The IFCN welcomes new applications to its Code of Principles beginning Jan. 16, 2024. Our website is currently under renovation, so new signatories should begin the application process by emailing their interest to info@ifcn.org with "New Signatory" in the subject line.

Lead Stories

Organization: Lead Stories
Applicant: Maarten Schenk
Assessor: Margot Susca

Background

This is not the first time that I have assessed Lead Stories, which has evolved over the years. First, I believe its staffing, corrections, methods explanations, and sourcing are all outstanding. I also think its Red and Blue feeds as well as its others on Covid, war and now deep fakes add value to the fact-checking landscape. 

Its partnerships over the years have evolved, too, with both Facebook and TikTok owner, ByteDance, which is based in China. Specific to TikTok: Should this be disclosed more prominently on Lead Stories' site? Because ByteDance is not a state political actor this feels a bit murky to me. 

One thing that I would recommend could be improved upon for transparency’s sake involves Trendolizer. I believe Lead Stories could explicate how it “offers access to the use of Trendolizer engine on a commercial basis, including to political actors or government entities that request it.” Going into what I imagine could be a bruising election cycle in the United States, this statement in the Lead Stories IFCN applicant piqued my interest, yet no where on the website did I see more explained. It’s not enough–because the criteria do not address it–to mark the Lead Stories application as non-compliant, but it raises an issue about how it is offered and where and to whom. It noted: “However we currently have no state funded or political actors among our Trendolizer clients.” I note that both online and later in its application, Lead Stories noted that a tiny fraction of its revenue--some 0.1%-is derived from this licensing, but it leaves me wondering who could use it or has used it and, more to the point of transparency, why would they use? Do Lead Stories senior staff see the same IFCN application for Trendolizer when given or used by a political actor? I was curious. 

Assessment Conclusion

Despite my minor concern listed above, I believe Lead Stories provides strong value to the fact-checking community, and I have marked it as compliant in all areas. 

on 25-Oct-2023 (4 months ago)

Margot Susca assesses application as Compliant

A short summary in native publishing language

Please see individual criteria for descriptions and assessments. 

Section 1: Eligibility to be a signatory

To be eligible to be a signatory, applicants must meet these six criteria

  • 1.1 The applicant is a legally registered organization, or a distinct team or unit within a legally registered organization, and details of this are easily found on its website.
  • 1.2 The team, unit or organization is set up exclusively for the purpose of fact-checking.
  • 1.3 The applicant has published an average of at least one fact check a week over the course of the six months prior to the date of application. For applicants from countries with at least 5 or more verified signatories need to have at least a fact check a week over the twelve months of publishing track. Consult to factchecknet@poynter.org for confirmation.
  • 1.4 On average, at least 75% of the applicant’s fact checks focus on claims related to issues that, in the view of the IFCN, relate to or could have an impact on the welfare or well-being of individuals, the general public or society.
  • 1.5 The applicant’s editorial output is not, in the view of the IFCN, controlled by the state, a political party or politician.
  • 1.6 If the organization receives funding from local or foreign state or political sources, it provides a statement on its site setting out to the satisfaction of the IFCN, how it ensures its funders do not influence the findings of its reports.

Criteria 1.1
Proof you meet criteria
Please explain where on your website you set out information about your organization’s legal status and how this complies with criteria. Attach a link to the relevant page of your website.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago)

https://leadstories.com/about.html

Lead Stories is an LLC registered in Colorado.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

Online, Lead Stories states: "Lead Stories LLC is Colorado company formed by Maarten Schenk (Belgium), Alan Duke (California), Perry R. Sanders (Colorado) and later joined by John C. Goede (Florida). The company is self-funded with no outside investors and relies on advertising revenue, license fees for the use of the Trendolizer™ engine and fees obtained through Facebook's third party fact checking partnership and other fact checking related consultancy work. You can check our entry in the Colorado Secretary of State business registry here (note: if the link doesn't work simply click your 'back' button and reload the page)." 

I confirmed through the Colorado Secretary of State's office Lead Stories LLC as of Oct. 24 is in good standing (see attached). 


As such, I mark Criteria 1.1 compliant. 

Files Attached
Colorado Sec of Stat... (80 KB)
done_all 1.1 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 1.2
Proof you meet criteria
Please answer the following questions – (see notes in Guidelines for Application on how to answer)

 1. When and why was your fact-checking operation started?
 2. How many people work or volunteer in the organization and what are their roles?
 3. What different activities does your organization carry out?
 4. What are the goals of your fact-checking operation over the coming year?

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago

1. Lead Stories started in 2015 and transitioned from reporting about viral content into full-time fact checking at the end of that year and early in 2016.

2. The number has grown and fluctuated this year again (new hires, people leaving, freelancers...). We still have around 70 people at any given time. Three are the co-founders/partners + one partner who joined later as legal counsel. Four staffers have editor roles, editing and coordinating the work of about ten to fifteen fact-checkers. Two other people don't directly write fact checks but collect potential misinformation for the fact checkers to work on and analyze trends in the misinformation landscape to provide intelligence about to clients. We also have one person exclusively working on website and UI design. The rest of the staff are freelancers dedicated to our work for TikTok/ByteDance in several countries.  We are training them to write fact checks meant for publication that we want to start promoting in the future.

3. Fact checking and activities related to or supporting that mission. Beside our website with fact checks we also run and maintain Trendolizer, a software webservice that detects viral content online (used by fact checkers in several countries). We also provide analysis and information about the misinformation we fact check to partners like Facebook and TikTok.

4. We want to start fully localized version of our website in several countries, applying the same process and workflow that already exists for our U.S. operation but with local journalists and writers.  We're also intending to apply for an IFCN ENGAGE grant to start a project to bring Trendolizer (including training and hands on support) to all IFCN fact checkers. 

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

Lead Stories is an existing signatory, and it has identified its staff as well as its activities and goals. I mark Criteria 1.2 is compliant. 


done_all 1.2 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 1.3
Proof you meet criteria
- The applicant has published an average of at least one fact check a week over the course of the six months prior to the date of application.
- For applicants from countries with at least 5 or more verified signatories need to have at least a fact check a week over the twelve months of publishing track.
- Consult to factchecknet@poynter.org for confirmation.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago

Lead stories publishes about thirty fact checks per week in English on https://leadstories.com. We're publishing a handful in Ukrainian (at https://ukrainian.leadstories.com), which may increase again in the future.

We're currently training up editors and writers to publish in several other languages with a goal to publish an additional twenty to thirty fact checks per week.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

I confirm that Lead Stories has published the minimum required amount of fact checks, and Criteria 1.3 is compliant. 


done_all 1.3 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 1.4
Proof you meet criteria
The assessor will assess compliance through a review of the fact checks published over the previous three months. No additional information required.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago)

We generally cover claims related to politics, current events, health, science, conspiracies, scams and the occasional entertainment story.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

I reviewed 10 fact checks (noted by date, feed unique to the LS site, and headline in reverse chronological order) published over the last three months, which are listed below. Some of these will be expanded in the source or methodology sections below although I reviewed others, too. This review marks Criteria 1.4 compliant. 

BLUE FEED

Oct. 23: Photo Does NOT Show Joe Biden Sunbathing On Beach During Gaza And U.S. House Crises In October 2023 -- It's An Old Picture

Oct. 5: Attorney General Letitia James Did NOT Lose 80% Of Case Against Trump

Sept. 26: Biden Did NOT Say It Was His First 'In Person' Picket While Meeting With Striking Autoworkers -- He Was Misquoted In Online Post

Sept. 12: There Were NOT 7 Million Registered Voters In Wisconsin 2020 Election With Only 4.5 Million Eligible

Sept. 8: Increase In Nancy Pelosi's Net Worth Is NOT Proof Of Any Illegality On Her Part

RED FEED 

Oct. 4: NO Evidence Trump On September 26, 2023 Posted On 'Truth' That He'll Beat Obama In '24 And Send NBC To Firing Squad

Oct. 2: AZ Senate Did NOT Bring 'Rico Indictments Against Katie Hobbs, Adrian Fontes' And Others

Aug. 30: Jared Kushner And Ivanka Trump Did NOT Pose In Room With Bone Saws On The Walls -- Photo Is Doctored

Aug. 7: Scene Of Mike Pence Carrying A Rainbow Flag In A Parade Is NOT A Real Photo -- It's An AI-Generated Image

Aug. 1: 'Lady In Green' Did NOT Hypnotize Mitch McConnell, Freezing Him With A Touch -- Sen. Capito Was Standing Behind Him With Others






done_all 1.4 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 1.5
Proof you meet criteria
Please explain any commercial, financial and/or institutional relationship your organization has to the state, politicians or political parties in the country or countries you cover. Also explain funding or support received from foreign as well as local state or political actors over the previous financial year.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago

Lead Stories offers access to the use of its Trendolizer engine on a commercial basis, including to political parties or government entities that request it. However we currently have no state funded or political actors among our Trendolizer clients. 

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

I mark Criteria 1.5 as compliant although I note that Lead Stories, which recieves some funding from TikTok owner, Byte Dance, does not explain that ByteDance is a tech company based in China. 



done_all 1.5 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 1.6
Proof you meet criteria
If you confirmed the organization receives funding from local or foreign state or political sources, provide a link to where on your website you set out how you ensure the editorial independence of your work.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago)

See the note on our "About" page: https://leadstories.com/about.html#note

The Trendolizer™ Terms of Service have a clause that reads:

"Usage of the Trendolizer Website or Service does not grant you any influence, say or preferential treatment with regards to the selection of the content we choose to write about, the content of the articles we publish or the rating or conclusions Lead Stories draws about any such content."

No individual Trendolizer™ user accounts for more than %0.1 of our average monthly company revenue.

Also see: https://leadstories.com/code-of-principles.html

We offer commercial access to our Trendolizer™ engine, including to political parties or campaigns that ask for it. All are offered the same conditions including a clause in the Terms of Service that explicitly says using Trendolizer™ does not confer any influence, privilege or say about our editorial work. Trendolizer™ fees are deliberately kept low in order to ensure individual user fees never make up more than a tiny fraction of our total budget. This minimizes the potential for users to have leverage over us by threatening to cancel their account.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

I mark Criteria 1.6 as compliant as Lead Stories notes online that the usage of its Trendolizer platform does not mean that it grants anyone any influence. It's still unclear WHO uses the platform, which I will address in my summary. I do not believe it is worthy of requesting a change, as the criteria states only that editorial independence be articulated. 


done_all 1.6 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 2: A commitment to Non-partisanship and Fairness

To be compliant on nonpartisanship and fairness, applicants must meet these five criteria

  • 2.1 The applicant fact-checks using the same high standards of evidence and judgement for equivalent claims regardless of who made the claim.
  • 2.2 The applicant does not unduly concentrate its fact-checking on any one side, considers the reach and importance of claims it selects to check and publishes a short statement on its website to set out how it selects claims to check.
  • 2.3 The applicant discloses in its fact checks relevant interests of the sources it quotes where the reader might reasonably conclude those interests could influence the accuracy of the evidence provided. It also discloses in its fact checks any commercial or other such relationships it has that a member of the public might reasonably conclude could influence the findings of the fact check.
  • 2.4 The applicant is not as an organization affiliated with nor declares or shows support for any party, any politician or political candidate, nor does it advocate for or against any policy positions on any issues save for transparency and accuracy in public debate.
  • 2.5 The applicant sets out its policy on non-partisanship for staff on its site. Save for the issues of accuracy and transparency, the applicant’s staff do not get involved in advocacy or publicise their views on policy issues the organization might fact check in such a way as might lead a reasonable member of the public to see the organization’s work as biased.

Criteria 2.1
Proof you meet criteria
Please share links to 10 fact checks published over the past year that you believe demonstrate your non-partisanship.
Please briefly explain how the fact checks selected show that (I) you use the same high standards of evidence for equivalent claims, (II) follow the same essential process for every fact check and (III) let the evidence dictate your conclusions.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago
We've fact checked deepfakes and manipulated video of people on all sides of the political spectrum that were going viral:


https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/08/fact-check-mug-shot-of-trump-in-black-pin-stripe-suit-not-his-real-mug-shot.html

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/08/fact-check-scene-of-mike-pence-carrying-a-rainbow-flag-in-a-parade-is-not-a-real-photo-ai-generated-image.html

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/07/fact-check-hillary-clinton-did-not-endorse-ron-desantis-its-a-deepfake-video.html

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/06/fact-check-these-are-not-real-clips-of-pelosi-aoc-biden-discussing-january-6-insurrection.html

In all these cases we apply the same technical standards of evidence and/or sourcing.


We've defended people on all sides of the political spectrum from satire-interpreted-as-news:

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2020/08/fact-check-candace-owens-fired-after-calling-kamala-fake-black.html

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/06/fact-check-michelle-obamas-mother-did-not-leave-inheritance-to-a-son-named-michael.html

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/04/fact-check-tucker-carlson-did-not--file-suit-against-whoopi-the-view-for-dehumanizing-remarks.html

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2022/05/fact-check-elon-musk-is-not-considering-buying-keystone-xl-pipeline-this-article-is-from-a-satirical-site.html

In all these cases we point out the original story appeared on a website with a satire disclaimer.


We've debunked false stories that would benefit Ukraine and Russia:

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/08/fact-check-putin-was-not-assassinated-or-hospitalized.html

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/07/fact-check-photo-does-not-show-remains-of-russian-soldiers-crushed-into-meat-cubes.html

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/04/fact-check-photo-does-not-show-ukraine-war-recruiting-campaign-aimed-at-welfare-recipients-in-the-us.html

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/04/fact-check-volodymyr-zelenskyy-did-not-say-he-will-no-longer-take-a-call-from-chinese-president-xi-jinping.html

For all these stories we went looking for the ultimate source of the claim and sought to confirm it.

As our "How we work" page (https://leadstories.com/how-we-work.html) explains, we pick viral stories and claims to debunk without taking political slant into account. That means we will sometimes debunk false claims or stories hurting the reputation of the very same people, causes or ideologies that we have debunked claims from. In all cases our methodology is the same (as described on our "How we work" page) and we try to put in enough original sources, quotes, evidence etc. to allow readers to repeat the fact check for themselves so they can see how we came to our conclusion.https://leadstories.com/how-we-work.html

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

It is clear from the examples shared by Lead Stories as well as the 10 fact checks I reviewed that it demonstrates a commitment to nonpartisanship and fairness. Its use of the Blue Feed and the Red Feed (alongside others related to War and Deep Fakes) is a smart way to show fact checking related to political issues concentrated in political silos. I also believe that its How We Work section is easily understood, and any reasonable person could understand both Trendolizer as well as how a piece might be selected for review and then verified or debunked. 

Given all of this, I mark Criteria 2.1 compliant. 


done_all 2.1 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 2.2
Proof you meet criteria
Please share a link to a place on your website where you explain how you select claims to check, explaining how you ensure you do not unduly concentrate your fact-checking on any one side, and how you consider the reach and importance of the claims you select to check.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago)
Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

Although Trendolizer seems to be the star of Lead Stories' show, its "How We Work" section notes there are a number of ways it selects items to fact check including Google Trends, Facebook, TweetDeck, CrowdTangle, and through reader tips. Each of those gets an explanation online. After each of those, the staff explained that items are selected that can be checked, that may be harmful, that may go viral, and that are relevant to a U.S. audience. 

Additionally: "Generally we prioritize stories related to current events and new and never before seen claims but we also tackle older claims sometimes, especially if they have a tendency to keep coming back periodically (think old hoax articles that keep getting reposted to new sites by financially motivated spammers or fake quotes attributed to a politician that keep showing up whenever that person is in the news). We do not take political slant into consideration when choosing what to check. We check claims that harm (or benefit) people, causes and groups all over the political spectrum. We do sometimes check claims that originated on satire websites or that are satirical in nature but only in cases where it seems significant numbers of people believe it is real." They include a policy on satire. 

This is a thorough explanation. As such, I mark Criteria 2.2 compliant. 


done_all 2.2 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 2.3
Proof you meet criteria
The assessor will assess compliance through a review of the fact checks published over the previous year. No additional information required.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

For Criteria 2.3 I reviewed "Scene Of Mike Pence Carrying A Rainbow Flag In A Parade Is NOT A Real Photo -- It's An AI-Generated Image" published Aug. 7. 

A doctored image of Republican presidential candidate Mike Pence was shared on X/Twitter by a Trump supporter. 

This shows Lead Stories is fact checking stories among Republicans. As such, I mark this criteria compliant. 


done_all 2.3 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 2.4
Proof you meet criteria
The assessor will assess compliance through a review of the fact checks published over the previous year. No additional information required.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

To assess Criteria 2.4 I reviewed the Oct. 23 post Photo Does NOT Show Joe Biden Sunbathing On Beach During Gaza And U.S. House Crises In October 2023 -- It's An Old Picture. 

It turns out that the president was not sunbathing during the start of the most recent conflict in the Middle East. This demonstrates both political parties are reviewed, and I mark this criteria compliant. 


done_all 2.4 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 2.5
Proof you meet criteria
Please share a link to a place on your website where you publish a statement setting out your policy on non-partisanship for staff and how it ensures the organization meets this criteria.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago)

https://leadstories.com/code-of-principles.html (Under the nonpartisanship and fairness section)

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

I confirm that under its section on nonpartisanship and fairness, Lead Stories states: "None of our writers or editors are members of political parties, currently support any parties or candidates for office or have made donations to political organisations while under our employ and we ask them to refrain from doing so. We also ask that they refrain from advocating for or against any policy positions on any issues (save for transparency and accuracy in public debate). We verify this by checking FEC records and social media." 

As such, I mark Criteria 2.5 compliant. 


done_all 2.5 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 3: A commitment to Standards and Transparency of Sources

To be compliant on sources, applicants must meet these four criteria

  • 3.1 The applicant identifies the source of all significant evidence used in their fact checks, providing relevant links where the source is available online, in such a way that users can replicate their work if they wish. In cases where identifying the source would compromise the source’s personal security, the applicant provides as much detail as compatible with the source’s safety.
  • 3.2 The applicant uses the best available primary, not secondary, sources of evidence wherever suitable primary sources are available. Where suitable primary sources are not available, the applicant explains the use of a secondary source.
  • 3.3 The applicant checks all key elements of claims against more than one named source of evidence save where the one source is the only source relevant on the topic.
  • 3.4 The applicant identifies in its fact checks the relevant interests of the sources it uses where the reader might reasonably conclude those interests could influence the accuracy of the evidence provided.

Criteria 3.1
Proof you meet criteria
The assessor will review the applicant’s use of sources in a randomised sample of its fact checks to assess compliance. No additional evidence is required.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

I reviewed the post published on Sept. 12 headlined There Were NOT 7 Million Registered Voters In Wisconsin 2020 Election With Only 4.5 Million Eligible. 

This item debunked the claim that 7 million people were registered to vote in Wisconsin when there were only 4.5 registered voters, which was a claim circulated by a right-wing outlet. 

The sources used included the Wisconsin Election Commission (both a database and spokesperson were consulted) as well as a University of George political science professor who referred Lead Stories to another database of Wisconsin voters.  

As such, I mark Criteria 3.1 compliant. 


done_all 3.1 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 3.2
Proof you meet criteria
The assessor will review the applicant’s use of sources in a randomised sample of its fact checks to assess compliance. No additional evidence is required.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

I reviewed the Sept. 1 fact check headlined Chief Justice John Roberts Did NOT Request $780 Million For Security Of Supreme Court Justices. 

To review this claim, which was posted to Twitter and removed, but shared in other posts, and debunked, Lead Stories explained that that $780 million figure is a federal judiciary number that provides security to all federal courts, not just nine SCOTUS justices. The source used to show this budget item was the 2024 Congressional budget summary for the federal judiciary. 

As such, I mark Criteria 3.2 compliant. 


done_all 3.2 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 3.3
Proof you meet criteria
The assessor will review the applicant’s use of sources in a randomised sample of its fact checks to assess compliance. No additional evidence is required.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

To assess Criteria 3.3, I reviewed the Oct. 5 fact check Attorney General Letitia James Did NOT Lose 80% Of Case Against Trump. This post, which appeared on Twitter, is false, and the sources used to make that judgment include a Columbia University law professor, who explained that 80 percent of the case was not over. Lead Stories used other news stories, but the law professor was the most impartial and notable of the sources and, as such, I mark this criteria compliant. 


done_all 3.3 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 3.4
Proof you meet criteria
The assessor will review the applicant’s use of sources in a randomised sample of its fact checks to assess compliance. No additional evidence is required.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

I reviewed the Sept. 8 post headlined Increase In Nancy Pelosi's Net Worth Is NOT Proof Of Any Illegality On Her Part to assess Criteria 3.4. This claim was made in an Instagram post, which claimed that her net worth increased by $140 million, which must have happened illegally. 

Lead Stories explained: "Although it may be true that Pelosi's net worth has increased sharply since 2007, when she became the first female speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, such an increase does not prove her gains were ill-gotten. In addition to her congressional salary, Pelosi and her husband have multiple sources of income, including stocks, real estate and other investments." It used the following sources to assess this item: OpenSecrets, which tracks money in politics through the use of financial disclosures, figures; an OpenSecrets researcher; and a Congressional disclosure report. That disclosure noted shares of stocks among them Apple, Disney and Netflix. 

As such, I mark Criteria 3.4 compliant. 


done_all 3.4 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 4: A commitment to Transparency of Funding & Organization

To be compliant on funding and organization, applicants must meet these five criteria

  • 4.1 Applicants that are independent organizations have a page on their website detailing each source of funding accounting for 5% or more of total revenue for its previous financial year. This page also sets out the legal form in which the organization is registered (e.g. as a non-profit, as a company etc).
  • 4.2 Applicants that are the fact-checking section or unit of a media house or other parent organization make a statement on ownership.
  • 4.3 A statement on the applicant’s website sets out the applicant’s organizational structure and makes clear how and by whom editorial control is exercised.
  • 4.4 A page on the applicant’s website details the professional biography of all those who, according to the organizational structure and play a significant part in its editorial output.
  • 4.5 The applicant provides easy means on its website and/or via social media for users to communicate with the editorial team.

Criteria 4.1
Proof you meet criteria
Please confirm whether you are an ‘independent organization’
or ‘the fact-checking section or unit of a media house or other parent organization’ and share proof of this organizational status.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago

Independent organization.

The link to our company registration is on our "About" page: https://leadstories.com/about.html

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

Lead Stories' About page clearly articulates its status as an independent organization. I mark Criteria 4.1 as compliant. 


done_all 4.1 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 4.2
Proof you meet criteria
If your organization is an “independent organization”, please share a link to the page on your website where you detail your funding and indicate the legal form in which the organization is registered (e.g. as a non-profit, as a company etc).
If your organization is “the fact-checking section or unit of a media house or other parent organization”, please share a link to the statement on your website about your ownership.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago
Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

In the Code of Principles, section 4 explains that: "Applicants that are independent organizations have a page on their website detailing each source of funding accounting for 5% or more of total revenue for its previous financial year."

Lead Stories site, under Company Information notes, "The company is self-funded with no outside investors and relies on advertising revenue, license fees for the use of the Trendolizer™ engine and fees obtained through Facebook's third party fact checking partnership and other fact checking related consultancy work." It goes on to list its main funding sources including ByteDance, Trendolizer subscriptions, and Facebook. 

As such, I mark Criteria 4.2 as compliant. 


done_all 4.2 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 4.3
Proof you meet criteria
Please share a link to where on your website you set out your organizational structure, making clear how and by whom editorial control is exercised.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago
Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

This organization structure is clearly labeled and linked online. (Attached is what it looks like.) As such, I mark Criteria 4.3 as compliant. 

Files Attached
Lead Stories Leaders... (69 KB)
done_all 4.3 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 4.4
Proof you meet criteria
Please share a link to where on your website you set out the professional biographies of those who play a significant part in your organization’s editorial output.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago
Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

Biographies of staff are clear. I have included one as an example. As such, I mark Criteria 4.4 compliant. 

Files Attached
Lead Stories Bio Exa... (151 KB)
done_all 4.4 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 4.5
Proof you meet criteria
Please share a link to where on your website you encourage users to communicate with your editorial team.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago

Every page on our website has this note in the sidebar:

Lead Stories is a fact checking website that is always looking for the latest false, deceptive or inaccurate stories (or media) making the rounds on the internet.

Spotted something? Let us know!.

The "Let us know" links to our contact page: https://leadstories.com/contact.html (that link is also present under "Contact" in the footer)

Note that on our contact page we explicitly say we will ignore abusive or threatening emails and ask people to send those to hatemail@leadstories.com if they feel they must send them anyway. Funnily enough this works and the amount of such emails to the other inboxes listed on the contact page is much lower

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

First, the IFCN may wish to share that hatemail@.com may be a good way for some folks to get out their feelings. Second, I confirm that the contact page exists, and, if you want to bypass the hatemail email, you are eligible to contact the Lead Stories staff: 

alan@leadstories.com

maarten@leadstories.com or 

Need to get hold of one of our reporters? Email reporters@leadstories.com with their name in the subject line.

Because of this, I mark Criteria 4.5 compliant. 


done_all 4.5 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 5: A commitment to Standards and Transparency of Methodology

To be compliant on methodology, applicants must meet these six criteria

  • 5.1 The applicant publishes on its website a statement about the methodology it uses to select, research, write and publish its fact checks.
  • 5.2 The applicant selects claims to check based primarily on the reach and importance of the claims, and where possible explains the reason for choosing the claim to check.
  • 5.3 The applicant sets out in its fact checks relevant evidence that appears to support the claim as well as relevant evidence that appears to undermine it.
  • 5.4 The applicant in its fact checks assesses the merits of the evidence found using the same high standards applied to evidence on equivalent claims, regardless of who made the claim.
  • 5.5 The applicant seeks where possible to contact those who made the claim to seek supporting evidence, noting that (I) this is often not possible with online claims, (II) if the person who makes the claim fails to reply in a timely way this should not impede the fact check, (III) if a speaker adds caveats to the claim, the fact-checker should be free to continue with checking the original claim, (IV) fact-checkers may not wish to contact the person who made the claim for safety or other legitimate reasons.
  • 5.6 The applicant encourages users to send in claims to check, while making it clear what readers can legitimately expect will be fact-checked and what isn’t fact-checkable.

Criteria 5.1
Proof you meet criteria
Please provide a link to the statement on your website that explains the methodology you use to select, research, write and publish your fact checks.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago
Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

I reviewed for sourcing above the post published on Sept. 12 headlined There Were NOT 7 Million Registered Voters In Wisconsin 2020 Election With Only 4.5 Million Eligible, and this also is an excellent post to review for methodology. 

This item debunked the claim that 7 million people were registered to vote in Wisconsin when there were only 4.5 registered voters, which was a claim circulated by a right-wing outlet.

As I noted above, the sources included a database of Wisconsin voters with a link to the database. Lead Stories writes: 

"Here's how we broke down the numbers:

First, click on the spreadsheet titled, "2020 General Election (EL-190F) Election Statistics Report 2021-05-10.xlsx."

The total number of registered voters for that election can be found by adding together the "open registrants," "late registrants," and "Election Day registrants" columns. The total is approximately 3,915,589 voters.

As the columns imply, the figure above refers to voters who had registered before Election Day (and remained registered) as well as those who registered on Election Day."

That is an excellent and user-friendly way to walk a lay person through what may, at first, appear to be a complicated data sheet. As such, I mark Criteria. 5.1 compliant. 


done_all 5.1 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 5.2
Proof you meet criteria
The assessor will review the methodology used in a randomised sample of your fact checks to assess compliance with these criteria. No additional evidence is required.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

For this item, I reviewed the Sept. 26 fact check headlined Biden Did NOT Say It Was His First 'In Person' Picket While Meeting With Striking Autoworkers -- He Was Misquoted In Online Post.

Biden was misquoted in a social media post, and Lead Stories explains its methodology by showing videos and marking the moments (at minute and second markers) where Biden made note of his time on the picket line: 

Videos from several news outlets posted to YouTube on September 26, 2023, recorded these words. A fluctuation in the bullhorn's volume was also captured. I have bolded the material taken directly from the Lead Stories site. 

These links are cued to play at the moment these words are spoken:

ABC News eight seconds in

CNBC Television 2:47 minutes in

CNN four seconds in

As such, I mark Criteria 5.2 compliant. 



done_all 5.2 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 5.3
Proof you meet criteria
The assessor will review the methodology used in a randomised sample of your fact checks to assess compliance with these criteria. No additional evidence is required.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

For Criteria 5.3, I reviewed the Aug. 28 fact check headlined Indictments Against Trump Do NOT Carry 'Potential Death Penalty'. 

An Instagram claim made a point that Trump could face the death penalty for his indictments. He will not. 

Lead Stories first explains in its method that 1) New York, where one of his two state indictments is from, does not have the death penalty. 2) A federal indictment of conspiracy against rights (18 USC 241), which it links to, could levy the death penalty. But, its methodology moves further to include an email to a Columbia law professor, who explained that the death penalty would not apply because even if Trump were found to have committed conspiracy because no death happened in his alleged actions committing conspiracy of rights no death penalty.  It continues explaining other methods connecting with other legal experts identifying why Trump would not face the death penalty, even if found guilty. 

As such, I mark Criteria 5.3 compliant. 


done_all 5.3 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 5.4
Proof you meet criteria
The assessor will review the methodology used in a randomised sample of your fact checks to assess compliance with these criteria. No additional evidence is required.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

To assess Criteria 5.4, I reviewed the Aug. 4 fact check headlined Study Does NOT Show 'Vast Majority Of Humanity' Vaccinated For COVID-19 By 'Shedding' Of Vaccine From Vaccinated To Unvaccinated.

Here, a social media post misrepresented a University of Colorado study about Covid vaccines. 

Lead Stories' first step was to contact the lead author of the study, who is an immunology professor, who said the post, "does not properly reflect the findings of our study." Next, the Lead Stories fact checker, who is former an Emmy Award-winning journalist, explained that the bad concept that is frequently the subject of viral hoaxes, has its own place in CDC myths online. Lead Stories links to the page to try to clear up those myths. (I've attached a look at the page Lead Stories shared.) 

It's a clear methodology on a Covid issue that is the subject of frequent misinformation. As such, I mark Criteria 5.4 as compliant. 


Files Attached
Screen Shot 2023-10-... (87 KB)
done_all 5.4 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 5.5
Proof you meet criteria
The assessor will review the methodology used in a randomised sample of your fact checks to assess compliance with these criteria. No additional evidence is required.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

For the final criteria in the Methods section, I reviewed the Sept. 7 fact check headlined Biden Did NOT Appoint FEMA Director Before Maui Fires, Did NOT Confirm He Knew They Would Occur. 

A viral claim insinuated that Pres. Biden knew the Maui fires would happen and had appointed someone who had already been in Hawaii. The guy was in Hawaii, but not because he knew fires would happen. Here's how Lead Stories tackled this one. 

They used transcripts of Biden's official remarks. 

They used records of the man's employment at FEMA as well as meeting records/an agenda of why he had been in Hawaii before the Maui fires. They used a White House statement announcing the man's appointment nearly two weeks after the fires broke out. 

The methodology is clear, it follows a timeline, and anyone would be able to understand it. As such, I mark Criteria 5.5 compliant. 




done_all 5.5 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 5.6
Proof you meet criteria
Please describe how you encourage users to send in claims to check, while making it clear what readers can legitimately expect will be fact-checked and what isn’t fact-checkable. Include links where appropriate. If you do not allow this, explain why.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago

We link to our contact page (https://leadstories.com/contact.html) and sollicit tips on every page on our website:

"Lead Stories is a fact checking website that is always looking for the latest false, deceptive or inaccurate stories (or media) making the rounds on the internet.

Spotted something? Let us know!."

The contact page has this note:

"Tips & information

Have a tip about something we should look at? Additional information that could change the conclusion of a fact check? Email tips@leadstories.com and let us know.

We are most interested in viral claims/stories/videos/images/posts (no matter the political slant) that are false (or very misleading), harmful to someone and relevant to a U.S. audience. If your tip is about something else it is unlikely we will write a fact check about it. You can read more about how we decide what to fact check here."

That last sentence links to our "How we work" page (https://leadstories.com/how-we-work.html) where we explain (among other things) how we select claims to check. It also has this note:

"Reader tips are judged by the same criteria listed above: if we get sent claims that are uncheckable, harmless or not very widespread there is very little chance we will follow up on them. Conversely, a concrete, harmful and viral story will get our attention."

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

What can and cannot be factchecked as well as Lead Stories' approach to fact checking is clearly articulated on its site. As such, I mark Criteria 5.6 compliant. 


done_all 5.6 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 6: A commitment to an Open & Honest Corrections Policy

To be compliant on corrections policy, applicants must meet these five criteria

  • 6.1 The applicant has a corrections or complaints policy that is easily visible and accessible on the organization’s website or frequently referenced in broadcasts.
  • 6.2 The policy sets out clear definitions of what it does and does not cover, how major mistakes, especially those requiring revised conclusions of a fact check, are handled, and the fact that some complaints may justify no response. This policy is adhered to scrupulously.
  • 6.3 Where credible evidence is provided that the applicant has made a mistake worthy of correction, the applicant makes a correction openly and transparently, seeking as far as possible to ensure that users of the original see the correction and the corrected version.
  • 6.4 The applicant, if an existing signatory, should either on its corrections/complaints page or on the page where it declares itself an IFCN signatory inform users that if they believe the signatory is violating the IFCN Code, they may inform the IFCN, with a link to the IFCN site.
  • 6.5 If the applicant is the fact-checking unit of a media company, it is a requirement of signatory status that the parent media company has and adheres to an open and honest corrections policy.

Criteria 6.1
Proof you meet criteria
Please provide a link to where you publish on your website your corrections or complaints policy. If you are primarily a broadcaster, please provide evidence you frequently reference your corrections policy in broadcasts.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago

Our corrections policy is here: https://leadstories.com/corrections-policy.html

Our stories with corrections are here: https://leadstories.com/corrections/

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

I confirm that Lead Stories has a robust corrections policy. It also explains how and why it may make minor or major corrections. 

As such, I mark Criteria 6.1 compliant. 


done_all 6.1 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 6.2
Proof you meet criteria
The assessor will review the corrections policy to verify it meets critera. No additional information needed.

Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

I verify that the policy meets IFCN standards. Criteria 6.2 is met. 


done_all 6.2 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 6.3
Proof you meet criteria
Please provide a short statement about how the policy was adhered to over the previous year (or six months if this is the first application) including evidence of two examples of the responses provided by the applicant to a correction request over the previous year. Where no correction request has been made in the previous year, you must state this in your application, which will be publicly available in the assessment if your application is successful.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago

We did not receive any valid correction requests.

There were a few instances where a fact check needed to be corrected  shortly after publication because a headline or introductory paragraph negated the explicit claim in the source material rather than the implied claim the fact check was actually about.  This is because we usually try to stay very close to the wording of the original headline or claim, which works fine for explicit claims but which sometimes confuses editors when the claim is implicit.

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/03/fact-check-uk-gov-report-does-not-prove-92-percent-covid-deaths-were-in-fully-vaccinated.htm

There was a government report with a section where the 92% figure appeared, but the fact check is about the impied causality and the relative sizes of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated groups. 

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/01/fact-check-cdc-does-not-show-more-than-16000-people-who-have-died-within-days-of-covid-vaccination.html

There were 16K deaths *after* vaccination but the fact check was about whether they happened *because* of it.

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/01/fact-check-nearly-quarter-million-voting-attempts-in-arizona-did-not-fail-in-november-2022-election.html

There were a quarter million error messages but the fact check was about whether this impacted the counting of any votes.

https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2023/02/fact-check-pfizer-does-not-have-patent-for-tracking-vaccinated-humans-worldwide-via-microwave-graphene.html

This correction did not change the conclusion of the fact check (Pfizer does not have this patent) but it fixes an erroneous assertion that said the word Pfizer was not in a document (based on a failed Ctrl-F search).


In all these cases it was internal review that spotted the issue.


Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

This is clear online and in the stories submitted, which is why I mark this section compliant. 

I note this is how it is explained online, and all bolded words are pasted verbatim: 

Corrections

Articles that are corrected for any of the reasons listed below reasons will be listed on our "Corrections" page.

If it turns out we had wrong or incomplete information in a part of a story and the correct information was available at the time of publication (we will also make a note in the updates section after fixing the mistake).

If the addition of new information or a review of the existing information warrants changing the conclusion of a fact check we will also alter the title of the story (and possibly the main image caption) because the conclusion of each fact check is part of the headline and the reason for the conclusion is usually in the caption (as you can read on our "How We Work" page).

If spelling, style, grammar, transcription, math, logic or copy-paste mistakes affect the conclusion of a story (they also warrant a note in the updates section after fixing).

Note: some of the older stories on the "Corrections" page are actually just updates that wouldn't be included anymore under the current version of this policy.


done_all 6.3 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 6.4
Proof you meet criteria
If you are an existing signatory, please provide a link to show where on your site you inform users that if they believe you are violating the IFCN Code, they may inform the IFCN of this, with a link to the complaints page on the IFCN site.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago
Margot Susca Assessor
24-Oct-2023 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

This is clearly labeled. I mark this criteria compliant. 

Files Attached
Lead Stories IFCN on... (81 KB)
done_all 6.4 marked as Compliant by Margot Susca.

Criteria 6.5
Proof you meet criteria
If you are the fact-checking unit of a media company, please provide a link to the parent media company’s honest and open corrections policy and provide evidence that it adheres to this.

Lead Stories
23-Aug-2023 (6 months ago) Updated: 6 months ago

N/A