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How we fact-checked this claim: "Pandemics are cyclical and occur every 100 years"

by Caroline-Anne Coulombe - June 23, 2020   837 Views   6 min
How we fact-checked this claim: "Pandemics are cyclical and occur every 100 years"

It takes about one week to produce a fact-checked article when we’re not dealing with an urgent topic. This is because we have a strict workflow with several stop gaps, to ensure a high-quality and accurate text in French and in English.

To fact-check a claim, then write and publish an article about it, we follow our trademark framework, an easy-to-follow and intuitive step-by-step process called the FACTS Framework for Fighting Misinformation. In our team, different people are involved at different steps of the process because this is a production flow. 

As an individual, you can easily follow all the steps of the FACTS Framework when you encounter and assess information.

Claim: Pandemics are cyclical and occur every 100 years
Verdict: INACCURATE (no factual basis; unacceptable margin of error)

The FACTS Framework for Fighting Misinformation
The actions we took

F stands for Flag

Filter the information you receive and flag sources that don’t seem credible. And flag information which may appeal to your beliefs, elicit an emotional reaction or seems too good to be true.

Don’t share information or news if you don’t have time to check it out properly.

Find. We conducted our regular information monitoring through software searches, manual searches and topics submitted to us by citizens who were aware of the project at the time. We found several topics and claims that could have been of interest.
Filter. We filtered these topics by source, which is often an indicator of potential accuracy issues. This source was a member of the public on Facebook.
Flag. We flagged their post claiming that the Covid-19 pandemic was predictable because pandemics occur in a cycle of 100 years. The post “proved” this by listing four diseases and four dates at 100-year intervals.

A stands for Analyse

It’s important to first check whether a source is credible and reliable or not. Does this source have a history of sharing inaccurate information? Are they knowledgeable enough about a topic to speak about facts regarding that topic? Then, you can analyse whether the information they shared is accurate and based in science and on facts.

At, this is where we give our verdict according to our scale of verdicts.
Analyse the source: This source was a member of the public on Facebook with no particularly relevant credentials related to pandemics or public health. There was no reference or citation on the infographic which would have told us the source of the information. We deemed the source unreliable and not credible.

Analyse the content of the claim. We analysed the claim and content by breaking down potential issues. This is important because it helps us shed light on the issues. It also helps us to structure our article in the next step of the process.
  1. Check if the four diseases listed really caused pandemics (Yes they did. )
  2. If yes, check the dates of those pandemics (None of the dates are accurate. )
  3. Is this a 100-year pattern or have there been other pandemics in this 400-year period? (There have been many other pandemics in this 400-year period.)
Render our verdict. None of the dates in the infographic are accurate (and one is off by 400 years!) and there have been other pandemics in the period reviewed. The claim that pandemics occur every 100 years is inaccurate because it has no factual basis. It is also misleading.

C stands for Correct

Compare the information you received and read with the information from reliable sources. Are there discrepancies? If three reliable and official sources state something, and a social media post from an unknown person states something else, there’s a high likelihood the information from the unknown person on social media is inaccurate and misleading.

If the reliable sources offer facts that don’t align with your beliefs, check yourself before you dismiss those facts: am I dismissing the facts because I don’t agree with them/they don’t fit with my view of the world? What is the responsible thing to do in this space, dismiss facts and nurture my world view, or examine my world view and shift it based on science and facts?

We insert the correct information. Here, we ensured we inserted the accurate information in the place of the inaccurate information. For instance, we listed the correct years of the four pandemics and some other pandemics which have occurred in the past hundreds of years.

We structure our article. For clarity of demonstration, we then structured our text according to the elements of our analysis and the accurate information.

We write the article. Once the structure was in place, we drafted the article. We included three reliable sources to meet the requirements of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and added hyperlinks to them for ease of reference for our users.

We consider adding an educational section. In this article, we added a tip about sharing unverified information to help readers flag issues themselves when they come across such information in the future.

We upload it in an electronic form. Our writers send their articles to us through an electronic form which alerts the news manager when a new draft arrives. Writers must fill out a series of fields which provide information on all their sources, the language of the initial claim and other information. This information then goes into a database. We checked all the fields in the form and when we had a question we went back to the writer by telephone.

We send the article for scientific validation. Our fact-checkers and writers are not scientists, medical personnel or public health experts. To ensure our facts and verdict were correct, the news manager reviewed the draft article and made adjustments before sending the article to one of the members of our scientific validation team. Because of the nature of the claim, we chose the team member with the most relevant background on pandemics.

T stands for Transform

Transforming the accurate information into something that is easily understood is important. Adapt your communication to the context.

We validate or add an educational section. We want our articles to go beyond just fact-checking, so when relevant and possible, we add explanations on how the claim was misleading and how to avoid being misled in the future. In the case of this claim, we simply validated the tip that was included in the text by the writer.

We proofread. This article was drafted in French. It was therefore proofread in French. Some of the reliable references used in the article were only available in English, so we left the hyperlinks to the English sources in the French version.

We translate. We translated the article into English. When possible, we found the English version of the sources/references and hyperlinked to those.

S stands for Share
Ask yourself why you want to share the information. Only share if you’ve gone through the previous steps (Flag, Analyse, Correct, Transform) and you’re sure the information you’re about to share is solid and based on facts.

We conduct one last overall check. The English translation of this article was reviewed by our news manager, who tried out all the links and also checked the French version one last time.

We send to our technical team. Through a shared drive, we dispatched the final version of the fact-checked article in French and in English to our technical team liaison. The team checked the information in the electronic form, and the article in both languages, and uploaded them in the portal.

We conduct one last check before publishing. Our news manager read the article in English and in French one last time before hitting “publish”.

And we go one step further… Our technical team uploaded key information from the article into their proprietary algorithm which then automatically structured it in a way that enables search engines to understand it and issue a fact-checked card with our verdict.

We survey. We keep a close eye on our analytics to see how many people read our articles, and if we receive questions and comments about them.

And now it’s your turn to share the fact-checked article and this case study!


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