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, which made landfall in Florida last September, and by 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 Monday.

I. Check your emotions.

Before we get too far into this unit, it’s important that we discuss this piece of advice from Mike Caulfield in Chapter 3:

“When you feel strong emotion — happiness, anger, pride, vindication — and that emotion pushes you to share a “fact” with others, STOP. Above all, it’s these things that you must fact-check.”

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

  1. 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 last fall. Luckily both of them were 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 in August 2017:

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 hurricanes 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.

However, Caulfield’s advice to search fact-checking sites like Politifact and Snopes and collaborative pages on Wikipedia comes with some warnings, What are they?

And how do we use the site-search function and other advanced commands in Google searches? Why are these useful?

Finally, note that I have added a list of several reputable fact-checking sites to our Unit 1 menu above.

III. Examples from your own fact-checking brainstorm. 

For homework today you were asked to produce and assess a list of facts worth checking based on our book’s definition. Let’s look at what you came up with. As we talk through these examples, we want to ask:

  • Where, when, and how did you find these claims?
  • How would you fact-check them? Where would you go? Why? How?
  • Is there a fact on this list that suggests you could write a fact-check in 500-word blog post?
  • What images, videos, sounds, links, and embedded content could you include as you turn this into a blog post?

IV. Posting in WordPress.

When we left off on Monday, you were writing an About page. I want you to continue that in class today, but before you do I want to show you two features of WordPress that help readers navigate your site as well as introduce you to some page and post features.

Appearance settings:

  • menus
  • widgets 

Page and post settings:

  • titles
  • links
  • embedded content
  • tags and categories
  • formatting

Now that you know some of these features work on customizing your site, adding an About page, and posting your first fact-check.

HW for Monday, 1/29

  1. Read Caulfield, Chapters 7-11
  2. Post your first fact-check before class. Your post should:
  • be titled 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.