Fact-checking limitations: ideas for advancing data verification

In a world where information flows rapidly through social networks and digital channels, the need to contain or combat the proliferation of false information has triggered a boom in organizations and media divisions dedicated tofact-checking. This phenomenon takes place in a media ecosystem marked by immediacy, hyper partisanship, anonymity and economic incentives, and feeds on people's growing distrust of governments, institutions and traditional media. 

In recent years, fact-checking has established itself as one of the predominant tools for countering problematic information online, but it has also hit fundamental barriers that challenge its effectiveness. In this blog post we explore the limits of fact-checking and its ability to address the phenomenon of misinformation.

Until now, the practice of fact-checking has been underpinned by what is known as the 'information deficit model', the premise of which is that false beliefs are due to a lack of access to factual information, something that can be corrected by providing verified facts. Today, however, academics and specialists in the field are challenging this perspective, arguing that it fails to take into account the cognitive, social and affective motivations that influence the formation of attitudes and judgments of truth.

For example, phenomena such as climate change denialism, the anti-vaccine movement or the belief in earth-planning are not simply the result of a lack of evidence or scientific consensus. For the authors of the article 'The psychological drivers of misinformation belief and its resistance to correction' these beliefs are rooted in other factors such as "conspiracy mentality, personal fears, identity expression or motivated reasoning -that which is based more on personal or moral values than on objective evidence-".

Although fact-checking undoubtedly occupies an important place for the proper functioning of the public sphere, it has also been shown that it is not enough to effectively combat disinformation. For this reason, authors such as Otávio Vinhas and Marco Bastos have listed eight fundamental problems of fact-checking, ranging from epistemological issues to ambiguity and ephemerality: 

  1. Epistemological. Assumes facts as unequivocal. Does not take into account subjectivities and different possibilities of interpretation.
  2. Implementation. Verification is time and resource intensive and fails to keep pace with the propagation of problematic information.
  3. Bias. Fact-checking is interpreted from the pre-existing beliefs and partisan arguments of the information consumer.
  4. Effectiveness. When public confidence in democratic institutions declines, checks do not achieve the objective of moderating public debate.  
  5. Ambiguity. The distinction between facts and misinformation is not always clear, since they often coexist in complex narratives. Verification tends to ignore the ambiguity, conflict and plurality of communication. 
  6. Effectiveness. By focusing on popular content rather than the vast amount of transient information that constantly emerges and disappears from social networks, you lose sight of much content that spreads more effectively.
  7. Objectivity. The pursuit of objectivity ignores the judgments by which evidence is gathered and results are communicated to the public.
  8. Criticism. The ability to interact critically with a content goes through social norms and group mentality, both of which can also cause media literacy to be used to support biases. 

As the discussion on the limitations of fact-checking advances, so does the development of proposals to counteract them. Some of the most common strategies include the need to detect the likely sources of disinformation, which, although they find fertile ground in social networks, are also disseminated in traditional media (e.g. in opinion columns, sponsored content or in the repetition of political statements). 

In addition, it is recommended to include brief, easily discernible summaries that help the reader understand the assumptions embedded in the way a particular discourse or information is framed (e.g., normative positions underlying political rhetoric) and alternative framings for the topic under discussion. 

Journalists also play a crucial role in helping audiences distinguish between fact and opinion by implementing codes that clarify the verifiable parts of a statement. Finally, the importance of avoiding ambiguous headlines is stressed, as many people are informed by them, emphasizing the need to choose each word carefully to prevent confusion and the creation of false equivalences. These combined measures seek to improve the quality of the information available and effectively counteract misinformation.

Ultimately, although it is not a definitive solution, fact-checking remains fundamental in the fight against disinformation. The discussion on its limitations brings to the table the importance of evolving strategies and approaches in order to promote an informed and critical public sphere. 


Ecker, U. K., Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J., Schmid, P., Fazio, L. K., Brashier, N., ... & Amazeen, M. A. (2022). The psychological drivers of misinformation belief and its resistance to correction. Nature Reviews Psychology, 1(1), 13-29. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s44159-021-00006-y 

UK Civil Service (2022, September 22). Wall of Beliefs: A toolkit for understanding false beliefs and developing effective counter-disinformation strategies. Available at: https://gcs.civilservice.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Wall_of_Beliefs_-publication.pdf 

Vinhas, O., & Bastos, M. (2022). Fact-Checking Misinformation: Eight Notes on Consensus Reality. Journalism Studies, 23(4), 448-468. Disponible en: https: //www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1461670X.2022.2031259

Walter, N., & Salovich, N. A. (2021). Unchecked vs. uncheckable: How opinion-based claims can impede corrections of misinformation. Mass Communication and Society, 24(4), 500-526. Disponible en: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15205436.2020.1864406 

Yarrow, D. (2021). From Fact-checking to Value-checking: Normative Reasoning in the New Public Sphere. The Political Quarterly, 92(4), 621-628. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-923X.12999