Fact-checking sites

Today we are talking about fact-checking by looking at sites that regularly investigate claims, the first of four moves discussed in Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers. We will specifically discuss how this works by looking at fake news about Hurricane Irma and looking at some of the examples you came up with for your homework. You’ll then begin the process of translating that example into a WordPress post. By the end of class you should know how to create a post so that you can complete the homework for Thursday.

I. Check your emotions. Before we get too far into this unit, it’s important that we discuss this piece of advice in Chapter 3:

“If every time content you want to share makes you feel rage, or laughter, or ridicule, or, sorry to say, a heartwarming buzz — spend 30 seconds fact-checking  you’ll do pretty well.”

What does Caulfield mean by this? How does it work in practice?

II. Fake news about Hurricane Irma. Let’s start with some recent examples. Because my dad and father-in-law both live in Florida year-round, I was paying close attention to the news surrounding Hurricane Irma this weekend. Luckily both of them are fine, but as I read the news and jumped on my social media feeds, I saw many examples of fake news.

As part of a fact-check post about fake news spreading during Hurricane Irma, ProPublica interviewed journalist Jane Lytvynenko about various phony stories, images, and other media that have appeared in our feeds. As she notes, even though fake news circulates differently with weather events, “what unites misinformation around weather and politics is emotion.” Even government officials are susceptible. Here’s the president’s director of social media sharing a now-deleted tweet from a random member of the public who shared it with him:

And a response by the Miami Airport:

Supposedly, the actual video that was shared was from Mexico City’s airport a few weeks back:

Perhaps one of the more ridiculous stories that circulated was this sarcastic event on Facebook. The event’s popularity prompted several groups, including Sheriffs in Pasco County, to create and post this image:

Interestingly, through a reverse Google Image search (something you’ll learn more about next week and in Chapter 13), you can see that the image itself isn’t quite right. It’s a doctored version of a widely-shared image that explains how hurricane work. This is sometimes attributed to the National Weather Service, though it wasn’t easy to track down:

More research can and should clear this up, but in the meantime we can see how difficult it is to slow down and establish facts, especially in times of spectacular crisis. This is why fact-checking sites like Snopes and Politifact can be so useful. Here are some examples of how these sites checked facts during the two recent hurricanes:

  • Climate Feedback fact-checked The Atlantic‘s article on how climate change affected Hurricane Harvey.
  • Aforementioned journalist Jane Lytvynenko posted a running list of misinformation on Irma on Buzzfeed.
  • A lengthy post from Politifact contextualized Rush Limbaugh’s controversial comments on Irma.
  • Snopes fact-checked the reoccurring myth that you should store your valuables in a dishwasher during floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. And another on sharks showing up in the hurricane.

Caulfield’s advice to search fact-checking sites like Politifact and Snopes and collaborative pages on Wikipedia come with some warnings, however. What are they? And how do we use the site-search function and other advanced commands in Google searches? Why are these useful?

III. Examples from your own fact-checking. For homework today you were asked to fact-check a claim from your own social media feed and write about it in a Google Doc. Let’s look at some examples. As we talk through these examples, we want to ask:

  • Where, when, and how did you find these claims?
  • How did you fact-check them? Where did you go? Why? How?
  • Did anyone use Wikipedia?
  • What images, videos, sounds, links, and embedded content could we include as you turn this into a blog post?

IV. Posting in WordPress. We will spend the rest of today working on customizing your site a bit and creating your first post . Again, the Lynda tutorials on posting in WordPress.com are useful, but I’ll walk you through some of the basics. The goal for today is to convert your Google Doc into a WordPress post. As you begin that process, aim to do the following things in your post:

  • title it concisely and accurately (i.e. “Fact-check #1: Sharks in Hurricane Irma?”)
  • include 2-3 links to sites you refer to in your discussion
  • embed at least one image, tweet, video, sound clip, or some other non-textual feature.
  • make use of some of the content organizing features, like tags and categories
  • make use of some of the formatting features: bullets, headings, quotations, etc.

HW for Thursday, 9/14:

  • Finish formatting your first fact-check and post it to WordPress. I have your link, right?
  • Read Caulfield, Chapters 7-11

Facts & “Post-Truth”

Today you will view our Google Map and introduce yourselves, discuss the readings and your quiz results from last night’s homework, and begin setting up your WordPress site for the semester.

I. Happy places.

  1. Go to our map and find yourself.
  2. Make sure the information here looks good. If you didn’t add a selfie it’s not too late! Send one to me via email today and I’ll add it. This will help us all get to know you better.
  3. Once we are all set, look around the world and read the bios for our section. Be ready to ask follow-up questions. [Tip: one simple way to view names quickly is to pull down the list on the left sidebar.]
  4. Questions for discussion: How might we use this tool in other ways? As teachers? As researchers? As writers? What are some potential complications with this? Are we okay that this is on a public website?

II. What is a fact and why does it matter? Discuss your Factitious quiz and our readings:

  • How did you do on the Factitious quiz? What information did you have to consider as you decided if a news item was true or not? Where did this knowledge come from?  What was limiting about the quiz?
  • Take this 5-minute quiz on “How DigiPo Defines a Fact.
  • Pull up your other reading for today: William Davies’s essay, “The Age of Post-Truth Politics.” According to Davies, there is a “crisis of facts” in Western democracies. What does he mean by this? Point to some moments in the reading.
  • What role has technology played in the shift from a “society of facts to a society of data,” as he puts it? How is it “possible to live in a world of data but no facts”?
  • Davies’s essay was published in the Opinion section of the NYT. Still, are there any facts presented in his essay, as Caulfield defined them? What are they?

III. WordPress.

One of the consistently great resources you will use this semester is Lynda.com, a high-quality, video-based tutorial site that Rowan pays a hefty fee to subscribe to. The fact that you can have a free account to Lynda is a real perk of being a college student here and so we will use it. Although many of your already have experience with WordPress, I’m going to show you a few videos today that help introduce it.

  1. First, make an account at Lynda.com using your Rowan credentials. Once you’re in, you can search for different videos, courses, and other content. I’ll show you this today.
  2. I’ve chosen the “WordPress.com Essential Training” course for us to view today. We want to look at as much as we can with some pausing for questions and processes. Our goal is to simply get your site up.
  3. On Tuesday we will do more with content (i.e. posts and pages).

Homework for Tuesday, 9/12:

  • Finish setting up your WordPress by watching the Lynda video on Creating a WordPress.com account. Then add your URL to this spreadsheet (must be signed in to your Rowan Google Drive). You only need to set up your account — you don’t need to post.
  • Read Caulfield’s Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers: Chapters 1-6
  • Fact-check a claim from your social media feed and write about it in a Google Doc that is saved in your WRT student folder. Title your document “Factcheck 1.”


Welcome to Sections 3 and 4 of Writing, Research, & Technology (WRT for short)! I’m Jason and I’m looking forward to getting to know you better this semester. Today are getting to know each other, reviewing the syllabus, and getting acquainted with at least one of the spaces we will be using this semester. As you can see, I use the daily plan blog on this course site to share my lesson plans with you. These also serve as a space for documenting our work and clarifying homework assignments. They are organized through categories and tags and searchable. OK, so here’s the plan for today:

I. Course plan and trajectory. After briefly introducing myself, I’ll go over some of the course site with you and discuss the first unit.

II. Activity: Google Drive set up. We will be using Google Drive to share files and folders throughout this semester. Here’s how to use it.

  1. Go to http://drive.google.com/a/rowan.edu and log in with your usual Rowan credentials.
  2. Find your WRT student folder. It should include your last name, first name followed by “student folders.” (i.e. Luther, Jason W students folders).
  3. Create a new document in that folder and title it “bio” and: write your name at the top and a 140 character bio. Finally, think about a happy place you’d like to share with us — this could be a hometown, a place you’ve visited, or a place on your bucket list.  Tell us why you chose it.  Save this.
  4. Now go to this Google Form and complete it with that information (it’s okay if you change your mind on parts). To complete the selfie quickly, go to Applications > Photo Booth.

III. Introductions. If all goes well, I will be able to export the data from your forms to a spreadsheet and import that into a Google Map that allows us to see everyone’s happy place, as well as a brief bio about them. I’ll share this map with you and ask you to introduce yourselves before going into the homework.

Homework for Thursday, 9/7: