FactCheck.ge: Innovative Approaches to Fact Checking News in Georgia
In June 2014, Kakha Kaladze, Georgia’s Minister of Energy, visited the city of Tkibuli, where he announced that seven city blocks had been supplied with natural gas. In the same speech, the minister promised that the rest of the city would also be connected to the gas pipeline by the end of the year. One month later, the minister pushed back his timeline for the city receiving gas by the end of the year to an undisclosed date in 2015.
Months later, FactCheck.ge, an innovative political news and information platform released a report about the progress of the natural gas pipeline’s construction and delivery to the citizens of Tkibuli. They found that not only had construction on the pipeline been halted, but that the citizens living in buildings where the pipeline was already connected weren’t receiving the gas services they’d been promised. The article, and the subsequent public outcry, was enough to pressure the minister into addressing the issue. Today, those residing in the original seven city blocks have begun receiving gas and efforts to ensure 100% gas connectivity are, once again, underway.
The Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation (BST) has funded the innovative political news and information project FactCheck.ge since November 2014. An initiative of Georgia’s Reforms Associates (GRASS), FactCheck.ge monitors the factual accuracy of public officials in Georgia.
The project aims to encourage greater transparency and accountability of elected officials in Georgia by providing people with the tools to oversee public officials and improve democratic checks and balances.
“As Georgia gradually transforms itself into a democratic country, the political processes still remain fragile and are subject to different concerns,” notes the Director of GRASS, Paata Gaprindashvili. “There is a huge gap between what politicians promise and what is produced afterwards.”
Founded in 2013, FactCheck has quickly become Georgia’s go-to news outlet for the accurate, timely information that citizens need to hold their elected officials accountable.
“The tangible results of FactCheck’s articles, with regards to the accountability of politicians in Georgia, their discourse, and the new, mindful approach when dealing with the wider public made this project a great opportunity for BST to support,” said a BST representative.
FactCheck.ge seeks to fill the information gap in Georgia with well-researched articles that can work to provide citizens with the necessary details to debunk fake and inaccurate news.
“By contributing to the transparency and accountability of politics and increasing public awareness, FactCheck.ge gradually develops a healthy and constructive attitude between the government and its citizens and transforms the relationship between them,” argues Gaprindashvili.
While establishing truth in Georgian politics is one of the project’s major goals, FactCheck.ge also seeks to educate the public on a wide range of policy issues. A lack of information can make both individuals and the wider society more vulnerable to political manipulation.
“As politicians spend more and more money to shape what people believe, fact-checking gives citizens the power to participate in their own public lives and exercise their most important civil right - the ability to decide for themselves,” Gaprindashvili notes.
The project has also been able to effectively leverage political cartoons as a tool to increase its viewership and spread reliable information. While reading an article requires more effort, a cartoon can provide a highly visual format for readers to better understand and engage with relevant information. To date, over 100 cartoons have been created and published on the project’s website.
“FactCheck has been called a Georgian Wikipedia because of its broad coverage of a wide range of public policy issues,” says Gaprindashvili. “Various politicians and public figures have stated that FactCheck materials have become an important source of trustworthy information.”
FactCheck.ge’s work contributes to a well-informed and active population by verifying the claims and statements of politicians who would seek to manipulate public opinion. Unsurprisingly, a public that is well-informed and knowledgeable can exert greater influence over the decision-making and policy agendas which, in turn, encourages citizens to become more active in the political decisions in their country.