Reflecting on a remarkable year: our 2023 journey

As we bid farewell to 2023, it’s time for us to take a moment and reflect on the incredible journey CheckFirst has experienced over the past year. From groundbreaking conferences to the launch of exciting projects, 2023 has been — thanks to you all — a year of growth, collaboration and achievement. Let’s take a look back.

Conducting investigations was a significant aspect of our activities in the year 2023. In the spring, we unveiled our much anticipated study “Facebook Hustles”. Our team has unearthed a large-scale scam operation, recruiting its victims on Facebook through ads. The scam, which involves over 1,500 ads and a network of deceitful media sites, targets unsuspecting users with the promise of lucrative investments, leading to significant financial and personal harm. Several media outlets covered our research, from all around Europe.

In December, we released “The Amazing Library”, along with the amazing AI Forensics team. In this material undertaken within our CrossOver project, we expose the harms of Amazon’s algorithms, spanning from promoting anti-vaccine content to suggesting sexually explicit books on teenager books’ pages. Once again, our efforts garnered attention, and led to the publication of several articles on our discoveries: from Le Monde in France to Le Soir in Belgium and Il sole 24 Ore in Italy, to name just a few.

Besides, Check First published its OSINT investigation review process, in an effort to be as transparent as possible on the way we work.

CrossOver Project expands in Finland ahead of 2024 Presidential and EU Elections

2023 has been a big step forward for CrossOver. Our new iteration led us to Finland to investigates what recommendation algorithms suggest to Finns on different social media platforms ahead of 2024 elections. We are lucky to work with the Faktabaari team, a distinguished fact-checking and media education non profit. CrossOver has previously been successfully implemented in Belgium and other French-speaking countries. This new version of our project has been made possible thanks to the support of EMIFund.

In February, we released an investigation showing that Chinese state-controlled sources have outnumbered top western media outlets in their coverage of the Xinjiang province in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on Google News.

ObSINT, a proud chapter in our story

Working collaboratively for common good is something we value and cherish. In 2023, our commitment to advancing open source investigations reached new heights as we proudly became founding members of ObSINT, the European Open Source Intelligence Organisations Observatory. Initiated by the European Fact-Checking Standards Network Project (EFCSN, EU-funded), it brings together us at CheckFirst, EU DisinfoLab, The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), OSINT Curious, Centre for Information Resilience, OpenFacto, and Logically. Delve into our latest blogpost about the inspiring work of one of our member, the CIR: CIR Pioneer Approach to Protect Team Well-Being in the Midst of Traumatic Content Exposure.

We are committed to making our contributions to the landscape of open source investigation, fostering an environment where information is not only accessible but also utilised responsibly. We established guidelines which you can find here (and give your feedback!). Furthermore, we have released Tikadrchivist, an open source tool, along with CrossOver’scrappers.

Autumn conferences: a season of engagement

During autumn, we actively participated in several notable conferences all across Europe, including The Paris Peace Forum & OIF meeting for ODIL, one of our projects, EU-WB Media Literacy Conference, Rajapinta days, the EMIF conference in Florence, EDMO Belux Lunch Lecture. Prior to those, we were at the CoR’s EUROPCOM event, Mozilla Summit Amsterdam, CIRCOM Annual Conference, EFCSN, Amsterdam Digital Winter School, as participant or speaker.

These engagements allowed us to share our insights and contribute to discussions that shape the future of our field. We have had the opportunity to present the iteration of our CrossOver project in Finland on several occasions.

Our CTO Amaury represented CheckFirst at the EU Western Balkans Media Literacy Conference in Podgorica, Montenegro in November. He spoke about the Digital Services Act and the impact of AI on disinformation.

One of the highlights of our year was definitely our participation in the EU DisinfoLab annual conference. It took place in the beautiful city of Krakow, Poland, back in October. This event, year after year is a beacon for high-impact connections, insightful conferences and meaningful meetings. This experience not only expanded our network but also provided us with fresh perspectives on our common endeavour: help building a safe and fair digital landscape. We were lucky enough to present our study, “Facebook Hustles” and its surprising (and alarming) findings.

We have summed up here our 10 key takeaways from EU DisinfoLab 2023.

We are excited about joining the upcoming edition and eagerly anticipate our visit to Riga, Latvia in October!

As we wrap up this transformative year for our young company (we launched in 2020), we’d like to express our gratitude for the support and enthusiasm you’ve shown us, you, our community, our partners. Looking ahead, we are energised, inspired to continue fostering innovation and making a positive impact on society in the years to come.

Thank you for being part of our story ✨

Stay connected with us on Mastodon, BlueSky, X, LinkedIn and don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Indeed! Do you have a question for us? We’d love to hear from you.

Photo: Ian Schneider on Unsplash

About us

We empower the fight against disinformation. Check First is a software and methodologies company founded by a developer and two journalists. We focus on creating the best tools and practices for the peculiar job of countering and monitoring fakes and influence campaigns, and gain time in the process by fostering collaboration. Our best asset is the complementarity of our founding team, making us approach problems in a comprehensive and innovative way.

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