They are as persistent as the virus: fakenews. Even before the Corona pandemic, fake news was a problem – but the pandemic has exacerbated the situation. Katharina Klimkeit (27) quit her job in the middle of the crisis to take up the fight against misinformation. Her startup "Facts for Friends" sees itself as a bridge between fact checkers and social networks. The team summarizes longer fact checks from multiple sources, turns them into short texts and simple sharepics. This could help insecure people who have to deal with fakenews in their circle of friends and acquaintances. What started at the #WirVsVirus hackathon is now on its way to becoming a successful nonprofit. Together with her co-director, Valerie Scholz, Klimkeit made countless contacts, got tips from renowned experts from the business world – and is in contact with fact-checkers around the world.
In a few words: What do you do?
Katharina Klimkeit: We fight everyone who spreads fake news and information – media, but also individuals, by collecting verified facts and making them very easy to read and share.
How did you come up with the idea?
At the #WirVsVirus hackathon at the beginning of the Corona crisis – that was an event with 30 people.000 people who wanted to develop solutions for the crisis. I was on short time at the time and wanted to do something. The problem of fakenews already arose in my close social environment, for me for the first time. My father showed me chain letters in WhatsApp groups with false info about Corona self-tests. At the hackathon, a group got together to fight something like this. Our team included journalism students, scientists, programmers, a graphic designer – and me. In a design thinking process, we considered: What is the target audience, what features does the product need to have? We started on Friday, and the first prototype was live on Sunday.
Why this topic?
Fakenews were a problem even before Corona. But in times of crisis, when people are afraid and insecure, they spread even more. We asked ourselves: How do you present facts in such a way that they stand up to the wave of fakenews??
What happened after the hackathon?
Ten of us founded. Without the positive feedback and some drivers in our group, the hackathon project would have remained. That was insane: to have a vision like that and then have it become something more. I was the first to say I’m quitting my job. Because you had to make a certain time commitment for the funding applications. The demand has encouraged me. But I also realized: I have to deliver now.
"Misinformation often circulates in private"
Why do you do facts for friends?
Misinformation often circulates privately. People tend to believe their friends, that’s what surveys and statistics show – simply because you already have a pre-selection and similar values. It’s hard to put fakenews right. And for this we offer a solution. Anyone who sees a funny WhatsApp message or Facebook post can find out and share the result. Often these are emotional topics. But we hope: If it’s fact-checked, from credible sources – we only use sources from the International Fact-Checking Network – then you can take the emotionality out of it and discuss it.
What sets you guys apart from the many fact-checks already out there??
We see ourselves as an aggregator and disseminate the results of fact-checks via the social networks. It needs to be super easy to find and share these "fact snacks". I don’t know so many people who read through five pages of fact checks, for example at Correctiv. That’s why we rely on sharepics, which can be shared as images or short texts. In the next step, we want to use moving images, such as gifs – simply because we want to appeal to young people.
"We want to reach out to the insecure"
What is your target group?
We are often asked: What about the people in Michael Wendler’s Telegram group or QAnon followers who believe in conspiracy myths?? That’s not our target group. They are also overestimated. In the media the corona denier demos are shown and you think: Oh God, there are so many of them! But it is a very small percentage. We want to reach the unsettled. Those who actually do not want to share false information in the private environment.
You make snackable content to reach younger target groups. Is this the best way to communicate complex topics??
Our claim is that you can get information quickly and further. One click takes you to the original article, and it’s guaranteed to be 5-10 pages long. Our topics are usually complex. We have realized that we have to be careful about thinking in black or white. There is an immensely large grey area, where some parts are true, some are misleadingly presented or taken out of context. In the past, there was only wrong or right with us. Now we look at the information in a more multidimensional way. We now also have a "misleading" category.
What drives you? You could also just post cat videos.
There simply aren’t enough creative solutions to fakenews. When you look at how many scented candle startups are in the market and how few are addressing the massive problem of disinformation in digital, you think to yourself: something is out of whack. A lot has already been done, Facebook and Co. work together with fact checkers. That is good, but not enough. We are driven to create a solution that can really help people in their everyday digital lives and give them a tool to get back to fact-based discourse.
"We suddenly had a private consulting team from the Boston Consulting Group"
How do you finance yourselves?
Unfortunately, you make much more money with fakenews than with facts. A bit sad, but there it is. We are a nonprofit, we are supported by foundations, and we also receive project funding from the German Federal Ministry for Environmental Protection. All funders give us maximum freedom, even if facts come out that we don’t like. But: We don’t take any money, because the highest good is our credibility.
Have you used any consulting services?
We have taken every opportunity to contact you. The open source initiative ProjectTogether founded a support platform after the hackathon. We suddenly had a private consulting team from the Boston Consulting Group, with whom we met once a week. We have also talked to experts from various fields about our business model.
"For me, resilience also means asking for help"
In the context of the current crisis and where especially in NPP a lot of micro and solo entrepreneurs* are strongly affected, there is a lot of talk about economic resilience. What does resilience mean to you??
Resilience coupled with patience coupled with perseverance. For me, resilience also means asking for help when you need it. We are in close contact with the International Fact-Checking Network, for example – that is the Fact checkers worldwide. When we had a problem the other day, we got replies to our mail from fact checkers from different countries, which is really great.
What characterizes a creative entrepreneur??
Dare to try new things – but also rethink existing things. We could also have said that because Correctiv or Mimikama already exist, we don’t need Facts for Friends anymore. But since we look at the issue from a different angle, it’s something else entirely.
Is your project in danger once the crisis is over?
No. We are fighting an unfortunately persistent problem. If it’s not the Corona crisis, it’s the federal elections. If it’s not the election year, it’s the climate crisis. Already we don’t just have Corona issues anymore. We will always have work to do.
How to get the best ideas? Creative techniques can help. "Facts for Friends" also used design thinking: an approach in which people from different disciplines work together in a team and look at problems from different perspectives – for example, designers, computer scientists and marketing experts. In design thinking, the focus is on the customer’s point of view and his or her needs. Personas, i.e. typical representatives of the target group, are often developed for this purpose. After brainstorming, ideas are systematized and tested for usefulness, feasibility and marketability. In times like these, however, methods that make it possible to develop futures also become relevant: for example, the Scenario technique or Science Fiction Prototyping. Thereby you put yourself into different future scenarios and slip into new roles (Follow the links to the detailed explanation of the Competence Center Cultural and Creative Industries of the Federal Government, cooperation partner of the Culture and Creative Pilots Germany.