Move 2: Go upstream (Day 1)

Front matter: For homework I asked you to publish your first post on WordPress — Fact-check #1 — and read about Move 2, which is “going upstream.” We’ll get to both of these tasks today, but first some news from this weekend.

Wikipedia: Vandalizing the United States Senate page

After Senate Republicans blocked witnesses from testifying at Donald’s Trump’s impeachment trial last week, a user named Flyboyrob2112 vandalized the Wikipedia page for the U.S. Senate to make a political point. Here’s coverage of the event from HuffPo. And here’s the edit:

As the article mentioned, this went back and forth four times. After the third Flyboyrob2112 was warned, and after the fourth their account was banned:

Factcheck #1 on WordPress

Last week we looked at several political memes and you practiced Move 1 on them. Then, for homework, you were asked to apply Move 1 in a WordPress post to another political meme. Did you copy and paste your WordPress URL on our spreadsheet so that we can see your work? If not, do that first. To copy on a Mac use [⌘ + C] and to paste use [⌘ + V] .

Now take a look at your post and ask yourself these questions:

  • Did you add an About Me page and is it visible from your primary menu?
  • What memes did you choose? Is the image included at the top of your WordPress post?
  • How many statements of fact did you research from your meme? Did your post explicitly identify these as statements and describe or explain their context? Did you use embedded links or media to do so?
  • Of the strategies Caulfield suggests for Move 1, which ones worked particularly well? Which were more complicated or challenging?
  • Is Move 1 visible in your fact-check? That is, does it detail information that came from both a fact-checking site (Politifact, Snopes, etc.) as well as Wikipedia?
  • What aspects of this first assignment —whether it is related to fact-checking, WordPress, or composing — needs revision?

Revising your first post

Based on our discussion above, I want to give you some time to revise your site/post in class today. Here are a few common WordPress-related problems I’ve noticed from teaching previous classes:

Homepage settings. We talked briefly about the difference between Pages and Posts. One important distinction between WordPress sites is that users can customize them either as blogs (which set home as “latest posts”) and true websites (which set the home page to a particular, “static” page). Be sure yours is set up as a blog. To do this go to Design > Customize > Homepage Settings and choose “Your latest posts.”

Menus. Once that happens we need to make sure your “About Me” page is visible from the menu. To adjust this, go to Design > Customize > Menus and create a new menu. Add the “About Me” page to your menu and you should now see it on the home page. Likewise, if you are using this site for posts in both Intro/IWA and WRT, you’ll want those different classes to show up on your primary menu.

Why go upstream? 

Going upstream means following a piece of content to its true source, and beginning your analysis there. Your first question when looking at a claim on a page should be “Where did this come from, and who produced it?” The answer quite often has very little to do with the website you are looking at.

Chapter 10 of Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers

Much of the web is predicated on making money from users’ clicks. For this reason, content on the web is often recycled, repurposed, or just plain plagiarized and stolen from other, more original sources (you’ll see a good example in the next unit when we talk about the economics of writing in the post-truth era). Ad revenue, after all, is generated from clicks — not actual human readers. Here’s a quick video that demonstrates how this works on YouTube:

And even when original content is found it is sometimes sprinkled with more dubious sponsored content — that is, headlines or articles that appear legit but are actually paid for by advertisers. This can vary by platform. Here’s a screenshot from my iPad app from last winter, for example. Do you notice the article with a tiny SPONSORED CONTENT heading?

So going upstream can be necessary or helpful for uncovering moments when web writing is simply presenting “reporting on reporting,” offering “syndicated content,” or a story is uncontrollably viral.

But misinformation can circulate for other reasons. First Draft is a nonprofit organization that gathers journalists, academic, programmers and more to combat the spread of fake news; they off this typology of it:

In this Medium article, First Draft helpfully illustrates how different kinds of fake news depend upon the motivations in play. Notice that profit is only one motive.

So given that there are different kinds of fake news each with a mix of different motives, going upstream on information can be a powerful move. In cases where a false connection is suggested, sources will generally still link to other sources. When you go upstream on those, you’ll quickly help dispel the misleading headline (this is often the case with studies reported in the media, like the one on wine we read about last class). However, in other cases, such as fabricated content, the move to go upstream might help you discover that there’s indeed no source to be found at all.

What does it mean to “go upstream”?

But what does going upstream specifically entail? How might you make use of it in your next post? Some strategies might include:

  • Following links to sources when they are provided. This includes using it in tandem with Move 1 — when you encounter sources from Wikipedia, for instance.
  • Googling sources, or phrases from a text using the right-click [ctrl + click] search option when sources aren’t given.
  • Scanning search results for URLs — not their titles .
  • Executing advanced search commands like site searches (“site:”)

In our next class we’ll get some practice in groups fact-checking different examples and share those.