This story was first published on IJNet.org.
On April 30, Paraguayans elected their new president, deciding between Santiago Peña of the Partido Colorado and Pedro Efraín Alegre from the opposition alliance, Concertación Nacional. Since the party primaries in December 2022, the election campaign was marked by disinformation, which intensified and spread more violently as the general elections approached.
Independent media in the country faced the enormous challenge of reporting accurately and countering this false information during the campaign. El Surtidor, through its fact-checking department, "La Precisa," was the only media outlet in Paraguay with a specialized division dedicated to fact-checking public discourse, social networks and messaging channels. Following the primaries, "El Surti" also fact-checked false information circulating on social platforms for electoral purposes.
As the general elections drew closer, El Surti journalists got together with other Paraguayans media leaders at an ICFJ Forum event and decided to form a media alliance, the Red de Medios Alternativos de Paraguay (the Alternative Media Network of Paraguay), to combat the spread of mis- and disinformation.
Through trainings, tools, and reporting resources provided by La Precisa's fact-checking team, five native digital media outlets conducted their own verifications and, based on their respective areas of expertise, contributed to fact-checking electoral coverage. For example, El Otro País focused on verifying information in the Paraguayan provinces, the feminist magazine, Emancipa, addressed gender-related disinformation, and Quántico focused on education and transparency. La Volanta and Ciencia del Sur also participated.
"These media organizations are undertaking this work for the first time, and the goal is for this pilot experience to pave the way for expanding the alliance to other events of interest to the audience in the future. Each outlet publishes through their own channels, and La Precisa shares the content," Alejandro Valdez, co-founder of El Surtidor, explained.
Among the trainings was one on electoral disinformation, led by Natalia Leal, journalist and director of Agencia Lupa, a renowned fact-checking organization in Brazil. More than 30 professionals from traditional media and native digital outlets, as well as independent reporters took part in the workshop.
Valdez said that they built the database with the aim of producing a report after the elections highlighting the trends and particularities of disinformation in Paraguay. This series of reports – which they plan to publish once per year – will be made available to the media, colleagues, organizations, authorities and decision makers.
Another initiative developed by El Surtidor was a Minga ("community work," in Quechua) against disinformation: a collaborative space where volunteers from the audience "joined an intensive session to learn how to identify, contrast and classify electoral disinformation," explained Valdez. "In addition to collaborating with the database, the aim of this space was to make our work methodology transparent to those who consume our information."
In the fight against false narratives, El Surtidor has shared explainers on its social media channels to help the audience identify the most common formats of electoral disinformation. In this Twitter thread, they highlighted seven types of disinformation and provided guidance on how to debunk them. They also shared keys to identify "encuestruchas": polls with false or manipulated data that go viral, as well as conspiracy theories and "the narrative of electoral fraud," a strategy previously employed by former presidents Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Donald Trump of the U.S.
A different view
In addition to this alliance fighting disinformation in Paraguay, a separate initiative conducted collaborative coverage of the general elections through the hashtags #eleccionespy2023 and #otramirada ("A different view"). This network, made up of El Surtidor, Ciencia del Sur, Hína, Oviedo Press, El Urbano, Revista Y, Made in Paraguay, Periódico E'a, and La Volanta, was created to offer a journalistic perspective different from that of the country's traditional media.
On April 30, the day of the elections in which the ruling Colorado Party won, the alliance ran a live broadcast with interviews, analysis and information showing the diversity of approaches taken by each media outlet involved.