Threading the Fact-Checking Needle

Meme saying “Look for the actual truth, not just for what supports your beliefs” (Made for Intentional Insights by Lexie Holliday)

Made for Intentional Insights by Lexie Holliday

Our Pro-Truth Pledge recently generated an intriguing question:

(The PTP is) an impressive commitment. Fact checking most info that comes my way seems impossible. How do you do it?

How do we do it? From a technical perspective of how to do quick and effective fact-checking, we recommend that you use our Facts Search Engine, which is a custom Google search engine we made from many reputable sources. However, that search engine only addresses a percentage of all information with which you might deal.

Moreover, who has the time to fact-check everything? How can we reduce the workload a bit?

Below are a few tips that we’ve come up with.

Ask yourself the following:

Is it timely?

Many items may be interesting but if they’re more than a few months old, chances are most of those with whom you would share have moved on to other news. It’s generally best to give these a pass.

If it is timely then:

Is it published on a site generally agreed to be accurate, precise and reputed for its integrity?

If so, then you might be able to give fact-checking a pass. Still, it’s generally best to ask:

Does it appear to be an opinion piece or a factual narrative?

If it’s an op-ed and you choose to share, you probably want to add a comment to that effect when sharing, as well as clarifying what you believe about the op-ed: do you agree with it, disagree with it, or agree with some parts, and disagree with others. But if it purports to be factual then:

Does it make any absolute or outrageous claims?

Here, you’re looking for trigger words or phrases like “always”, “never”, “everyone”, “no one”, or “all the time.” These are red flags for claims that are likely to be, at least to some degree, wrong. Rarely is truth absolute enough to hold in every case or falsehood so absolute as to be false in every instance.

Meme saying “we’re most comfortable dealing with reality as black or white, but reality so rarely agrees with us” (Made for Intentional Insights by Wayne Straight)

Made for Intentional Insights by Wayne Straight

If your answer is yes, then it’s probably best to pass on sharing. If no then:

Does the article please you?

If so, it may be playing to your subconscious biases. Make extra efforts to check if it is true.

Meme saying “It would be very convenient if the things that are most comfortable to believe are also the ones that happen to be the most true” (Meme made for Intentional Insights by Isabelle Phung)

Caption: Meme saying “It would be very convenient if the things that are most comfortable to believe are also the ones that happen to be the most true” (Meme made for Intentional Insights by Isabelle Phung)

Meme made for Intentional Insights by Isabelle Phung

If not:

Does it make you angry?

Try to determine why. It may simply be that your anger is being triggered by an “uncomfortable truth.”

In either case, any article that stirs strong emotions (positive or negative) needs checking – as the emotions themselves may lead you to share as a result of your own biases.

Meme saying “Uncomfortable truths>comfortable lies” (Meme made for Intentional Insights by Isabelle Phung)

Meme made for Intentional Insights by Isabelle Phung

Note here that an article or site may be intentionally designed to incite anger, revulsion, or outrage. The aim isn’t clarity or edification but rather to get your goat, basically a form of trolling. If this appears to be the case then you can safely ignore it. It’s simply not worth your time. If it does appear to be authentic however, then ask:

Also Ask:

  • Does the text support the title?
  • Are there any actual facts cited within it?
  • Are they well-supported?
  • If so, how reliable are those sources and can you trace them back to original articles or studies?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then as a signatory to the PTP you are faced with two options: fact-check before sharing or pass.

Adhering to the Pro-Truth Pledge takes work: what would be the point of a pledge if it did not? But it doesn’t have to take a lot of time (given access to a few fact-checking sites) to check before you post. If you don’t have the time, then don’t post. At the very least, question the source within your post, i.e., “Does anyone know if this isn’t true?” and be willing to retract the post if it isn’t. It’s basic humility.

If you do decide to post, we strongly recommend that you say whenever you post a news article that: “I took the Pro-Truth Pledge at www.ProTruthPledge.org, consider this article credible, and the title represents the article well. If you think I might be mistaken, please let me know: I would be happy to update my beliefs toward the truth.”

Resources

Finally, here’s a short list of resources to make the task a bit less onerous:

A reminder about our own fact-checking search engine:
https://www.protruthpledge.org/facts-search-engine/

Next, a site that has crowd-sourced assessments of the biases and truthfulness of a host of ‘news’ sources:
https://mediabiasfactcheck.com

Third, a site that “tells you when the webpage you are viewing has been disputed, rebutted or contradicted elsewhere on the internet.”
http://rbutr.com

Lastly, a Web-based analysis tool (Note that it only seems to find stuff on older sites.):
http://scamanalyze.com/about

There you have it. Can you think of any other tips or resources?

One thought on “Threading the Fact-Checking Needle

  1. Dear Gleb, This is an excellent project. I will sign up in the future, IF I can truly commit to carrying out the required actions. As it stands, the fact-checking requirements are rather time-consuming. I already do a lot of fact-checking and I follow through on what I find. For example, I spent hours changing my primary email address after my email provider, AOL, displayed a damaging fake news headline condemning H. Clinton shortly before the election. And I carefully verified facts in my post on Donald T. (http://www.schrinerbooksandblogs.com/important-data-donald-trump/). But even though I already spend significant time fact-checking and following through, going through EACH required step for EACH item I share would be quite a challenge.

    I suggest presenting pledgers with a very short REQUIRED list of actions supplemented by OPTIONAL actions people can take when an item is especially important and controversial, or when one has a little nagging doubt about its veracity. You might end the required list with “Does it make any absolute or outrageous claims?” and begin the optional list with “Does the article please you?”

    BTW, thanks for the list of Resources. I’ve just been using Snopes and Truthorfiction, and the ones you listed look good. Again, I appreciate this much-needed effort. Good luck!

    Dr. Chris Schriner, Minister Emeritus, Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Fremont CA

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