April 2 is International Fact-Checking Day. It is apropos that it falls after April Fool’s Day. Unlike the jokes and pranks of yesterday, most of which are done in fun, fake or alternative “facts” are meant to mislead and deceive. The proliferation of outrageous statements and stories are no longer confined to the racks at the supermarket or convenience store checkouts. Neither are they unique to our country but fake news can be found all over the world and at arm’s length on that phone we can’t seem to put away.
This year, Poynter Institute in Florida, partnering with other fact-checking organizations around the globe, has declared this day as our way of “proclaiming the need for strong evidence and solid facts in politics, journalism and everyday life.” In a meeting last year in Buenos Aires, the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), a group that promotes fact-checking around the world named today as a day that would bring attention to fact-checking because facts matter. IFCN checks “statements by public figures, major institutions and other widely circulated claims of interest to society.” Facebook uses IFCN’s code of principles as a minimum condition for being accepted as a third-party fact-checker.
Poynter’s webpage for International Fact-Checking Day has easy to use modules: How to Fact-Check an Urban Legend, How to Spot Fake News, How to Fact-Check Wikipedia Entries, How to Spot Fake Handles on Twitter, How to Fact-Check a Politicians Claim, How to Fact-Check Online Photos and Videos. Plus, you can vote for the the worst of 16 most weird, ridiculous and outright dangerous falsehoods.
Politifact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims made by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics and is a part of the ICFN network and they have listed some ways that we as consumers can help fight the spread of lies and half-truths. Here are some things you can do:
- Seek out news sources that have a strong track record for accuracy in their reporting.
- Find news organizations that have demonstrated a commitment to ethical principles of truthfulness, fairness, independence and transparency.
- Be very cautious about sharing inflammatory news stories on social media. Take a pause and inspect the source by looking at the web address. Is it a news organization you’ve heard of? Or is it a knock-off.
- Other signs include low quality graphics, off-kilter logos and too many ads with flashing visuals or pop-ups.
As a librarian, I have always taught student to evaluate websites they use for research based on these criteria: authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and relevancy. These same criteria can be used to analyze the news that you encounter everyday. Harvard University has a page that explains these criteria with questions to ask yourself as you evaluate a website.
Barbara Quint, senior editor of Online Searcher in March issue of Information Today writes: “What the world needs now is trustworthy information that can be supplied at the point of request and be immediately available.” In today’s digital environment, this can be a challenge because most people get their information from social media, which is subject to manipulators, conspiracy theorists, fear-mongers. and sensationalists.
But the digital universe might also be the answer because sites like Politifact and Snopes are easily accessible from any smart phone. I do have to say that the most underused resource is the reference librarian. If you haven’t consulted a librarian in a while, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that we are digital natives and can show you the most accurate and relevant information. Many libraries also have on-line chats and reference service. So if the tips included in this post are not enough and you’d like more wide-breath, in-depth information, just visit the reference desk of the nearest library.