Should you pursue fact-checking as a career in Bangladesh?
Preventing the spread of misinformation through fact-checking can be rewarding, but how viable is it as a career in Bangladesh?
On 29 March, various reputed news outlets within the country disseminated a report claiming that a Bangladeshi schoolboy had achieved an unprecedented feat in the virtual parliamentary debate tournament organised by the White House.
According to the reports, this 17-year-old individual triumphed in an astonishing 144 consecutive debates, surpassing all previous records established in the worldwide competition. However, it was later revealed that the news was untrue and that the boy had deceived the mainstream media.
The spread of misinformation has become a serious issue in the media space in Bangladesh, like elsewhere in the world. Rumour Scanner, a fact-checking organisation, found that in the first three months of 2023, 685 reports from 127 domestic media outlets were false.
Now, the problem is, it is not every man's job – nor even possible for everyone – to verify every piece of news they come across. Then whose job is it? A fact-checker.
But fact-checking often isn't considered a profession, at least not as a viable one in Bangladesh. But without fact-checkers in this era of rapid digital transformation, we leave ourselves at peril. To find out how fact-checkers work and whether it is indeed a viable career route, we spoke to some professional fact-checkers.
Why is fact-checking important?
Fact-checkers play a crucial role in promoting a culture of truth and accountability. They can also play a role in preventing riots based on misinformation or rumours. Their work can lead to greater public trust in information sources and encourage responsible journalism. Ultimately, a culture of truth and accountability empowers citizens and contributes to a well-informed and cohesive society.
Suborno Rekha Dolon, a fact-checker at FactWatch, an independent fact-checking entity, explains, "misinformation spreads rapidly online, leading to various consequences, including public confusion, polarisation, and even real-world harm. Fact-checkers play a crucial role in combating this problem by verifying claims, debunking falsehoods, and providing accurate information to the public."
The Bangladesh Fact Check Editor for AFP, Qadaruddin Shishir, who is also a co-founder of BD FactCheck and the author of the first Bangla fact-checking handbook, says, "The skill of fact-checking is crucial for many professions like journalism, communications, public relations and those who need monitoring or verifying online content, or tracing someone's tail on the internet as part of their jobs."
As the internet and social media platforms continue to play a significant role in shaping public opinion, the demand for fact-checkers is expected to rise. People are becoming more aware of the dangers of misinformation and are actively seeking accurate and trustworthy information sources.
Tech companies and social media platforms are investing in fact-checking initiatives and partnering with independent fact-checking organisations to flag and reduce the spread of false information. This collaboration creates opportunities for fact-checkers to work directly with these platforms.
"Also, fact-checking is not limited to written articles or traditional media outlets," Dolon says. "The future will likely witness an expansion of fact-checking formats, including video fact-checking, live fact-checking during public events or debates, and even real-time fact-checking using advanced AI algorithms. This opens up new avenues for fact-checkers to apply their skills in innovative ways."
Some experts suggest that in the future fact-checking will become more crucial. But that may not necessarily translate to hiring more fact-checkers. Mohammad Ali Mazed, a fact-checker at AFP, cautions that while fact-checking is an essential skill, it should ideally complement journalism rather than being pursued as a standalone profession.
He highlights, "It is safer to learn another form of journalism along with fact-checking." And Shishir agrees. "In the coming years, the skill of online verification and investigation will be a must for journalists. However, fact-checking as a profession will not expand that much, meaning it will not create thousands of jobs," he said.
Nevertheless, the limited opportunities and challenges should not discourage those who possess the necessary skills and passion for fact-checking. If you have a keen eye for spotting anomalies, a knack for identifying misinformation, and a genuine interest in uncovering the truth for others, pursuing a career in fact-checking can be a fulfilling choice.
Shishir acknowledges the growing recognition of fact-checking in Bangladesh. "In Bangladesh, fact-checking is making its way to the curriculum. Rajshahi University already introduced a full course on the topic and some other universities have it on their table," says Shishir.
What do you have to do?
To become a fact-checker, you need to develop critical thinking skills, gain knowledge in various subjects, hone research skills, understand fact-checking principles and techniques, gain practical experience, build a network, develop communication skills, stay ethical and objective, and embrace technology.
As fact-checkers, your primary role will be to verify the accuracy and truthfulness of the information. Shuvashish Dip, another FactWatch team member, succinctly describes their process, stating, "We dive into social media, gather information, question its credibility, validate the facts, and repeat the cycle. Easy!"
Dolon elaborates, "We fact-check in many formats, for example, video verification, image verification, and data verification. For each, we adopt different approaches."
In the case of image verification, Dolon says,"As a typical process we first use the image to search for reverse images. After searching, several results come up, among which we find the most reliable source for that picture, and arrive at a decision accordingly." If a conclusive decision cannot be reached using this method, they resort to searching for relevant keywords associated with the image. Depending on the content type, there are several approaches fact-checkers can pursue.
Dolon adds "We stay accountable by admitting mistakes and promptly correcting errors."
What skills and resources do you need?
To effectively engage in fact-checking, several skills and resources are essential. Firstly, proficiency in utilising online search engines is crucial for conducting thorough research and verification.
Additionally, familiarity with reputable fact-checking websites like Snopes, AFP Fact-check, Africa Check, and others, provides valuable reference points. Access to database and archive tools such as Perma. cc and archive.ph enables the preservation and retrieval of important information.
Employing reverse image search tools aids in identifying sources, as well as detecting manipulated images or videos, are handy skills. Social media monitoring tools like Crowd Tangle are valuable for tracking trends and identifying potential instances of misinformation.
Proficiency in using digital forensics tools for image and video analysis is beneficial. Moreover, having access to government and official sources is vital for verification purposes. Lastly, engaging in collaborative fact-checking platforms like the IFCN's Fact-Checking Collaboration Initiative fosters collective effort and cooperation in the fact-checking process.
What are the challenges?
Fact-checking, like any other profession, presents its own set of challenges."In today's fast-paced, interconnected world, the volume and speed of information dissemination make it hard for us to keep up," Dolon explains, adding, "limited funding is an additional hurdle".
Dip further notes that fact-checking shares many similar challenges to journalism. According to him, these include the need to work swiftly and accurately, leaving little room for error and posing challenges in meeting deadlines.
Moreover, maintaining objectivity and impartiality while evaluating claims is of utmost importance. Accessing reliable sources, such as credible databases, experts, or official records, is a prerequisite for verifying claims. Lastly, comprehending and verifying complex information across diverse domains can also prove to be a demanding aspect of the fact-checking process.
Do you need professional training?
According to Shishir, professional training is crucial for fact-checkers. He emphasises the necessity of having strong news judgement and a comprehensive understanding of the information ecosystem within the society they operate in.
"Additionally, being technologically savvy and familiar with various tools and techniques of fact-checking and verification is essential," he adds. Shishir firmly believes that training is a must for aspiring fact-checkers.
Mazed on the other hand says "Professional training is not required" but he recommends, "for capacity building, organisations like MRDI and PIB often train journalists in fact-checking."
How well does it pay?
In Shishir's view, fact-checkers who collaborate with tech companies are well-paid. While he admits he has limited knowledge about the Bangladesh market, he mentions that in other countries, fact-checkers working in mainstream media are well-remunerated.
Dip and Dolon state that fact-checking salaries are comparable to those of other journalists. Dip elaborates, "Fact-checking is not yet a widely established profession, and the compensation can vary depending on the organisation one works for." He further clarifies "It may not necessarily offer higher salaries than mainstream journalism, but the income can differ based on the financial resources of the organisation."
How can you start?
There are multiple paths to starting a career as a fact-checker. One way is to apply to media houses or organisations specifically recruiting fact-checkers. Another option is to join independent fact-checking organisations.
"There are some fact-checking organisations in Bangladesh right now like AFP, BOOM Bangladesh, Dismislab, Rumor Scanner, and Fact-Watch," says Mazed.
"Several Indian fact-checking organisations are also operational in Bangladesh with their Bengali language services, namely - FactCrescendo, Aajtak, Newschecker, and India Today. The organisations call for applications when they need them," he adds.
However, as Shishir points out, formal application processes may not always be necessary. If you have received training from a recognised trainer or organisation in the field of fact-checking and consistently publish fact-checking work on social media or any website, you can consider yourself a fact-checker. Shishir emphasises that training is crucial, but being affiliated with a specific fact-checking organisation is not mandatory.