The best and worst thing about the Web is its ease of information. Long gone are the days when readers could simply read, without verifying.
While traditional newspapers and journalists trained in old-style, neutral reporting persist, much of what’s online is quite different. Biased and unreliable sites, masquerading as mere information providers, present unbalanced viewpoints, leave out key or unfavorable facts, repeat unverified information, or quite simply get it wrong.
So now it’s on us.
The modern reader must not trust, but verify. Luckily, there are (relatively) reliable, quick-check sites to help. Best practice is use more than one; words are as fallible as the person writing them:
Politifact.com (statements): Rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and public figures. Run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times. Possibly the best source for political fact checking; it won the Pulitzer Prize.
Factcheck.org (politics, propaganda): Award-winning nonpartisan, nonprofit project of the University of Pennsylvania whose goal is to reduce deception and confusion in U.S. politics by checking the accuracy of political TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Similar to Politifact in coverage and detail, but more complex.
Flackcheck.org (political literacy — the story behind claims): The companion site to Fact Check, Flack Check is another university project “proving falsehoods can be funny.” Video clips use humor and irony to help viewers recognize flaws in how arguments in scientific, political, and health issues are presented. Geared to young adults.
Opensecrets.org (campaign funding, lobbies): Nonpartisan nonprofit run by the Center for Responsive Politics, a political finance research group. Reveals amount and sources of candidate funding; tracks lobbying groups.
Mediabiasfactcheck.com (site check): An independent, searchable site with a scale for bias — right, left, or middle, including accuracy and “pseudoscience.” A poll also allows readers to vote on perceived bias. Mostly staffed by volunteers.
Snopes.com (stories) — A well-known, easy-to-use reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, memes, rumors, and misinformation (i.e., too much of what’s shared on social media) since 1994. Ratings go beyond true/false, including mixture, unproven, outdated, etc.
These sites are generally respected, but by no means comprise a full list.
Whatever your information source, look for neutral wording — no judgmental or emotional verbiage, minimal categorical nouns and adjectives, and verifiable facts. Credibility is highest with citations to unbiased sources supporting what’s claimed. Please check those claims before believing or sharing, for everyone’s sake. It may be tempting to rely on those who agree with our own viewpoints, but it detracts from truth.
Bias isn’t always intentional, but it is discernible.
Sholeh Patrick, J.D. is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.