The Importance of Fact-Checking

In the current era of quick and easily accessible media apps and websites, the issue of fake news has come to the forefront of security issues. In December of 2017, a gunman entered a popular Washington Pizzaria believing that he was saving children trapped in the basement. He was said to have been investigating reports of a child ses-trafficking ring led by Hillary Clinton, a conspiracy theory otherwise known as “Pizzagate.” 

The ability for baseless conspiracy theories such as these to proliferate throughout society is deeply concerning. However, stopping the spread isn’t just the responsibility of the social media platforms or search engines used to circulate these stories. The readers, like you and I, have a responsibility to read and digest news stories with uncertainty and suspicion. Part of this process involves fact-checking the sources we choose to read. Below we offer tips on how to fact-check a story, as well as links to credible fact-checking websites.

Watch this video “Fact-checking online is more important than ever” created in 2016 by Swedish fact-checker Viralgranskaren and The Internet Foundation in Sweden. 

How to Fact-Check

The Fact-checking process is unique in that it can be applied to all stages on our “Investigating Fake-News Guidemap.” Every component of the media piece should be subject to fact-checking, whether it be the shock-value of the headline, the credibility of the website and/or author, or the frequency to which the story was reported on.

Tips

#1 Exercise click-restraint! 

    • Read past the headline!
    • Ask yourself: Does the news headline have shock value?
    • Oftentimes people will simply repost an article for its title, despite not having read the entire piece. Make sure you are aware of the influence shock value can have, and how it may deter you from thoroughly engaging with the article.
    • After reading, ask yourself: do I know if everything I’ve read is real?
    • If the answer is no, do not hit the share button until you’ve done your research!
    • If searching up a topic on the web, be careful not to rely on the first site at the top of the search page. Google algorithms are designed to display higher-rated and popular stories first. Although they are taking steps to ensure the credibility of these top picks, they are also simultaneously dealing with partisan issues. Ensure that you are acknowledging more than one link under the search bar from reputable, diverse, and non-partisan sources. 
    • See the “Search engine bias” for more information. 

#2 Investigate the source 

    • This includes the website itself, as well as the author who published it.
    • Influencers are not experts! Oftentimes influencers are getting paid to post content for other companies despite not having the qualifications to safely recommend a product. 
    • See the “Authority and Reputation” section to find out more about author credentials and sites that should draw skepticism.

 #3 Look at what sources and links are used 

    • A lack of links or sources should be the first warning sign that the piece does not contain a lot of credible information backed up by experts in the topic’s field.
    • Look at who said the quotes. What are their qualifications to speak on the subject matter?
    • Fake sites may include links, but be careful! These links could lead to sites that are also spreading misinformation.
    • See the “fake news, satirical, and credible sites” section for a list of sites that should either be trusted or avoided.
    • Fake news sites can copy the names of real ones to look legitimate. Always look at the URLs and beware of an extra domain after .com (abcnews.com.co) or a twist on a real URL (nytimesofficial.com instead of nytimes.com).

#4 Look out for questionable photos 

    • A picture should be accurate in illustrating what the story is about, yet fake news writers do not interview primary sources or take their own pictures.
    • Fake news outlets will often use photos from a past event to “show” what’s happening now. 
    • Images can also be altered for a certain story, and aren’t immune from the forces of photoshop.
    • Try to reverse image search on Google, or use a resource like https://tineye.com/ to help you find where the image originated from.
    • All credible news sites will attribute a source to an image. If there is no source, be skeptical about the image! 

#5 Search if other news outlets are reporting it

    • Legitimate articles will often have multiple credible news outlets reporting on the same story.
    • If the story you are viewing is the first you’ve heard about the topic, google search it over the next few days to see who else reports on the matter.
    • A single article from a suspicious source should be reviewed with skepticism.
    • See the “Expert Consensus” Section for more information.

 

Fact-Checking Resources

FactCheck.org

  • FactCheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. They are non-partisan and non-profit, monitoring the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. politicians in TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. FactCheck.org includes an archive of Canadian-related news. 
  • Verified By IFCN

Link: https://www.factcheck.org/

The Washington Post Fact-Checker

  • The purpose of this website is to verify the truth of the statements of political figures regarding issues of international, national, or local importance. Aside from political charges, the editors seek to explain difficult issues and provide missing context or analysis of the jargon used by politicians or diplomats. Glenn Kessler has been editor and chief writer of The Fact Checker since 2011. The National Association for Media Literacy Education awarded Kessler the Literate Media award in 2015 for his work on the site.
  • Verified by IFCN

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/

PolitiFact

  • Launched in 2007 as a project of the Tampa Bay Times, Politifact is run by editors and journalists who analyze specific statements made by politicians and rate them for accuracy.
  • Verified by IFCN

Link: https://www.politifact.com/

Snopes.com

  • Snopes was founded in 1994 by David Mikkelson, and initially investigated urban legends, hoaxes, and folklore. Since then, it has expanded to include an analysis of media pieces and political statements. Their process is thorough; each entry is assigned to one of the members of the editorial staff who undertakes the preliminary research and writes the first draft of the fact-check. The research includes attempting to contact the source of the claim or individuals with expertise on the topic. The final product is then passed through at least one editor before publication. 
  • Verified by IFCN

Link: https://www.snopes.com/

Although not currently verified by the IFCN, here are two credible Canadian based fact-checking sites that aim to follow the IFCN code of principles. 

Canadafactcheck.ca

  • Canada Fact check is an independent news platform dedicated to transparency, democratic reform, government accountability, and corporate responsibility. The editor of the site is Ethan Phillips, a University of Toronto graduate with a major in Business and Managerial Economics. He is now a practicing public policy and government relations consultant with 35 years of experience.

Link: https://canadafactcheck.ca/

Factscan.ca

  • FactsCan is an independent and nonpartisan fact-checker on Canadian federal politics. It is a registered non-profit and is run entirely by volunteers and operations are funded by donations.

Link: http://factscan.ca/

 

The International Fact-Checking Network Code of Principles

Principle #1: A commitment to non-partisanship and fairness

Principle #2: A commitment to standards of transparency of Sources

Principle #3: A commitment to transparency of Funding & Organization

Principle #4: A commitment to standards and Transparency of Methodology

Principle #5: A commitment to an Open & Honest Corrections Policy