Fact-check­ing starts with you

Calhoun Times - - OPINION &VOICES -

As news con­sumers, we’re swamped with in­for­ma­tion. Whether we read news­pa­pers, watch ca­ble news, or get sto­ries from Aunt Judy on Face­book, we must de­cide which in­for­ma­tion is trust­wor­thy.

Ad­vo­cacy jour­nal­ism out­lets in­clud­ing Fox News and MSNBC, ide­o­log­i­cal talk ra­dio, and con­spir­acy web­sites like In­foWars make this dif­fi­cult. Was Trump snook­ered by North Korea? Will his tar­iff war hurt the econ­omy? How we an­swer that sort of ques­tions may de­pend on where we get our news.

As the midterm elec­tions ap­proach, we must be pre­pared for an­other mis­in­for­ma­tion on­slaught from Rus­sia. Me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions are tak­ing steps to push back.

On July 6, the Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported that Twit­ter has purged 70 mil­lion fake and sus­pi­cious ac­counts since May to re­duce the mis­in­for­ma­tion spread on its plat­form. Three days later, YouTube an­nounced that it was giv­ing $ 25 mil­lion to sup­port le­git­i­mate news or­ga­ni­za­tions, flag mis­in­for­ma­tion, and high­light au­thor­i­ta­tive news sources.

Those ac­tions re­flect the emerg­ing move­ment to help peo­ple be­come savvy news con­sumers. Me­dia lit­er­acy or­ga­ni­za­tions — such as the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Me­dia Lit­er­acy Ed­u­ca­tion, the Cen­ter for Me­dia Lit­er­acy, and the News Lit­er­acy Project — work to pro­mote in­formed news con­sump­tion.

Dozens of fact- check­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions call out false­hoods by politi­cians and oth­ers. They in­clude such well- known out­lets as Fac­tCheck. org, the Wash­ing­ton Post’s Fac­tChecker, Snopes and Poli­tiFact. A re­port from Duke Re­porters’ Lab this year counted 149 fact- check­ing projects in 53 coun­tries. Re­cently in Rome, more than 200 fact check­ers from 56 coun­tries par­tic­i­pated in the world’s largest factcheck­ing con­fer­ence.

The fake news fi­asco of 2016 spurred pub­lic out­rage and led to govern­ment ac­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Me­dia Lit­er­acy Now, sev­eral states in­tro­duced or con­tin­ued con­sid­er­a­tion of me­dia lit­er­acy leg­is­la­tion in 2017 and 2018. In 2017, Wash­ing­ton, Con­necti­cut, Rhode Is­land, and New Mex­ico passed me­dia lit­er­acy ed­u­ca­tion laws. All states should en­act sim­i­lar mea­sures.

Many uni­ver­si­ties now have me­dia lit­er­acy majors and pro­grams. The State Univer­sity of New York at Stony Brook cre­ated the Cen­ter for News Lit­er­acy in 2007, which teaches un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents to use critical think­ing skills to judge the cred­i­bil­ity of news re­ports.

The web­site Al­lSides pro­vides dif­fer­ing per­spec­tives on ma­jor is­sues, sort­ing news sto­ries from the left, right, and cen­ter. By fall, NewsGuard will be launched to fight fake news by pro­vid­ing users with re­li­a­bil­ity rat­ings and “nutri­tion la­bels” for 7,500 news and in­for­ma­tion web­sites.

In May, Face­book an­nounced plans to start a news lit­er­acy campaign by of­fer­ing tips on how to de­tect fake news and by re­cruit­ing re­searchers to look for mis­in­for­ma­tion on its web­site. In early July, Poyn­ter. org re­ported that the Wik­iPro­ject will cre­ate news in­for­ma­tion boxes to help Google users judge the ve­rac­ity of lo­cal news or­ga­ni­za­tions.

All th­ese mea­sures are im­por­tant, but with­out in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­ity, they won’t amount to much. We still have a pres­i­dent who has turned a blind eye to the mis­in­for­ma­tion is­sue. We still have coun­tries and groups de­ter­mined to shape U. S. pub­lic opin­ion through so­phis­ti­cated lies.

Ul­ti­mately, the bur­den falls on all of us to be savvy news con­sumers and con­firm the in­for­ma­tion in the mes­sages that bom­bard us con­stantly. Don’t be­lieve ev­ery­thing Aunt Judy sends you on Face­book; ver­ify it by check­ing sev­eral news sources. When you see mis­in­for­ma­tion, warn oth­ers.

Rus­sian bots and trolls want­ing to desta­bi­lize the United States, Mace­do­nian teenagers seek­ing prof­its, and mis­lead­ing memes will be in full force for the 2018 midterms. They will set out to dupe you. Will you be able to sort out the truth from mis­in­for­ma­tion?

Larry Atkins, the au­thor of Skewed: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Me­dia Bias ( Prometheus Books), teaches jour­nal­ism at Tem­ple Univer­sity and Ar­ca­dia Univer­sity.

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