Critical Thinking

To Stop Misinformation From Spreading, Who Should Be Supervising Fact-Checking Sites?


Critical Thinking October 2018

Fact-checking websites have gained steamed, but there are complaints that they suffer from ‘selection bias.’ To stop misinformation from spreading, who should be supervising these sites? 

Michael Huntley, 24, sophomore, Mesa (Ariz.) Community College

Huntley is a journalist who specializes in news, opinion and sports stories. He has worked at the school’s paper, the Mesa Legend, for two years as a news editor.

The spread of misinformation has plagued the social media landscape and has called into question news literacy among readers. It’s hard to argue we don’t need fact-checking websites with Alex Jones’ conspiracy theories interpreted as fact and Russian bots claiming to be credible people or organizations. Conspiracy theories and misinformation has gained more likes and more views than factual news stories.

All too often we take information at face value and regurgitate it, effectively spreading it even further, but more people need to question what they’re reading and whether a source is credible or not. We live during a time where we can’t just believe everything we see; we can’t believe what our friends are reposting on social media sites. We need to question everything because it seems like as soon as we let our guard down, a wolf in sheep’s clothing is hiding behind a fake twitter account ready to pounce on the opportunity of spreading misinformation., and PolitiFact are just a few fact-checking sites that have debunked conspiracy theories and misinformation in top trending news stories.  However, if respected news sites need to be second-checked by fact-checking websites, how can we be sure fact-checking websites don’t also need to be double-checked?

Fact-checking websites shouldn’t be managed by anyone other than the supervising editors that care about seeking the truth and making sure the public knows the facts. There doesn't need to be another entity that governs a site that holds journalists accountable. Where would it end?

If we’re not careful we could be controlled by bad actors, or those that are careless or deliberate about spreading misinformation rather than fact. Journalists need to come together and establish a common goal of creating purposeful, well-researched work rather than be the first organization to get the news out, and fact-checking websites should be the last line of defense against fake news. Our democracy depends on it.

David Plazas, 42, opinion and engagement director, Tennessean (Nashville, Tenn.)

Plazas has also served as an digital engagement editor for the Gannett Co. and deputy news editor for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. 

The most difficult challenge today for fact-checking websites and any group dedicated to checking facts—like journalists—is navigating an environment where public trust is in short supply and the very definition of truth is under siege.

Fact-checking matters, and when we do not do it or fail to do it well, it eats away at diminishing trust.

Fact-checking sites like Snopes and PolitiFact have been an important line of defense that have kept politicians and journalists accountable.

The “selection bias” argument, however, appears to be coming from the great focus on the veracity of the things said by the Trump administration, including President Donald J. Trump.

PolitiFact, for example, rates 83 percent of Trump’s statements as half-true or worse. The Washington Post and the New York Times have logged the number of mistruths in the thousands.

People associated with the Trump administration have used phrases like “alternative facts” (Kellyanne Conway) and “truth isn’t truth” (Rudy Giuliani). However, this has created pushback for fact-checkers and especially journalists, who have been labeled as “fake news.”And despite editorial campaigns to the contrary, the label is sticking, in large part, because of the perception that news sites cover the president unfairly.

A June Gallup poll showed that 62 percent of Americans think traditional news organizations are biased. Also, in June, a poll from Axios and Survey Monkey revealed that 72 percent of Americans believe traditional media outlets report news that is “fake, false, or purposely misleading.”

Republicans are mostly like to believe this claim and least likely to use a fact-checking site to verify a claim, according to this same poll.

That is a problem, but it is also an opportunity for journalists and fact-checkers to create deeper connections with the communities they serve, explain their process better and hold themselves more accountable for when mistakes are made.

Whoever is supervising these individual sites needs to be dedicated to the First Amendment and creating strategies to build trust in common sets of facts and truth. That is hard work, but it is necessary if we want to defend our republic.


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