Laura is the driving force behind a movement against disinformation in Latin America and the Global South, promoting the use of technology, media literacy, innovation, and deep citizen involvement to fight the rising wave of disinformation and preserve democracy.
The New Idea
Chequeado is a bridge between journalism, education, technology, and research that helps people learn to interpret information and manage misinformation and disinformation, in an increasingly complex, dynamic, interconnected, and virtual world. Since its beginnings, in 2010, Chequeado has been a pioneer in fact-checking and a driving force for the field in the region, providing training and advice to more than 30 organizations, over 7,000 reporters and 37,000 students in the use of her tools, methodologies, and collaboration to combat misinformation in 17 countries in Latin America. Laura has been the pioneer in factchecking throughout Latin America through her commitment not only to getting the right result but getting there through the right process.
Ongoing innovation is the guide for Laura and her team's daily work to tackle the growing challenges of the explosion of misinformation in Latin America. Thus, they work in the creation and use of new technology tools and methods to fight against disinformation. Crucially, they do not do this alone: Collaborative work and collective intelligence are an essential part of Chequeado's strategy, which relies on a network of quality media and journalists from all over Latin America. This network -LatamChequea- is permanently nourished by Chequeado's developments, which work with an open-source philosophy, since they understand that power lies in collective action. The role of the community is central to the organization's way of working, which, through programs and creative strategies, maintains a two-way dialogue with its audiences, making them part of Chequeado as checkers, contributing with capacity and transparency to the task.
Laura is currently starting to work on the great challenge of combating the misinformation that circulates in Spanish-language media and platforms in the United States, with the potential to impact the nearly 60 million Latinos living in that country and contribute to having a more effective strategy in the Spanish-speaking world. To achieve this, in 2022, along with the Spanish Ashoka Fellow Clara Jimenez Cruz, she launched a new fact checking initiative in the United States, in which she will deploy her years of experience, reputation and collaborative capacity, and all the technology and knowledge capital from her organization.
Disinformation (circulation of false or misleading content disguised as news in public discourse) is a problem on a global scale and has the capacity to cause damage in health, politics, economics, and many other areas in which good information is necessary for decision-making. The lack of transparency in the use of data by the vast majority of media and technology companies enables dis-misinformation to spread and generates mistrust among citizens. This mistrust in the traditional media is exacerbated by the lack of transparency about who finances the media and by the emergence of new ways of information consumption, characterized by being incidental, brief, interrupted, and partial.
The Internet and social networks multiply the possibilities of carrying out a disinformation or propaganda campaign, making it very accessible, due to its low cost and speed, and generating greater potential for damage – so much so, that during the pandemic the phenomenon was defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as "infodemic". According to the latest Digital News Report 2022 from the Reuters Institute at Oxford University, "global concerns about false and misleading information remain stable this year, ranging from 72% in Kenya and Nigeria to 32% in Germany and 31% in Austria". As an even more recent report by the European Court of Auditors indicates, misinformation is a very worrying problem even in organized societies.
An overlooked dimension of the problem in the United States is the quality of information and the disinformation and misinformation content to which the Latino population residing in the US is exposed. Around 60 million people use social networks and WhatsApp as their primary means of information rather than mainstream media outlets. These spaces do not have factchecking in Spanish language and are usually plagued by false content or decontextualized information, which circulates quickly and with a high capacity for harm.
Likewise, in the Global South, the problems of the North are compounded by the concentration of the media system, the lack of autonomy by the public media, the dependence on government advertising and its impact on the editorial line of some media, and the problems of access to public information, which at certain times have an impact on the quality of statistics. According to a Civil Association for Equality and Justice (ACIJ) report, the Agencies for Access to Public Information have practically not used the regulatory and sanctioning powers granted to them by law to ensure compliance with the law in their respective regulated entities. Particularly in Argentina, these problems are aggravated by a precarious institutional framework and recurrent economic and social crisis. All of these factors contribute to a weakening of society's trust and cracks the delicate fabric that connects it.
Laura is a pioneer and promoter of factchecking in Argentina and the region since the earliest days of the movement. In the first informal meeting of factcheckers, which took place in 2014 in London, Laura presented her collective factchecking technology, which involved the participation of experts and the community in the verification process. This method and philosophy, where timing and collective knowledge are crucial, have now become a widespread practice in all continents and have allowed Chequeado to position itself as a pioneer organization in systematizing the practice, making the method public, and contributing to the creation of common standards for the sector. The methodology is part of the Code of Principles held by the International Fact Checking Network, which Laura helped create and remains a part of the Advisory Board. Chequeado was the first organization to create a regional network of checkers, to promote collaboration and share good practices and failures. Today, LatamChequea brings together more than 30 organizations from 15 countries in the region and during the COVID-19 pandemic was key to counteract the "infodemic", the phenomenon of disinformation and information chaos surrounding the pandemic.
Chequeado was created with the mission of improving public debate and citizens' capacity to use information, which in turn contributes to the quality of democracy. With a team currently formed by 40 professionals, they have been working for more than 10 years in order to raise the cost of lies and counteract disinformation. Chequeado.org offers verified informative content, which provides an explanation of current affairs and key political topics organized in an attractive way and with different levels of depth, according to the needs and interests of the audience. Each of the journalistic pieces produced by Chequeado promotes the training of the community, teaching and making the methodology used in each article transparent to the reader, providing people with more tools to identify disinformation on their own. With the mission of improving the public debate, they seek for the community to actively participate in the production of knowledge and content, proposing checks or contributing data that nourish the verifications. A great example was the information checked and shared around Covid-19, which Chequeado worked with community members and shared scientific sources to verify and publish.
The training of journalists, communicators, influencers, and young people is at the core of Chequeado's strategy, and leads to greater reach and faster reaction time, so they can combat misinformation before it goes viral on a huge scale. To this end, since 2014 they have developed the Education Program, leading continuous training projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. With the program, they have reached more than 37,000 young people to date. This effort is especially relevant with young information producers and with new information consumption habits. Chequeado will be supported by UNESCO with the idea of bringing an educational program for schools in Argentina, in order to offer tools for these new contexts and to make visible the non-obvious aspects of internet technology. In addition, to date, more than 7000 journalists have participated in various courses on fact-checking and related topics, promoted by Chequeado.
The volatility in the consumption and production of information represents a great challenge to the Chequeado team, which faces it with professionalism, collaboration, and innovation. One of the latest creations for training is an app that simulates an escape room. The game's narrative shows players the daily task of the newsroom and the principles of fact-checking as a method of combating viral disinformation. Another recent technological innovation is Chequeabot, a platform that uses Artificial Intelligence and machine learning tools, which automates the fact-checking process, boosting the impact capacity without losing quality. Used by fact-checkers, journalists, and the general public, it can identify checkable phrases within dozens of news sites, social networks, and official presidential and legislative speeches. This development not only works in her newsroom but has even been adopted by fact-checkers' newsrooms in Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, and Chile.
Laura and her team believe in the power of collaboration and have invested a lot of energy in cultivating and forming regional and global allies. Alliances and integrations with other media outlets and networks that share the content generated by Chequeado are important to increase reach and impact; in turn, they are the ones who demand fact-checks or details on complex issues or critique the information. Together with some of the organizations in their networks, they have encouraged companies such as Meta (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp), and more recently Tik Tok, to incorporate IFCN-certified checkers in their platforms so as to contribute to the fight against disinformation.
In the same collaborative spirit, Chequeado promoted and leads Reverso, a collaborative project involving more than 120 allied media and 450 journalists from all over Argentina, which became the largest collaborative journalistic project against electoral disinformation in the world, and was supported by Facebook Journalism Project, Google News Initiative, and Luminate. In 2020 Laura created an impact measurement programme and is promoting a common measurement system with other checkers in the region and the world.
In order to guarantee sustainability and editorial autonomy, Laura and the team have developed a diversification strategy that includes the management of resources from individual donors, corporate support, international cooperation and their own training activities. It is worth pointing out that they do not receive funds from the Argentine government nor political parties.
Laura has co-created, and currently co-leads, the new US Factchequeado initiative to combat misinformation in Spanish-language media and platforms in the US, with the potential to impact the nearly 60 million Latinos residing in that country. The majority of the Latino population does not consume traditional media and gets informed through platforms and social networks that are very vulnerable to misinformation. To achieve this ambitious goal, they are forming a team of professionals residing in the US, and of Latino origin or with a close connection to this community, and a network of collaborating media that already has 33 members in 15 states, many of them coming from the training developed by Laura over time. Factchequeado uses investigative and data journalism tools and image and video verification techniques that any citizen can learn how to use in order to help the community make fact-based decisions. The initiative already has relevant partners such as Conecta Arizona, Conexión Migrante, Enlace Latino NC, El Tiempo Latino, El Detector from Univision, MediaWise, News Literacy Project, among others. Laura and her team did a public launch of the initiative during 2022 before the midterm elections, in preparation for a massive launch in the context of the 2024 presidential elections, in which they will be able to contribute to the fight against misinformation and make the interests and needs of the Latino community visible.
Laura's parents were immigrants who arrived in Argentina with nothing, and thanks to their effort and resilience they were able to move forward in life, ensuring a good development for the family. During her childhood however, Laura faced the loss of three of her four siblings. Around this family tragedy, she learned to value life and put perspective on the importance of its events. Despite having grown up in a family in mourning, she also remembers her parents' ability to generate moments of enjoyment such as trips, meetings, friendships, which Laura treasured as a life lesson and a value from which she built her own path.
Education held a main place throughout Laura's life. She studied in a school where the voices of children were important, at a time when this was not so frequent, and chose the Colegio Nacional Buenos Aires (one of the most prestigious public schools in the country) for her secondary studies. She studied journalism and law, graduating with honors in both degrees. Although she was not formally part of the Student Center, she participated in the actions and marches that took place at the time in favor of public schools. A memorable moment was when the head of her school invited her to accompany him to a television set to explain the student body's position on a famous program of the time. On that occasion, she argued on air with the headmistress of a private school who argued that at the age of 14, young people did not think independently.
The time at the university allowed Laura to identify what was important for her life. Values, justice, transparency, the fight against impunity and the need for good information to make decisions were present in everything she did. During that period she also confirmed that she wanted to be a journalist and that she liked teaching, and became a student assistant in State Theory, Semiotics, and Information Law. She continues teaching Information Law to this day, to stay connected to a field that is closely linked to access to information and its focus on factchecking.
At the age of 22 she began working as a journalist at the newspaper, La Nación, thanks to a contest for young talents to which she had applied. Laura remembers that at the first interview with the Editorial Secretary, Germán Sopeña, she went with the newspaper all marked up, corrected with proposals of everything she would have done differently if she had been in his place. As she was already studying law at the time, when she joined the newspaper she asked to cover the Courts, and for some years she dedicated herself to investigating and writing about crimes, civil rights, injustice, and acts of corruption. At the time, she was the first woman in the newspaper to cover these issues. Hoping to contribute to the creation of a plan for transparency and civilian control of the security forces for the country, she started working in the public sphere as chief of staff at the National Security Secretariat, summoned by a former prosecutor whom she had collaborated with in investigations on police corruption. In that space Laura learned a lot about working in the public sphere, both its dynamics and frustrations.
After public service, Laura joined CIPPEC, Argentina's leading think tank, where she built from scratch the Communications Department and managed to position the organization as a public policy reference in the country. There, she worked with some of the most creative local minds on proposals to improve the tax, education, health, and judicial systems, and true to her style, she fought with them to make those contents more accessible, simple, and massive.
As the problem of dis-misinformation began to grow in Argentina, Laura decided to attack the problem in Argentina head on and was for ten years the executive director and editor-in-chief at Chequeado, the first initiative of fact-checking and verification of public discourse in Latin America. She brought her contacts from her previous work, technology tools, and a firm desire to transform an initiative of fact-checking into a leading fact-checking organization with a different DNA–transparency, collaboration, and networks, supported by technology. She created new programs and lines of action, first in Argentina, and then at a regional level. In 2014, she presented her work and approach at a major European conference and in 2015, she won the prestigious Gabriel Garcia Marquez Prize for innovation in Journalism for the expansion of fact-checking in Latin America, which was also key to the creation of LatamChequea, the main regional network against disinformation in the world.
She has now delegated the daily operation of her program in Argentina and Latin America to devote herself full-time to her biggest challenge yet – fighting dis-misinformation in the United States among sixty million Latinos, in collaboration with Clara Jimenez, an Ashoka Fellow from Spain, who also fights misinformation in Europe. Laura plans to have her program fully functional for the 2024 US elections.