We all know that misinformation and disinformation abounds and is currently running rampant. Thankfully there are also some very useful resources that can really help: To be specific, I mean the fact-checkers.
Well-known examples of organizations that are wholly and completely focused on fact-checking include …
There are of course many many more. For quick access to a full inventory, you will find that Wikipedia has a handy list of fact-checking websites.
- reviews statements by all parties and sides;
- examines discrete claims and reaches conclusions;
- transparently identifies its sources and explains its methods;
- discloses its funding and affiliations.
You can find their list here.
How do the Fact Checkers Fact Check?
Like many things in life, you don’t just give-it-a-go and hope it works out. Instead, for the professional fact checkers it is a skill to learn and then enhance and develop. If you do embark upon a journey down this road, then you will find that over time you gain experience and build up a toolbox of both strategies and also insights into what is going on.
You can gain a bit of insight into this process via an article published within BusinessInsider a couple of weeks ago. It was written by Snopes fact checker Madison Dapcevich, and is titled “I’m a fact-checker at Snopes, the internet’s authority on viral hoaxes. Here’s how I tell if news is fake“.
Well yes, there is an ever so subtle clue in that title regarding the content.
What follows below is an overview of some of the insights that she has gained …
Be Aware of Inauthentic Behaviour
Some Social Media postings have been carefully crafted to hide the identify of those behind it…
Coordinated inauthentic behavior refers to the use of multiple social media accounts or pages that hide the real identities of those in charge to mislead or influence people, often for political or financial benefits. As Snopes reporter Jordan Liles writes, it can be quite easy to see, if you know where to look.
Be wary of highly political topics on Social Media. Things to look out for include …
- Recently created accounts
- Accounts operated by people outside the US
- If it is a Facebook group, check the “Page Transparency” to see where the postings come from
- Being asked to “Like and share” is a huge warning that you really need to be wary.
- Somebody well known, but no Blue tick or Blue badge – be wary.
- Accounts with lots of numbers in the name (typically a machine generated account) – be extra wary
Basically chain mail on social media. This is where users are tricked into copying and sharing fake news. The term derives from the phrase “Copy and Paste” being mashed into one word.
The key to sussing out such stuff is determined by asking yourself this question – What is the source for the information being cited?
If a supposed “fact” is being quoted, but there is no source provided to verify it, then you should not accept it as a “fact”. Calibrate your BS detector to blare an alarm at you for stuff like this.
Example: Somebody recently cited “evidence” for something. I asked “Where did you get that information from?”. I was advised, “From a friend?”. In other words, what I was being told was just an urban legend and not a reliable fact at all. Try and trace back the “friend-of-a-friend” stuff to an actual occurrence or a credible source and you will usually encounter incandescent vapours and translucent surfaces (smoke and mirrors). You need not doubt the sincerity of the person you are interacting with, they believe it. What you should seriously be skeptical of are claims that have nothing to actually back them up.
Beware stuff that is simply copypasta and has no credible source.
One variation for this are postings that craft the illusion of having a source. Examples of sources that are not reliable include the obvious: Fox News, RT, Daily Mail, etc… They are not reliable sources for anything. Also remember this, it is not your responsibility to debunk a dubious source. Instead, the person making the claim needs to cite a credible source. If they can’t do that, then that tells you all you really need to know.
Professional bad actors who manufacture disinformation know how to press hot emotional buttons.
If you see something that inflames or angers you, hit pause. It is quite possible that what you have tripped over is troll bait that is designed to bypass your critical thinking by triggering an emotional response.
As an example of this we recently saw the Russian attempt to claim that Zelenskyy is a Nazi. For the Ukrainian conflict you have a more or less rock solid guarantee that anything sourced from a Russian outlet is propaganda. The bad actors know this so they will hide who they are and utilise social media camouflage.
For an example of an attempt at camouflage, there was a BBC story that claimed that the Kramatorsk railway station attack was actually carried out by Ukraine. That was run on Russian State TV. One small problem, it was totally faked, was not the BBC at all, and had no evidence to backup the claim.
There is one strategy that has been proven to be a highly effective means for dealing with Troll Bait. It comes with a rock-solid guarantee that you can win the game every single time.
The secret is this.
How Can I learn more about Fact Checking?
There are some really good resources out there.
Since this article was inspired by a snoops fact checker, then I’ll point you at the Snopes collection of resources – “Snopes-ing 101: the Fact-Checkers’ Toolbox“. There you will find lots of research tips and tricks from the fact-checkers at Snopes. It is basically a collection of articles written by various Snopes fact-checkers.
Snopes has no monopoly on this. To widen your scope, simply go to google and enter “Fact Checking Resources” to find plenty more.
But But But …
Some might quip like this … “I hate snopes”, “They are biased”, “They lie”, etc… Often the root of that rests in a beloved “fact” being robustly debunked by Snopes.
Others might raise reasonable objections. Snopes are funded entirely by advertising, and so going there means being blasted by many ads. Some truly hate that. Then again, a decent ad-blocker does not go amiss these days.
While Snopes is generally well-regarded, it is not the only game in town. There are many others, so simply pick a reputable alternative.
One rather interesting observation is that the fact-checkers operate independently, yet they also tend to be consistent and reach the same conclusions. A study by Stanford University looked into this found a 92% agreement. That’s rather reassuring.
The bottom line is this.
I’m not here to either promote or dismiss Snopes, but instead to encourage you to hone, nourish, and nurture your fact-checking skills.
These days being truly literate is not just about being about to read and write, but also involves becoming digitally literate. Without having a fact-checking skill, you risk being played as a pawn in the game of digital chess by the various bad actors that roam the digital landscape looking for easy prey.
- What is your favourite fact-checking website?
- What makes your favourite stand out from all the others?
- Do you have any fact-checking tips that you can recommend for readers?