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Practice of Journalism

Understanding the Promise and Limits of Automated Fact-Checking

The furore over so-called ‘fake news’ has exacerbated long-standing concerns about political lying and online rumours in a fragmented media environment, drawing attention to the potential of various automated fact-checking (AFC) technologies to combat online misinformation. This factsheet gives an overview of current efforts to automatically police false claims and misleading content online. Based on a review of recent research and interviews with both fact-checkers and computer scientists working in this area, we find that:

  • Much of the terrain covered by human fact-checkers requires a kind of judgement and sensitivity to context that remains far out of reach for fully automated verification.
  • Despite progress in automatic verification of a narrow range of simple factual claims, AFC systems will require human supervision for the foreseeable future.
  • The promise of AFC technologies for now lies in tools to assist fact-checkers to identify and investigate claims, and to deliver their conclusions, as effectively as possible.

Our findings suggest that while fully automated fact-checking remains a distant goal, AFC platforms now in development can help journalists to track false claims across the media landscape and to respond as quickly as possible. Further progress depends on continuing academic and charitable support for basic research, for real-world experiments, and for initiatives to make public information available as structured data that automated platforms can use.