Tunisian Journalist Establishes Student Fact-Checking Network

By: Noelle Black | 01/30/2024

Journalism students and professors established a student fact-checking network spanning the Middle East and North Africa that equips young people with the necessary skills to combat misinformation, as part of a project supported by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and led by Syrine Abidi.

Abidi, a journalist with Kortable based in Tunisia, launched the Student Fact Checker Network (SFCN) with a grant from ICFJ’s Disarming Disinformation initiative, a three-year global effort supported by the Scripps Howard Fund. She was one of 18 people from around the world who received training and funding through the program to test innovative ways of distributing the truth to counteract the spread of misinformation. 

By partnering with universities like the Higher School of Economic & Commercial Sciences in Tunis, Cairo University, and the College of Medicine at the University of Baghdad, and media outlets like Fousfouri, Abidi expanded the project’s scope to cover students in Tunisia, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, and Algeria. 

Abidi began the project by training 40 students on fact-checking techniques, ethics and standards with real-world exercises and examples. The Kortable team went on to create the Student Fact Checker Network Forum,  an international Facebook group composed of students and other young people who share their experiences and help each other continuously improve their fact-checking efforts. The SFCN Forum is 126 members strong and still growing.

Equipped with a training curriculum Abidi developed and additional mentorship from media experts, 11 of the participants were chosen to be ambassadors and went on to assist Abidi and the Kortable team in producing multimedia content on their fact checks and to participate in project incubators. For example, the series "Stethoscoop," produced by Rima Hammami, a student at the Medical School of Tunis (Faculte de Medecine de Tunis, FMT), and "Print," produced by Ayman Nasri, a student the National Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology (INSAT) and TJSP scholar at West Virginia University, respectively, emerged as key contributions. The series garnered tens of thousands of views, and Ayman went on to establish a psychology club, BRAINSAT, at his university in Tunis.

Abidi chose to focus on students in the fields of medicine and economics, as these areas have been ripe with misinformation in her target countries and are also politically salient issues. About the project, she said: “[Our] journey in the Disarming Disinformation program showcased the power of collaboration, diversity, and shared commitment” and that Kortable will “continue to build bridges between different sectors and regions, promoting a culture of fact-checking and critical thinking.”

Committed to the long-haul, Abidi and SFCN will continue hosting webinars and workshops, mentoring the 11 SFCN ambassadors, and expanding their content’s reach. SFCN is currently producing a podcast and developing standalone resources to guide even more students to develop their fact-checking skills in their areas of expertise.

Disarming Disinformation is run by ICFJ with lead funding from the Scripps Howard Fund. The three-year project empowers journalists, journalism students, and other media professionals to fight disinformation.

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