Can We Detect Bias in Political Fact-Checking? Evidence from a Spanish Case Study

Journalism Practice 10 (2023)
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Abstract

Political fact-checkers evaluate the truthfulness of politicians’ claims. This paper contributes to an emerging scholarly debate on whether fact-checkers treat political parties differently in a systematic manner depending on their ideology (bias). We first examine the available approaches to analyze bias and then present a new approach in two steps. First, we propose a logistic regression model to analyze the outcomes of fact-checks and calculate how likely each political party will obtain a truth score. We test our model with a sample of fact-checks from Newtral, a major Spanish fact-checker. Our model would signal bias under two assumptions: a) all political parties are on average equally accurate in their statements; b) the verification method gives precise instructions and is implemented systematically. We investigate this second assumption with a series of interviews with Newtral fact-checkers. We show that standard verification protocols are so loosely implemented that fact-checks reflect a set of journalistic decisions, rather than a bias in the statistical sense. We call for a more rigorous definition of verification methods as a pre-requisite for an unbiased assessment of politician’s claims.

Author Profiles

Alejandro Fernández-Roldán
Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia
David Teira
Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia

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