It’s that time again! The presidential election brings the crazies out of their basements and think-tanks to compete in the “BS Email & Social Media Follies”.
Lots of people have asked me how to go about fact-checking, so let’s discuss it here.
First, let’s take a look at fact-checking, and a few tips on how to spot a BS email or post.
How To Spot a BS Email or Post
- A BS Email claims to be factual, rather than opinion. And it is full of fake “facts”, quotes, and lots of hyperbole. A false message often contains a tiny grain of truth. This is done to give “cover” or deniability to the liar, and it also gives lazy readers a false sense that the entire message must be true. Let’s not be lazy readers, my friends! If something is just too “on the nose”, or fits a political narrative a bit too exactly, don’t forward or re-post it until you’ve checked it out.
- If a quote seems out of character for the person to whom it was attributed, check it.
- Always suspect emails with giant font, a lot of exclamation points and ALL CAPS!!!!!!!!! (If you can imagine someone hysterically yelling the message, definitely check it.)
- If the post or email quotes a known propagandist or propaganda organization, be suspicious. (There are some individuals who have made a very good living twisting words, telling outright lies, and especially, selling hate and fear of “the other”. They often refer to themselves as “real Americans” and other people as outsiders. Always fact-check anything these people say.)
There are several types of people who contribute to a “successful” BS email or social media meme:
- The despicable people who knowingly create these emails and posts, and who don’t care that they’re terrifying our elderly and uneducated, since their goal is to gain votes through deceitful manipulation.
- The above mentioned elderly, who came from a time when creating a fake TV “news” station or building a website based on false “information” would be considered shameful. Yes, there was a time when a reporter strove for honesty and tried to be impartial. After all, the airwaves belong to the U.S. citizens, and a person using these airwaves had an ethical obligation to help educate and enlighten citizens, not outright manipulate them. Sorry, that time is long gone. (You cannot blindly believe what you see on television or read in an email or see on a website.)
- The uneducated, who do believe what they read or see without fact-checking.
- All of the above people, who forward BS emails to vast numbers of people, continuing the cycle of dumbing-down the country.
A great example: Today an email came forwarded to me printed in GIANT BOLD COLORED FONT and of course, lots of exclamation points!!!!!!: the better to scare you with, my dear.
The claim: Muslims, evidently, have taken over the U.S. Government, and it’s all Obama’s fault. Oh, and Hillary’s. And all these supposed Muslims are all the radical murderous Isis/Muslim Brotherhood types. Because everybody of any religion are exactly the same. And you’d better be afraid!!!!!!
It began with a completely ridiculous statement:”Trump is starting to look better all the time. This information has all been checked, then double checked… it is 100% Correct.”
False. A few seconds into fact-checking this email, it is obvious that it’s mostly bald-faced lies, and a lot of innuendo mixed in with a tiny bit of truth. That is the HALLMARK of a BS email or post.
(We’ll fact-check this specific email in the next post).
What is fact-checking? It’s searching for genuine evidence of statements that have been presented as “facts”.
It’s probably easier to show what fact-checking is NOT:
Fact-checking does not mean going to hyper-partisan websites put up by the KKK, TheDailyStormer, Breitbart, Glenn Beck, Fox “news”, Alex Jones, WorldNetDaily, Hannity, TheDailyCaller, Rush Limbaugh, or any number of “echo chamber” blogs that just regurgitate the same talking points which originated with bloviating corporatist mouthpieces like Rush or Fox “news”. These types of sites are notorious for innuendo and misleading copy, plus a ton of “opinion” masquerading as fact. Avoid.
This also means that we can’t use any of our favorite left-wing sites either. You still must do your “do diligence” and be able to back up your facts with bipartisan sources. Left-wing sites like AlterNet, TomDispatch.com, Truthout.org and MediaMatters.com have some excellent journalism, but since they have a definite slant that means you can’t quote them alone without backing up with more neutral sources. Luckily, left-wing writers are usually very concerned about fact-checking, so their articles often list sources. Check those sources for yourself.
You also can’t use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media posts as fact-checking. Anybody can post anything. Don’t be a chump for a BS post.
And for everyone’s sake, don’t use Youtube.com videos alone, which can be edited to do and say anything. (You say you saw a video where Hillary turns into a lizard alien? Um, I wouldn’t necessarily repost that.) Please, only use Youtube to confirm events that you *know* were recorded correctly, current events, etc. But confirm these with written accounts.
You shouldn’t even use mainstream popular news sites alone. These sites often strive to be correct, but most are owned by corporations who are beholden to advertisers (see the paragraph on television below) and because of the almighty dollar, may tend to be self-censoring at best. (Also, most online news sites, especially ones that use a lot of writers like Huffingtonpost.com post articles from a myriad of sources as quickly as possible. The nice part about sites like HP is that you get news immediately as it happens. But it can also be a drawback, because mistakes will get through in this instant news world, so don’t use these alone, to fact-check.)
And be aware of “omissions” by some organizations who are financially dependent upon corporations (i.e. television and radio media outlets who depend upon advertising dollars). If they sell advertising to, for example, oil companies, they’re not going to risk those big advertising dollars showing you all ongoing destruction from the myriad of oil spills throughout the world. It wouldn’t make financial sense. Don’t expect to fact-check using any television/cable shows, unless you go to their websites and they provide their sources in writing and you’ve checked them out thoroughly.
OK, we’ve talked about what ISN’T fact-checking, and it seems kind of overwhelming, doesn’t it? We have lives, and don’t have all day to fact-check everything. Don’t worry, there are some reputable websites where other fact-addicts are doing much of the hard work for you.
Fact-checking means searching out FACTS from actual sources: those who have a reputation to be honest, bi-partisan, and who fact-check any and all political positions.
Here are some of the best, most reputable sites which do most of the difficult work for you:
- OpenSecrets.org (for checking money in politics)
I’ll add to this list, MotherJones.com; a hard-hitting magazine with a long history of award-winning investigative journalism. They have a reputation of correctly calling out powerful corporations and politicians of all stripes. I wish there were more sites like this.
As an aside, if you’re interested in politics, be sure to check international media websites like the BBC or Aljazeera. These are helpful websites for seeing the U.S. political system from a distance, as well as getting a feel for what’s actually happening in the world around us. You will get actual facts and information that you simply will NOT get using U.S. media outlets. Check these media outlets and compare them to U.S. outlets. I make a point of visiting these sites regularly.
Next, if the statement has a scientific element, search for the original scientific study and others that correspond to it. Look for university websites (end in .edu) and real scientific periodicals. If you use a science magazine, look at the reference list at the end of articles and read the original references.
If your suspected BS email or meme uses a supposed quote (or misquote), search for the original quote. Often, there just isn’t one. Sometimes there is a record of a quote, but it’s been changed, added to, or mis-attributed. Make a copy of the original quote (or video) and note the differences, which usually have been made purposely to give a false impression.
If an email says “this has been fact-checked” DO NOT BELIEVE IT. I could say any wild thing, like “the moon is made of green cheese”, and tell you I had fact checked my statement. Would you believe it? (Sadly, I could probably find a flat-earth website that would back me up, but that doesn’t make it true).
Fact-check it yourself – Even if you like what it says. Especially if you like what it says, because at that time you’re more vulnerable to sharing a false “fact”.
I recently saw that infographic of Trump saying the republicans were the stupidest voters and he’d win by running as a republican. It claimed to be from a magazine article. Now, that quote sounded true to me, and it seemed as though I did hear him say something like this a few years ago on television (not in an article), and I wanted to believe it — but I did NOT share it or post it before I fact-checked it, and guess what? There is no evidence that proves it’s true. Whether I like the meme or not, I will NEVER knowingly post or email a supposed “fact” that’s not been verified.
In a sense, on the internet we’re ALL journalists…and that’s what responsible journalism is. Fact-checking is vital to an informed democracy. If we all get on the fact-check bandwagon, liars and manipulators will run out of suckers. And we’ll all be a bit smarter.