combatting media disinformation

How do media address women’s issues? How fact-based is their reporting? What does it look like when it’s not done right?
We’re here to search for and fact check false news, biased reporting and various kinds of disinformation pertaining to womens’ issues. We also detect the sexist narratives built upon, or laying in the foundation of such reporting.

There is a lot of outstanding work done by journalists when it comes to reporting on womens’ issues. Case in point would certainly be the “#metoo movement”, which shows how much can be accomplished when quality journalism tackles a topic whose time has come.

On the other side, the persistence of sexist stereotypes, double standards and unfair treatment of women are still very much a thing in the media and the public sphere in general. Moreover, some features of the internet and the social media have aggravated the anti-feminist backlash, manifested - among other things - through escalation of online harassment and misogynist “movements” that thrive on online platforms.

Quite often, these attitudes are masked as factual statements, or used to distort facts and misguide perceptions of womens’ issues. This is where we step in

How does it work?

FemFacts looks into and debunks false or biased reporting on womens’ issues from all over Europe. We do this by submitting it to a thorough fact checking process, rating the checked claims and countering false information with analysis based on facts. Here we’ll describe what that process entails and the methodology that it’s based on.

Stage 1:
Selection of content

The content that we fact check reaches us in one of the following ways:

  • Through recommendations, suggestions and picks of our curators, contributors and editorial team
  • Through recommendations and suggestions of our readers

While our main focus is on media reports, we also check other claims which gain significant exposure, such as viral and/or popular content on social networks. The suggested content is reviewed by our editors to determine if it falls within the scope of our work - in other words, we establish that it is:

  1. a topic related to womens’ issues;
  2. a piece of news which contains poorly sourced / unsubstantiated factual claims, or approaches the topic with demonstrable bias.

If these basic criteria are fulfilled, the next step is to submit it to the fact checking process. The results go through another round of reviews by the editors before the final analysis is published.

Unlike most of the fact checking projects out there, FemFacts investigates claims made in many different languages - and that makes the selection process a bit more complicated. This means that we can only select the material if it’s written or recorded in a language that one of our fact checkers is fluent in. NewsMavens has a dynamic network of partners and contributors throughout Europe, so these limitations will lessen as our network continues to grow. Since we have an international audience, all our fact checks are published in English, the lingua franca of Europe (and beyond).

Stage 2:
Fact checking

After the content is selected, what follows is independent verification of facts. Fact checking is a process driven by the material it analyses, so there is no one single method through which it’s conducted. It’s rather a research based on a set of principles which ensure that the process is transparent and the results fact-based:

  • Using credible and verifiable sources (official data and statistics, science-based research, well documented reporting, etc.)
  • Contacting relevant actors
  • Fair and impartial treatment of sources
  • Seeking informed opinions and expertise where “raw” data isn’t available
  • Presenting the research in detail and with clarity, so that it can be repeated and/or independetly verified
  • Providing full and comprehensive evidence for conclusions made in the analysis
  • Applying the rating system in a consistent manner
  • Providing clear explanations for the given ratings

In addition to fact checking the content published in other media, FemFacts aims to encourage the use of these principles beyond the “specialized” fact checking articles, starting from the NewsMavens platform. The content recommended by our currators which does a particularly good job at meeting these standards, will therefore be awarded a “badge of honor” - a label confirming that it’s Fact-checked

Stage 3:

To shine a light on various forms of manipulation which taints public discourse on women’s issues, we use:

  1. ratings of individual claims
  2. tags which identify the sexist narratives and ideological background which shapes such claims.

Because our focus is on debunking inaccurate or misleading information, there are no “good grades” in the rating system. Also, because ideas about gender are highly contextual and biased reporting goes well beyond the “fake news” realm, we don’t stop at the true/false dichotomy. Instead, we use a rating system which allows for a more nuanced approach, based on broader understanding of both media literacy and gender issues.

The ratings we use for the factchecked content:

1. Fake news
A claim that presents entirely false and/or fabricated information as facts.

2. Disinformation
A claim that contains a "mix" of facts and inaccurate information. Can also include media reports with false attributions (headlines, illustrations) that do not reflect the main content and aim to manipulate the reader/viewer.

3. Manipulation of facts
A claim that intentionally misinterprets facts, either by omitting relevant details, or by presenting accurate information in a misleading way to distort its real meaning.

4. Conspiracy theory
A description of a phenomenon, process or occurance as a part/result of a hidden plan to do damage or harm, where no credible evidence is presented for the supposed causal relations between targeted actors or events.

5. Pseudoscience
A claim which presents opinions or findings which aren’t obtained through scientific method, as science-backed facts. Can also include incorrect or misleading interpretations of existing scientific data, or presenting untested hypothesis as settled science.

6. Biased reporting
Media report which demonstrably favors information that support one particular narrative, or one side in a controversy.

7. Spin
A form of biased reporting which demonstrably attempts to divert public attention from a current event or reporting which is unfavorable for a certain actor.

8. Censorship
Media reports where accurate and relevant information is changed or removed with no (credible) explanation. This rating can also be given if there is credible evidence that accurate and relevant information was witheld from the public because of personal, political or financial interest, or fear of retribution.

9. Clickbait
Media report which uses a misleading headline that does not have a foothold in the content that follows.

10. Hidden advertising
Paid promotional content not marked as such, presented in a way that emulates media reports.

As already mentioned, all material we fact check is related to representation of women and women’s issues. Consequently, the misrepresentation of facts in such cases can either contribute to, or be an expression of, sexist worldviews. We address that dimension through specific categories which make our approach somewhat different from a typical - and non-topical - fact checking work. We identify which harmful practice or stereotype is displayed in the fact checked content and mark it with a tag from each of the categories that it fits.

The categories and tags we use to contextualize the factchecked content are:

1. Violence against women
Content which normalizes, encourages, justifies, trivializes or downplays the detrimental effects of gender-based violence.
Tags related to sexual violence: Rape culture; Victim blaming; Sexual harrasment;
Other tags: Relationship violence; Violence in the family; Peer violence; Institutional violence

2. Sexual objectification
Content (appearing outside of explicitly pornographic platforms) which portrays the physical appearance of women as their primary (or the only relevant) trait and/or makes judgement about the physical appearance of women based on its presumed effect on men. Also, narratives containing implicit or explicit moral judgements of female sexuality and sexual behaviour.
Tags related to sexual appearance and behaviour: Male gaze; Beauty imperative; Body shaming; Slut shaming; The pressure to be asexual; The pressure to be hypersexual

3. Biological determinism
Content based on the idea that difference in female and male physiological features predetermine them to take on separate, mutually irreplacable, rigidly defined and unchangeable social roles. This is manifested through denying or questioning women’s agency outside of private/domestic sphere and presenting specific skills, interests, talents or character traits as inherent only to women, or only to men.
Tags related to domestic sphere: The “kitchen confinment”, Motherhood as default parenthood, Emotional labor; The “female biological clock”, Being a “real woman”
Other tags: Denying female agency; Denying women’s competence; Gendering reason and emotions; The pressure to have it all; Encouraging helplessness; Metaphysics of gender inequality

4. Economic inequality
Content which denies or justifies the existence of inequality in income, property ownership, career opportunities and financial security between men and women of otherwise equal backgrounds (having in mind that other factors, such as race, sexual orientation, class, disability... also influence unequal professional opportunities).
Tags related to economic inequality: The female double burden; Glass ceiling; “Boys’ club”; Having to be “twice as good”; The imposter syndrome

5. Invisible history
Content which erases or diminishes women’s contributions in historically significant processes, events or discoveries and minimizes their visibility in recorded history and collective memory of local, national and international communities.
Tags related to recording female accomplishments: Stolen credits; Unsung heroines; Written out of record;

6. Intersectional discrimination
Content which displays hostile attitude towards women based on their other self-determined or assigned identities; including race, class, ethnicity, religious or political views, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, disability, etc.
Tags related to intersectional approach: Heterosexism; Racialized gender; Gender of ableism; Fallen through the cracks

7. Antifeminist backlash
Content which ascribes malicious intent or harmful effect to the fight for gender equality; defines feminism as a unique “gender ideology” as opposed to “natural order” and denies existence of established forms of gender-based discrimination (often through derision).
Tags related to antifeminism:Feminism as “anti-men; Feminism as “anti-women”; The “ism” in feminism; Wage gap as the ultimate “myth”; Not just for the laughs

Stage 4:
Presentation of results

The final product of the entire process is an analysis which contains these elements:

  1. Claims that are checked and rated, with a link to the original source
  2. Relevant information about the source of the claim, where available
  3. Fact-based analysis
  4. Rating of the claim (with explanation)
  5. The category/tag it falls into (with explanation)

In addition to the content described above, we will occasionally publish meta-analysis of trends and phenomena observed in the course of our fact checking work, as well as opinion pieces by selected authors who can contribute their knowledge and expertise on topics at the intersection of journalism, media literacy and feminism.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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