Fact Checking 101

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An old saying goes: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” With our constant accessibility to information via mobile devices, social media, and the Internet, a lie or a piece of misinformation can easily travel around the world numerous times before the truth can even make an effort to catch up. "Fake news" is not a new phenomenon. Just as Gutenberg’s printing press facilitated the distribution of news, it also contributed to the spreading of "spectacular stories of sea monsters and witches to claims that sinners were responsible for natural disasters."Note 1 Soll, Jacob. "The Long and Brutal History of Fake News." POLITICO Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2017. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/fake-news-history-long-violent-214535 Additionally, current technology seems to have simply made it easier to spread misinformation with videos, animated GIFs, articles, memes, etc. with a quick click or tap. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, "a majority of Americans now say they get news via social media, and half of the public has turned to these sites to learn about the 2016 presidential election."Note 2 Greenwood, Shannon, Andrew Perrin, and Maeve Duggan. "Social Media Update 2016." Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. N.p., 11 Nov. 2016. Web. 03 Feb. 2017. http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/social-media-update-2016/.

With the flood of information coming at us from all directions, it has become more and more difficult to determine whether "news stories are from reliable, credible sources. Misinformation makes a librarian’s skin crawl. I think my colleagues at the Mercer County Library System would agree that one of the best ways to stop the spreading of misinformation is to take the time to actually evaluate what you are reading. Funny, right? In our world where news stories multiply in the blink of an eye, I am suggesting to just take a moment and really evaluate what you are reading—especially before passing it on to your 400+ friends on Facebook or your email contact list.

One of my favorite websites as of late, FactCheck.org, provides a list of criteria with extensive advice to defend ourselves against misinformation:
Consider the source: Take time to check out the “About Us” page (if there is one even present) for contact information, a mission statement, etc.
Read beyond the headline: The story, itself, does not always live up to the headline that caught your eye.
Check the author: Investigate the author -- if one is even listed. Sometimes a quick Google search will reveal the journalist’s credentials.
Determine if sources support the story: Look into the veracity of any supporting links the story provides.
Check the date: Some “news” may resurface with a new twist.
Consider that it might be satire: Satirical articles are not always obviously labeled as such. Sometimes the intent may not be for a laugh, but to try and mislead the reader.
Check your biases: Of course it is easier to believe things I agree with. Also, I find myself checking my biases when I read an unfavorable article about something or someone I have strong feelings toward.
Ask the experts: Your friendly neighborhood librarians are here to help you. Give us a call, email us, or stop in. Additionally, there are also some helpful fact checking resources (see below) available to determine whether the news you encounter is misleading or fact-based.

Fact Checking Tools

FactCheck.org
University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center hosts Factcheck.org, a nonpartisan resource, which thoroughly investigates the accuracy of political statements. The site’s primary mission is "to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics" with its extensively researched and well-written articles. Factcheck.org attempts to clean up any misconceptions that may be making their way through our Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Snopes
The founder, David Mikkelson, initially started Snopes in 1995 to investigate the truth behind urban legends (E.g., remember the rumor about little Mikey, of LIFE cereal fame, meeting his unfortunate fate when he mixed Pop Rocks with soda?). With over 20 years of experience as a professional writer and researcher, Mr. Mikkelson has created an top-notch rumor research resource.

PolitiFact
PolitiFact is "a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics." A Pulitzer Prize recipient, the website is run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times, an independent newspaper in Florida.
—Anna V.S.

Footnotes

1 Soll, Jacob. "The Long and Brutal History of Fake News." POLITICO Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2017

2 Greenwood, Shannon, Andrew Perrin, and Maeve Duggan. "Social Media Update 2016." Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. N.p., 11 Nov. 2016. Web. 03 Feb. 2017.

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