Organization: Lead Stories
Applicant: Maarten Schenk
Assessor: Margot Susca
Conclusion and recommendations
Margot Susca wrote:
On April 2, 2018, I completed my assessment of Lead Stories, which filed an appeal of an earlier decision.
It has a clear, well-defined mission fact-checking items that go viral, which it determines using Trendolizer data, which I’ll admit that I had not heard of until this assessment. This mission is clearly stated on its website--that Lead Stories’ purpose is to debunk claims that move through the online world as fake news or satire.
It fact checks a range of items, some political and some celebrity and some a mixture (Stormy Daniels is NOT pregnant with Bill Clinton’s baby, FYI) and some that appear to be clickbait like the morgue worker who did NOT get mistakenly cremated after he pretended to be dead for an April Fool’s joke.
It’s clear that the site does not take a position or side but rather seeks to clarify the record in some cases working against stories that go viral rather quickly.
In its appeal, Lead Stories noted they have added on their website the subhead: "Just Because It's Trending Doesn't Mean It's True.” I think that speaks to the work the site is trying to do. That is, Lead Stories is working to combine the power of fact checking with its knowledge that the Internet can spread false/fake stories like wildfire. Some of the stories the site fact checks may seem ludicrous based on the headlines or the content, but, I believe, that is the nature of stories going viral online, and I give credit to Lead Stories for taking on the task of trying to correct the record where those items are concerned (oftentimes treating its fact checking work as breaking news it seems as the pieces register on the trend meter). Perhaps there needs to be a site out there dedicated to those posts and trying to correct the record.
I do offer my concern here as much as a citizen and journalism professor as IFCN assessor: I do wonder if in trying to correct the record Lead Stories is contributing to the spread of some of this information. But, its website does list items as a HOAX ALERT or FAKE NEWS so we must put some of the work on the audience to sort through what it finds online.
Its transparency is clear as it offers biographies of its small staff and the money it takes to run it and support it. Its application and site offer clear information about how it is organized, funded and run.
My recommendation is to accept.our conclusions, and issue a recommendation for the board.