DYI Fact Checking. Part One: Intro and Basics

Welcome to my new series, of indeterminate length and structure. With the constant barrage of news and editorials, conflicting statements and charges of fake news, it can feel overwhelming to try to know what’s really true. There are a number of fact-checking websites, but not all of them are equal and I know a few folks who despair of knowing which of those to believe, too.

I am here to tell you there are steps you can take on your own to verify what you read and hear. It may never be possible to pin down 100% every last detail, but many times you can at least get a better idea of the probability of whether a news item is true, false, a  mixture, or something else, such as woefully out of context.

But wait! Why should you trust that I know what I’m talking about? In the end, you’ll have to make your own evaluation. I can tell you I have a job that involves a goodly amount of research. For 14 years, I’ve worked at a public library, and 11 of those years have been in public services, where I answer a fair few reference questions. Training for the job includes identifying primary sources, and evaluating the reliability of other sources.

So, on to the first basic steps of doing your own fact checking. Often, the tools you need to do a quick fact check are right at hand. It isn’t necessarily a complicated process. For the most part, it involves reading with a critical eye and asking the right questions. Here’s a good example:

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How many times have you seen the image above shared on social media? I believe people are not stopping to check it because it seems innocuous, and I guess it is. That’s why I chose it, because it’s not political. First step: stop and think about whether the information presented is likely. In this case, no. Second step: determine if there is an easily accessible source to double-check the accuracy of the information. Why, yes! Look at a calendar. Often times, it’s that simple.

Let me re-emphasize step one. Stop and think, especially before you share.

Since one of my goals is to ease the feeling that sussing out the facts is overwhelmingly difficult, I’ll leave things here for today. This concludes lesson one.