Guest blog: RMIT ABC and APO: Making it easier to check the facts – by Sushi Das

Almost 500 fact checks published by RMIT ABC Fact Check will be available for the first time as a searchable archive housed on APO. Sushi Das, Chief of Staff at RMIT ABC Fact Check, introduces us to this new collaborative collection launching this May.

In our polarised world, facts are often buried under fake news, self-serving spin, and outright fear mongering. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has resulted in a deluge of false claims about the virus, how it spreads and how it can be cured.

False claims and misinformation have always existed, but advances in technology now allow rumours, inaccurate information and manipulated photos and videos to spread quickly and widely through social media. It’s no surprise that research shows people are finding it increasingly difficult to identify trustworthy information.

As trust in institutions has weakened, the spread of inaccurate information is increasingly harmful, especially when it affects people’s attitudes, behaviour or health. We may not be able to eliminate unreliable claims and misinformation from our open democratic society – but we can build resilience against it. This is important if we are to maintain trust in public life. Fact-checking organisations help us achieve this.

RMIT ABC Fact Check is Australia’s premier fact-checking organisation. It determines the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions on matters of national and local importance. Its team of journalists are not affiliated with any political party or advocacy group.

As a jointly funded partnership between RMIT University and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Fact Check combines academic excellence and the best of Australian journalism to inform the public through an independent non-partisan voice. It is accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network and is a signatory to the network’s code of principles.

RMIT ABC Fact Check issues a verdict on all fact checks published, but it does not speculate on the motives of those who make claims that are inaccurate or misleading. It is not about the “Gotcha!” It is instead committed to fearlessly following the facts no matter where they lead.

The unit was first established as ABC Fact Check in 2013. But funding cuts led to its closure in 2016. It was re-established as RMIT ABC Fact Check in 2017. As the ABC is a publicly funded, independent media organisation, RMIT ABC Fact Check is ultimately accountable to the Australian Parliament.

The Fact Check Collection

RMIT ABC Fact Check has worked in partnership with Analysis & Policy Observatory (APO) to build a permanent archive of nearly 500 fact checks published since 2013. The RMIT ABC Fact Check Collection will be available on APO from May 2020, and updated as more are published. The collection is part of a Linkage, Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) grant funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and is advised by Professor Julian Thomas, RMIT University.

The aim of this collection is to provide a searchable repository for fact checks, providing researchers, students, journalists, industry, government and the general public with accurate, factual and reliable information about claims made by public figures.

Sushi Das is a journalist of more than 25 years’ standing, most recently working at The Age (1995-2016), where she held a series of senior reporting and editing positions, including state political reporter, news editor, columnist, feature writer and opinion editor.