Fact-Checking the Stream

According to a new survey by Pew Research Center, most Americans suspect that made-up news is having an impact. About two-in-three U.S. adults (64%) say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. This sense is shared widely across incomes, education levels, partisan affiliations and most other demographic characteristics. These results come from a survey of 1,002 U.S. adults conducted from Dec. 1 to 4, 2016. 

Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion,” Pew Research Center (Dec 2016)

The results of the Pew survey mentioned above speak to the felt sense that we live in a era when, regardless of background or identity, getting at the truth can be difficult work.  In other surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center, Americans have expressed their frustration that during the 2016 presidential election, most voters could not agree even on basic facts. While the broadcast news industry certainly contributes to this problem, one might think that in the digital age — where information is abundant and searchable — it would be relatively easy to clear the air. In reality, however, there are several factors that make this more difficult than it seems. In this unit, you will explore why as you attempt to report your fact-finding research from — and for — the web.

Your Tasks

HW: Fact-checks [30 points]

Throughout this unit you will use Mike Caulfield’s book Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers to practice essential fact-checking skills such as going upstream for images and reading online sources laterally rather than just closely. In Weeks 2-4 you will write 3 short (~700 word) posts on WordPress where you experiment with these practices and make your process visible through a research narrative, starting with where and how you are encountering them. These may come from your social media feed, sponsored content you encounter online, talking points or sound bytes your uncle or neighbor repeats, or articles you notice from inside a filter bubble. Each post it worth 10 points; they will be graded holistically, based on how developed and frequent they are.

Final: Truthometer project [70 points]

“As a fact-checker, your job is not to resolve debates based on new evidence, but to accurately summarize the state of research and the consensus of experts in a given area, taking into account majority and significant minority views.”

— Mike Caulfield, Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers

At the end of this unit you’ll use literacies like going upstream and reading laterally to produce a video in iMovie that fact-checks a claim or image that is more complex than it appears when most people encounter it.  The goal of the video is to provide a short answer to the question “how truthful is the claim?” and a longer, more complicated understanding of consensus by using a range of video production techniques like vlogging, screencasting, and tools in iMovie. You’ll edit your video using sounds, images, links, and video snippets, connecting readers with source material that lead to a clear conclusion. In the end you will publish a post on WordPress titled “Truthometer.” This post will consist of two things:

  • Your script, which will include links to relevant sources discussed in the video.
  • Your embedded video (which will be published on YouTube, Vimeo, or another compatible site).