claims made on the internet.

Inaccuracies, bias and misrepresentations have no place at DW. We always use the four-eye principle while editing, which means that at least one author and one editor check every journalistic publication.

When it comes to fact-checking, an additional pair of eyes makes sure that rumors, false information and bias don't find their way into articles or social media content published on our pages.

Unbiased choice of topics

DW fact-checkers are open to all potential topics, from claims made by politicians and political parties, including both elected and non-elected government officials to celebrities, athletes and nonprofits. On top of this, DW also looks at the veracity of images or videos that go viral on social media, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as well as Telegram and TikTok. Like a social media post that went viral after the US magazine Vogue featured Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska with her husband Volodymyr Zelenskyy in late July 2022. It suggested that in 1939, the fashion and lifestyle magazine featured a photo shoot with Adolf Hitler and his wife Eva Braun. But it is a fake, as can be read in this fact check by DW.

DW also produces fact-check articles which are meant to increase the media literacy of our users and help people learn how to verify content themselves with the help of free OSINT (open source intelligence) tools. 

How to reach the team

DW also encourages readers to submit suggestions for fact checks. These can be sent via email at factchecking@dw.com or . We regularly review and report on these topics. Furthermore, we ask the users in our videos on our social media platforms, to leave comments or to write to us, if there are questions to answer and claims to check.

To do that, we check whether the statement is based on a fact that can be verified. We also assess how big a story is.

For this, we have three criteria that a topic must pass before we decide to work on it.

  1. Virality: How big is the story? Is the topic is only important for a certain region or does it have more global consequences? How fast is it moving?
  2. Reach: How many social media platforms are spreading the topic? How many people are interacting with it?
  3. Relevance: How much impact does the story have on our target audience?

But there are also limits to fact checks. We cannot guarantee that we will be able to research them all and write articles about the claims. That depends on our editorial criteria, resources and whether the claim can be verified.

You can find out more about the members of DW Fact Check here

Accuracy lies in the details

Several things are compulsory to check in any news article, such as people's names, correct place names and the reference to the time, date and place of occurrence of the event. But when fact-checking, it is also important to find out when an image or a video was taken, and whether or not it was manipulated. It's also important to track down the origin of a claim, find out who is behind it and to dig up the source of a certain claim and verify it, and then try to find data and sources to back up the claim.

Team members of DW's factchecking team discuss a research
DW's factchecking team uses OSINT tools to verify contentImage: DW

For this purpose, we use OSINT tools. DW has created a website where you can learn about verification workflows and tools that we regularly use ourselves. Here, you learn about the different tools and techniques for verifying images, videos, audio, sources and texts. 

Each article is marked and hyperlinked with the sources of information to guarantee transparency. Each reader can check the exact same sources that the DW journalist used. For every fact-checking video, DW publishes a list of its sources.

Like with other journalistic products, all information in fact checks must be verified by unbiased sources and always rely on the two-source principle.

DW uses a collaborative approach for its verdict process when it comes to the evaluation of a claim. The evaluation involves the lead writer recommending a rating to two editors. The rating system has six categories: 

True: The statement is accurate.

False: The statement is not accurate.

Misleading: The statement is partially correct, but the information is portrayed in a way that creates a wrong impression.

Unproven: The statement cannot be proven as right or wrong

Fake: The Image, video or audio is manipulated

Real: The image, video or audio is authentic.

Fact check: How to spot AI images?

Reliable sources are the key

While sourcing information from interview partners, we always make sure to select reliable and unbiased people/entities. All interviews are recorded, with the consent of the interview partner, and archived. 

We mention all sources by name, occupation and link to a contact possibility by the user themselves, if possible, so there is no lack of transparency. Anonymity is only granted to sources in rare exceptions when their security is at stake or if the topic is of a sensitive nature. In these cases, we are transparent about the reasons for granting anonymity.

At DW the rule for fact-checking is to always go to primary sources, when possible, for factual verifications. Using secondary sources can make misinterpretations and misreadings more likely. Primary sources can be studies related to the trial phase of a new medication, for example, the recently developed COVID-19 vaccinations. Other examples are publications and reports by NGOs, organizations or databases. 

DW's correction policy

We do not manipulate images or videos we broadcast. When we correct or revise a text or blur and zoom in on a video, we indicate which changes have been made and why.

We are committed to providing accurate and high-quality content free of errors. However, despite numerous quality control measures, mistakes can happen. What's important at DW is that we address these errors as soon as we become aware of them, and also do this transparently. 

This means that when we publish an item that needs to be revised, we need to clearly indicate any changes that have been made. This also applies to mistakes such as numbers, dates, names, locations, quotes and photos. These are corrected as soon as they have been verified, and the item is republished for online and social media. A note added to the bottom of the article (or in a social media thread) informs the user of the revision and reason, as can be seen here and here.

Impartiality rules at DW

At DW we are committed to impartiality across our entire journalistic output. This commitment is fundamental to our reputation, our values and the trust of our audiences. Across our coverage, and especially when reporting on controversial topics, we strive to include diverse voices and divergent views. In doing so we provide both nuance and clarity to help our audiences comprehend what's at stake and serve the public interest.

As individuals with our own lived experiences, we each have personal views and opinions — but these are private views that should not have implications on our coverage. We, at DW, therefore report facts and provide informed analysis without our own opinions influencing our content, unless it is explicitly marked as an opinion piece. We strive to always stick to these impartiality rules and maintain the highest standards of ethical journalism. They are based on the "Basic principles of the programs" as defined in §5 of the Deutsche Welle Act.

To sum it up, our fact checks rely on in-depth research using OSINT tools, independent sources, transparency, detailed argumentation, clear verdicts and DW's standards of impartial and unbiased journalism.

Edited by: Kate Hairsine/Rob Mudge