Fact-checking is important. But did you know it is not always done well or done at all? With the many different social media and news platforms, there is a lot of conflicting information that can be hard to wrap your head around. The information and news you see can be slanted, carefully selected, or presented within a context that favors one interpretation over another. We have to take the time to verify facts on our own. Fact-checking doesn’t have to be hard, but it does require awareness and attention to detail.
Be curious, be skeptical, and be aware. Technology is advancing every day, and false things can appear real. Our brains are full of distractions and busier than ever. We need to check everything!
We know it can feel overwhelming. Get familiar with the basics, take some time to practice, and pretty soon you’ll become a pro!
Some Facts about Facts
- Merriam-Webster defines a fact as “a piece of information presented as having objective reality.”
(Objective means not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts)
- Fact-checking requires the ability to think critically. Ask questions, and seek relevant answers.
- Accepting information just because it *sounds* right can lead you down a dangerous path (Hello, Confirmation Bias!) Likewise, dismissing something just because it sounds wrong is just as bad.
The Ultimate Fact-Checking How-To
- We found an incredible resource on how to fact-check called: Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers (and other people who care about facts)
(You will rarely see us say, “HERE! JUST GO TO THIS LINK,” but we aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel here. The site is as comprehensive and easy to read as it gets.)
The Four Moves
Mike Caulfield, the author of the book mentioned above, says there are “Four Moves” you can do when fact-checking that will help you get closer to the truth.
1) Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
2) Go upstream to the source of the claim: Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
3) Read laterally: Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
Crash Course has an excellent primer on Lateral Reading.
*NSFC note: reading laterally doesn’t only work for verifying sources. Opening up tabs and researching as you read helps verify claims, too.
4) Circle back: If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.
A few more things to note:
Check your facts before you react: Especially with breaking news, it is crucial to allow yourself time to let more information come out before reacting, sharing, or making a judgment.
Pop your filter bubble: Get comfortable checking with sources that are out of your comfort zone.
These sites have whole teams of people dedicated to digging through and analyzing the things you see across the media landscape. Although we don’t recommend always accepting what they say as gospel, we do find them to be an excellent resource to help get you started.
Beware of false equivalencies:
- “Balance” is not a substitute for fact-checking.
- As KQED and PBS note: “Not every topic warrants a “both sides” approach. Some viewpoints are simply not backed by empirical evidence or are based on false information. And journalists have to be careful not to present them as legitimate debates. If they do, they are creating a “false equivalence.”
Background information on sources:
MediaBiasFactCheck is an excellent place to start when verifying a source of information. They rate factual accuracy and bias of news sources.
Bellingcat is an open-source investigation resource that has in-depth tips and toolkits for fact-checking.
Global Investigative Journalism Network has a primer on how to identify trolls and bots. Trolls and bots both try to push counter-narratives, false information, and evoke emotional responses.
Social media gives us a false sense of trust and security.
- We no longer solely rely on traditional media for information; social media is now a primary source of information. Social media merges news and opinions without clear labels as to which is which.
- Social media, filter bubbles and echo chambers contribute to a feeling of tribalism, which does not support open-mindedness.
- Information from verified accounts or persons you trust isn’t always accurate. Those verified accounts and people are human and might be sharing without fact-checking.
- Make fact-checking personal. Create a system that works for you.
- Get comfortable with taking the time to fact check, so it becomes your new normal.
- Don’t jump to conclusions; take time to read entirely and consider before reacting and sharing.
- Keep your bias in check.
- Try to focus on objective facts over your personal values and pre-existing beliefs.
- Share responsibly. Don’t be a part of the problem by sharing false information.
- Be curious and check. We can’t create our own reality or let others create one for us.
- Use the CRAAP Test.
If you would like to learn more about fact-checking, check out some of these great organizations:
MediaWise is part of the Google News Initiative and is a Google.org funded partnership between The Poynter Institute, the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG), the Local Media Association (LMA) and the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). MediaWise aims to teach one million U.S. teenagers how to discern fact from fiction online by 2020.
The News Literacy Project is a national education nonprofit offering nonpartisan, independent programs that teach students how to know what to believe in the digital age.
NewseumED offers free resources to cultivate the First Amendment and media literacy skills essential to civic life. Learn how to authenticate, analyze and evaluate information from a variety of sources and put current events in historical context through standards-aligned lesson plans, videos, primary sources, virtual classes and programs.
iCivics works to ensure every student in America receives a quality and engaging civic education and graduates from high school well prepared and enthusiastic for citizenship
Fact-Checking in our Everyday Lives…
Share your story and let us know what Fact-Checking means to you! Fact-Checking means something a little bit different to everyone. We look forward to reading about your experiences and feelings about fact-checking and will be picking our favorites to feature here!