Lead Stories

Organization: Lead Stories
Applicant: Maarten Schenk
Assessor: Margot Susca
Conclusion and recommendations
on 17-May-2019 (3 months ago)

Margot Susca wrote:

I think Lead Stories has shown that it takes its role as a signatory of the IFCN principles seriously. I note all areas are fully compliant (please see my next comment, however, related to Corrections), and some of its work could serve as models for other sites attempting to launch fact checking sites or to explain current fact checking work. 

I note in the Corrections section, it seems ambiguous about whether they are to have a separate corrections page, or if they are OK to have demonstrated that they have a corrections policy and use it when needed. 

on 17-May-2019 (3 months ago)

Margot Susca recommended Accept


Section 1: Organization

Criterion 1a
Proof of registration
Evidence required: Please provide evidence that the signatory is a legally-registered organization set up exclusively for the purpose of fact-checking or the distinct fact-checking project of a recognized media house or research institution.

Lead Stories
26-Apr-2019 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

See our about page: https://leadstories.com/about.html

You can check our entry in the Colorado Secretary of State business registry here: https://www.sos.state.co.us/biz/BusinessEntityDetail.do?quitButtonDestination=BusinessEntityResults&nameTyp=ENT&entityId2=20151218760&srchTyp=ENTITY&fileId=20151218760&masterFileId=20151218760 (note: if the link doesn't work simply click your 'back' button and reload the page).

Margot Susca Assessor
17-May-2019 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

Lead Stories' purpose as an independent hoax debunking site and fact checking entity is clear. Further, Lead Stories is registered with the Colorado Secretary of State. 

Files Attached
Screen Shot 2019-05-... (229 KB)
done_all 1a marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Criterion 1b
Archive
Evidence required: Insert a link to the archive of fact checks published in the previous three months. If you do not collect all fact checks in one place, please explain how the fact-checking is conducted by your organization.

Lead Stories
26-Apr-2019 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-May-2019 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

Fully compliant. 


done_all 1b marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 2: Nonpartisanship and Fairness

Criterion 2a
Body of work sample
Evidence required: Please share links to ten fact checks that better represent the scope and consistency of your fact-checking. Provide a short explanation of how your organization strives to maintain coherent standards across fact checks.

Lead Stories
26-Apr-2019 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

https://hoax-alert.leadstories.com/3470390-true-news-ken-Kercheval-is-dead.html

https://hoax-alert.leadstories.com/3470384-photo-showing-two-men-smiling-in-front-of-burning-notre-dame-is-not-doctored-but-we-still-dont-know-.html

https://hoax-alert.leadstories.com/3470378-fake-news-78.html

https://hoax-alert.leadstories.com/3470366-fake-news-the-real-cornett-on-twitter.html

https://hoax-alert.leadstories.com/3470364-fake-news-our-national-anthem-video-not-true-story-of-star-spangled-banner.html

https://hoax-alert.leadstories.com/3470354-fake-news-why-men-with-beards-and-long-hair-have-the-smallest-testicles.html

https://hoax-alert.leadstories.com/3470310-fake-news-neuroscientists-say-your-forgetfulness-is-a-sign-of-extraordinary-intelligence.html

https://hoax-alert.leadstories.com/3470283-fake-news-un-to-israel-give-the-golan-heights-to-isis-including-all-its-christian-population.html

https://hoax-alert.leadstories.com/3470246-fake-news-michigan-america-hated-down-with-usa.html

https://hoax-alert.leadstories.com/3470244-fake-news-trump-fordham-1-28-gpa-transcript.html


Our methodology is explained on our "How We Work" page here: https://leadstories.com/how-we-work.html

Generally we select content to check based on internet virality, no matter what the slant of the story is.  We write on a wide variety of topics: science, politics, crime, entertainment, history, breaking news...  For many of these stories there aren't really any "sides" to pick: either a celebrity is dead or alive, whatever we find is the truth doesn't really affect anyone on an ideological or political level.

For stories with a political angle we don't pick sides, we just look at what is going viral.  Sometimes it is a hoax about Trump, sometimes one about AOC.  What matters to us is if it is going viral.


Margot Susca Assessor
17-May-2019 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

The site says it doesn't follow any political bias and looks at issues/politicians that go viral or are trending.

Examples from May 2019 show one debunked claim with a headline that reads, "Fake News:Fordham University Transcript Showing Trump 1.28 GPA Is Obvious Forgery" and another that says, "Fake News: Maxine Waters Did NOT Say She Would Impeach Donald Trump If She Were President." 

And, Lead Stories political fact checks even get into American history, too, with one fact check from May 14 noting, "Fake News: The Real Reason Thomas Jefferson Owned A Copy Of The Quran Was NOT To Better Know His Enemy. Jefferson obtained his copy of Islam's Quran as a law student in 1765, which was 20 years before he began addressing the problem of North African Muslim raids on U.S. shipping. Historical records and Jefferson's own words reflect that he treated Muslim leaders and their faith with respect, and he saw the North African raids as economic, not religious.

Fully compliant. 


done_all 2a marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Criterion 2b
Nonpartisanship policy
Evidence required: Please share evidence of your policy preventing staff from direct involvement in political parties and advocacy organizations. Please also indicate the policy your organization has as a whole regarding advocacy and supporting political candidates.

Lead Stories
26-Apr-2019 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

On our website we talk about the IFCN code of principles and explain how we comply with it: https://leadstories.com/code-of-principles.html

Under the nonpartisanship header we make this declaration:

"None of our writers are members of political parties, support any candidates for office or have made donations to political organisations and we ask them to refrain from doing so."

This remains true and in effect.

Margot Susca Assessor
17-May-2019 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

Its website reads, "None of our writers are members of political parties, support any candidates for office or have made donations to political organisations and we ask them to refrain from doing so."

Fully compliant. 


done_all 2b marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 3: Transparency of Sources

Criterion 3a
Sources Policy
Please share a brief and public explanation (500 words max) of how sources are provided in enough detail that readers could replicate the fact check. If you have a public policy on how you find and use sources for your fact-checking, it should be shared here.

Lead Stories
26-Apr-2019 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

Where possible we always link to the articles or posts we are discussing so our readers can go look for themselves. If we think there is a risk the site or page might go down or be altered we will routinely use archive.is to create and link to a snapshot of something the way it was at the time we wrote our own article.

If we use online resources to check a claim we will include a link to these sources in the article.

When we (try to) use people or organisations as a source we will mention where the information came from (or who we didn't hear back from).

Margot Susca Assessor
17-May-2019 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

Lead Stories clearly states on its website how it uses sources and these could be replicated by anyone.  

In the example regarding Thomas Jefferson mentioned above, a Facebook post implied that Thomas Jefferson had extreme hatred for Muslims. In that hoax Facebook post, a person posted a photo of a book written about the Quran and Thomas Jefferson. 

In its sourcing for the fact check, Lead Stories wrote, "Interestingly, this post includes the cover image of a book titled Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders, written by Denise A. Spellberg, a professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. This seemed to imply that Spellberg's research supported the post, but Lead Stories learned differently when we contacted the professor. She called it "Facebook garbage:"

Jefferson's views of Islam, though mixed, encompassed the idea that Muslims would one day reside with equal civil rights in the United States. He said so explicitly when describing the intent of his famed Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which became law in 1786. Jefferson bought his Qur'an as a student of religion and law, decades before he considered any conflict with Muslims in North Africa. His record of interaction with Muslims and Islamic powers demonstrates that he treated these leaders and their faith with respect, defining the problem of North African raids as economic, not religious.

Spellberg provided Lead Stories with a point-by-point debunking of the post, with direct quotes from Jefferson and footnotes for those who want to read more about it in her book."

Fully compliant. 


done_all 3a marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 4: Transparency of Funding & Organization

Criterion 4a
Funding Sources
Evidence required: Please link to the section where you publicly list your sources of funding (including, if they exist, any rules around which types of funding you do or don't accept), or a statement on ownership if you are the branch of an established media organization or research institution.

Lead Stories
26-Apr-2019 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-May-2019 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

Clearly stated on its website: "Financial information about our fact checking operation

In the past calendar year (2018) our expenses for running leadstories.com were as follows:

Paid writing and technical staff: $91,920

Hosting: $960

This was paid for with revenue from selling access to Trendolizer™ and advertising revenue from our sites. For privacy reasons we cannot reveal the list of Trendolizer users but none of them individually accounted for more than 5% of our revenue. We also received $102.000 from Facebook under the terms of the third party fact checking partnership. All revenue exceeding costs was used towards debt repayments."

Fully compliant. 


done_all 4a marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Criterion 4b
Staff
Evidence required: Please link to the section detailing all authors and key actors behind your fact-checking project with their biographies. You can also list the name and bios of the members of the editorial board, pool of experts, advisory board, etc. if your organization has those.

Lead Stories
26-Apr-2019 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

https://leadstories.com/about.html

(Full bios are linked there too)

Margot Susca Assessor
17-May-2019 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

Author bios and geographical location are clearly listed or easily linked from the Lead Stories website. 

Fully compliant. 


done_all 4b marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Criterion 4c
Contact
Evidence required: Please link to the section where readers can get in touch with the organization.

Lead Stories
26-Apr-2019 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

https://leadstories.com/contact.html

Every article page contains a link to that page and the contact details for each author are also available in their bio (summary is presented under each article with link to the full bio if readers want to learn more or contact the author)

Margot Susca Assessor
17-May-2019 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

Contact information includes both email addresses and phone numbers as well as Skype handles. (I called the U.S. phone number 323-762-3215 listed under 'Editorial' on the website and it went to voicemail--I didn't leave a voicemail but could have.) All contact information is easy to find and would be easy for members of the public to use. 

Fully compliant.                                                                                                      


done_all 4c marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 5: Transparency of Methodology

Criterion 5a
Detailed Methodology
Evidence required: Please link to a section or article detailing the steps you follow for your fact-checking work.

Lead Stories
26-Apr-2019 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-May-2019 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

I give lots of credit to Lead Stories for "hunting for"--as it says online--trending hoax stories that should be debunked. More credit is owed to its transparency of methodology, which is clear and offers ways to replicate the fact checks. A piece is included here and could work as a model for other sites--even those that don't use its Trendolizer data to start the process of fact checking. It even created a new "satire" policy, which for some fact check sites has been a gray area. 

'Methodology

Each story is different but these are the questions we try to answer before rendering a verdict and writing an article:

Is this version of the story the original? Or was it taken from some other site, and if so, which one and when?

Once the original source has been established: how reliable it has been in the past? Is it a legitimate news site? Are there satire disclaimers? Is the author identifiable? Is there contact information? Have previous stories from this source been debunked/checked by ourselves or other sites?

If the story is based on a scientific paper or study: can we find the original source and do the claims in the story match the claims in the paper or study? In some cases we might try to get the view of the scientist(s) who wrote the study or paper in order to be sure of our interpretation.

If there are pictures or video in the story: have they been used before elsewhere? Have they been manipulated? Can they be verified?

Do the people, places and quotes in the story really exist? And if so, can they be contacted to confirm what happened?

Is there evidence the events in the story didn't take place?

Depending on the answers to these questions we will label a story "False", "Mostly False", "Unproven", "Mostly True" or "True" after laying out all the evidence for our readers. We may also opt to label a story as "Satire" in accordance with our satire policy.'

Fully compliant. 


done_all 5a marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Criterion 5b
Claim submissions
Evidence required: Please link to the page or process through which readers can submit claims to fact-check. If you do not allow this, please briefly explain why.

Lead Stories
26-Apr-2019 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago

Every article has this notice in the sidebar:

Spotted a hoax that you think we should investigate? Have a tip? Want to send us a correction? Contact us!

The words "contact us" link to our contact page: https://leadstories.com/contact.html

However we find most of the content we check through our own Trendolizer engine (see our "How We Work" page) and via Facebook's tool for third party fact checking partners.  Reader tips have increased slightly over the past year but still make up only a small part of what we investigate because there are very few of them.

Margot Susca Assessor
17-May-2019 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

This is clearly stated, and it appears that Lead Stories may take a fact check case (if you will) from a tip, but it is pretty transparent that it uses this Trendolizer data to go after stories that are going viral. 

Fully compliant. 


done_all 5b marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 6: Open & Honest Corrections Policy

Criterion 6a
Corrections policy
Evidence required: Please link to the page with your policy to address corrections. If it is not public, please share your organization's handbook.

Lead Stories
26-Apr-2019 (4 months ago) Updated: 4 months ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-May-2019 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

Clearly stated. Its website reads, "Lead Stories aims to get correct information out as soon as possible after we detect a piece of trending fake news. Unfortunately this means we sometimes make mistakes (although we try our best to avoid them) or that we sometimes publish as soon as we have just the bare minimum of facts needed to prove something is fake."

Fully compliant. 


done_all 6a marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Criterion 6b
Examples of corrections
Evidence required: Please provide two examples of a correction made, or correction requests handled, in the past year.

Margot Susca Assessor
17-May-2019 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

Please note: I do not see a link to one separate CORRECTIONS page on Lead Stories website. I do see examples of corrections made. If a full corrections page is required, I would mark this area as "partially compliant" but because I do see the evidence of corrections made, I am listing it as Fully Compliant. 


done_all 6b marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.