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Fact Checking – What It Is – Why It is Important – How to do It

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Watched the news lately? I mean yikes! Australia was on fire. A Global pandemic. And of course a super cyclone damages India. And let’s not forget murder hornets. What is that? Two inch long hornets with a venomous sting that kills other bees and can kill animals and humans too. All of that is on top of all the other insanity reported on the news. The nightly news can be scary. In this crazy world the last thing we need is fake news to confuse and misinform us.

In our connected world news spreads faster than ever and it can be hard to tell the real from the fake. We see what the T.V. networks tell us, what we see on Facebook and Twitter, read blogs, watch YouTube, and listen to the people that we interact with every day. It is vital to exercise some critical thinking and take steps to do our own fact checking rather than taking everything we see and hear at face value.

The biggest social platform in the world is Facebook. Facebook is bombarded with articles and memes making all kinds of claims that range from the common sense to the extreme and ridiculous. There are so many people that believe something just because a link led them to a news article that says something that they already assume to be true or at least want to be true. Memes that are filled with opinion are shared like crazy and taken at face value. It is time to look beneath the surface.

Let’s not forget to mention deepfakes. What are deepfakes? They are basically a technology where multimedia files are created to convincingly mimic someone. If someone is skilled enough with Photoshop or video editing it can be difficult for most to distinguish them from the real thing.

Let’s face it. Fake news can come from many sources: social media posts, politicians, celebrities, journalists, and even friends and family. The purpose of fake news is to manipulate your emotions. It could be to get you angry, get you to support a cause or position, change your mind about something, or any number of other things. The point is that it is dangerous and damaging. It misleads, ruins reputations, and can make situations that are already challenging even worse.

Why Fact Checking is Important

All of this brings us to the importance of fact checking. It is more important than it ever has been because of the way technology is so integrated into our lives. Misleading information is instantly accessible wherever we are. It is our responsibility to make sure that the information that we pass on to others and accept as truth for ourselves is accurate.
Let’s take a look at the definition of fact checking.
          According to the Webster Dictionary fact checking means -“To verify the factual accuracy.”
In other words it is just what it sounds like. I’ll play Captain Obvious and say it outloud. Fact checking is just checking the facts.
To be realistic all the fact checking in the world won’t stop some people from ignoring the evidence and continuing to spread bad information. What it can do is guard you from being misled or from giving misleading information to others.
A huge part of the problem is that there is so much fake news all around us that many people simply don’t know what to believe anymore. This has been an issue for a long time. It has become such a problem that far too many people will read a post that they find on Facebook and just take it at face value without bothering to check the source or looking for some kind of evidence. They go on to share what they find and the misinformations begins to spread exponentially.

How to Fact Check

Here are some things you can do to make sure that what you accept as the truth and share actually lines up with the facts. Later on I am going to give you a secret weapon that will help you quickly find out if something is true or false.
  • Google (or your favorite search engine) can be your best friend. Run some web searches and see what kind of supporting information is out there.
  • Actually read the story. It is a mistake to just read a headline and share away if you like what it says. Read the story that it links to and see if it makes sense to you.
  • Make sure that the source is credible. Ask yourself some questions. Is the source biased? Are they known to be satirical in nature? Are they qualified to make the claims that they are making?
  • Go to the source. If for example we are talking about a video featuring a public figure hit up Google and see what that personality has to say about it. All too often things can be far too easily taken out of context or misconstrued.
  • If something seems outrageous or hard to believe see if you can find two sources that aren’t connected to the original source that supports whatever the claim is.
  • If it is a Facebook post check the page that the information came from. Is the page a reliable source? How does it describe itself? What other information does it share?
  • If there is an image try a reverse image search to see if you can find where it originated. Google Images can help with that. Just drag the image to the search field and Google will do a reverse image search for you. At this point start doing some digging and see what you can find.
  • If it is a video that is only showing you a short clip see if you can find the full video so you can get some context.
  • Be suspicious of anonymous sources. Anyone can be an anonymous source. Take what such sources say with a grain of salt.
  • If something doesn’t look right there is a chance that it isn’t.
  • Think about your own biases. If you are a conservative or liberal take the time to see what the other side has to say about a claim or issue. This will lead to a more balanced view. Cognitive bias is where people tend to seek out information that agrees with their preconceived opinions. We have all been guilty of it. To overcome this we need to look at all sides of a story.

Snopes

Now for the secret weapon I mentioned earlier. It is called Snopes. It is simply a fact checking website. You can do a search on claims that you are checking out the validity of. Here is how it works.
  1. Go to the Snopes website.
  2. Type your search query into the search field and hit Enter.
  3. If Snopes has the information they will tell you if it is true or false. They will also provide more information about the issue.

Takeaways

  • Information spreads faster than it ever has.
  • Not everything can be taken at face value.
  • Deepfakes are a very real and dangerous technology.
  • Use fact checking to sort the truth from the fake news.
  • Snopes can quickly inform you of the validity of many popular claims.
Judge hard and fact check to get the information that you need to form your own conclusion. And don’t be afraid to share good information. If good information isn’t shared to counter misleading claims nothing will stand in the way of the damage that fake news can do.
Until next time have the best day and tech on.

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