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