Today we are talking a bit more about Wikipedia and doing an activity to prepare you for Fact-check #1 on WordPress, which is due before class on Tuesday.
Wikipedia: An essential part of checking previous work
Snopes, Politifact, and Factcheck.org can be helpful shortcuts when hoaxes, political claims, clickbait, or other kinds of dubious content go viral; however, most of the time statements of fact on the web are left unchecked by these three sources and other fact-checking professionals. This is why Wikipedia can be such a valuable and necessary first step in your fact-checking process and one you should engage throughout our first unit — though sometimes it takes a little bit more work. For example, let’s say you stumble upon something like this, which cites a Harvard study in the lead:
Putting aside for the moment that I can easily see that this source has a vested interest in writing about the positive effects of wine (it’s from a publication called Wine Spectator after all) and that my most effective move would likely be to go upstream (Move 2) to the actual study, I can easily find a whole entry on this subject in Wikipedia called “Health effects of wine.”
- What do you notice when you skim this page?
- How might it be helpful for starting a fact-check on Wine Spectator‘s statements of fact?
But I heard Wikipedia is a bad source!
We all know teachers who have claimed that Wikipedia is a terrible resource for researchers because most entries can be edited by anyone. (Or anything. Over 1,600 bots — AI computer scripts — make up 10% of all edits. And these bots even fight.)
While it is technically untrue that pages can be edited without resistance — pages can be frozen and users have actually been banned in rare cases — the vast number of studies on Wikipedia’s accuracy present a complicated picture. Indeed, there’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to the reliability of Wikipedia.
It would take a whole semester to explore this complexity, but for now let’s just say there are a number of features that make Wikipedia a safe bet for beginning fact-checking:
- Information must be verifiable with citations/links.
- The site has a number of guiding principles (called its Five Pillars), including one that states content must be written from a neutral point of view (NPOV).
- Controversial pages can be protected/frozen by senior editors at a number of different levels.
- Although it is written largely by amateurs (who are too often privileged white men like me), many studies have shown that experts regularly contribute; further, it professes to be “written by open and transparent consensus.”
Activity: Looking for previous work with political memes
Activity: In this Google Doc: [WRT-1] [WRT-2]
—What were the “statements of fact” in the meme? Were some different than others?
—Did you research all of the facts? What would you still research if given more time?
—How confident were you in your process and sources?
Homework for next class
- Publish Fact-check #1 (~700 words) as a post on your WordPress site. To do this you’ll find a political meme that offers at least one statement of fact, like the examples we looked at today. If you’re stuck, you can use one of them. It’s important that your meme includes a statement of fact since not all political memes use them (see this one, for instance). As you approach this post, you should:
(1) Summarize the context or situation by helping readers understand how and where you encountered it. (Think: Why was this meme produced and shared? What’s happening in the world?
(2) Make explicit the sources you found and your research process. Tell readers not only which previous fact-checking sites . you checked, which Wikipedia entries you accessed, but how you found them using specific search terms.
(3) Explain why your facts are clearly facts — that is, how your choices above led you to a consensus among trustworthy people in the know.
(4) Add embedded links to sources and media (images, video, etc.) that help readers understand your work or help illustrate your process or findings.
- Read about Move 2, the third section from Mike Caulfield’s Web Literacy for Student Fact-checkers called “Go Upstream” (Chapters 7-15).