Can I Be Sure Info is True?

Can I Be Sure Info is True?

american flag-truth superimposed with check in checkbox

 

Bias in Traditional News Media

Once Americans could simply turn on a TV news show and trust the anchorperson to give them a true, impartial account of the nation's news. Those days are long gone. Many network "news" shows have devolved into pure entertainment, and at their core most have increased viewership rather than accuracy as their prime goal. Commercial broadcast media make their money off of advertising and they "sell" their audience by charging higher rates to advertisers for larger listening or viewing audiences.

Instead, to get a truer picture of the nation's news we should seek out unbiased news sources and/or read or watch multiple reports.

Ad Fontes Media puts out a periodic Media Bias Chart (you can find it at MediaBiasChart.com) that ranks news sources on two scales... accuracy and neutrality. The chart resembles an inverted pyramid, with relatively accurate and unbaised sources such as the Associated Press, Rueters, Bloomberg, C-SPAN, ABC News and CBS News up near the top center. National Public Radio and PBS television rank high on truthfulness, but slightly to the left of center on neutrality. All of these sources rank in the green ("News") rectangle. From there, the categories devolve into yellow ("Fair Interpretations of the News"), orange ("Extreme or Unfair Interpretations of the News"), and red ("Nonsense, Damaging to Public Discourse"). Some popular "news" programs on both sides of the political spectrum fall into the orange and red categories.

 

Polarizing Social Media Algorithms


Another major factor in our increasing political polarization are the "algorithms" on Facebook and other social media platforms that determine which content we see. The algorithms, designed simply to retain viewer interest, have learned to show viewers more of the same content for which they've shown a past preference, and in addition lead users gradually to more extreme content on their preferred side.

So Beware! If you rely on social media for your news, you are almost certainly getting a very one-sided and inflammatory version of events. Two next-door neighbors, one liberal-leaning and one conservative-leaning, will see entirely different events emphasized, and different slants on the exact same events, on their social media feeds.

A 2017 TED talk by Zeynep Tufekci, titled "We're building a dystopia just to make people click on ads," is a good introduction to the problem if this concept is new to you. It is, in fact, a popular topic on that platform; if you go to TED.com and search the talks for the keyword "algorithm" you'll find dozens of eye-opening videos around this subject.

Be aware, too that some of what you see on social media or the internet in general is pure fabrication. Through data scraping, technology companies amass and sell a vast amount of information about individuals. Those seeking to influence voting behavior of persuadable voters in swing states now are able to craft messages that can be delivered to individuals in many places on the internet.

Check for corroborating stories, and make use of fact checking sites (such as FactCheck.org or PolitiFact.com) whenever you suspect that a post or article may not be true.

 

Tips and Tools for Verifying Information

“Don’t believe everything you read” is even more relevant in today’s world of information bombardment. Question everything! As voters, we must understand what are real facts and what are opinions, beliefs, or possibly malicious stories that are untrue. As consumers of news, it is important for us to know the difference between real news and real facts, versus fake news, biased news, propaganda, alternative facts, and simple, old-fashioned mistakes.

 

Step One: Before relying on information, consider these Essential Questions

  • Who or what is the source of this information? Is this source an authority? What are its/his/her credentials?
  • Who is the intended audience? Is it a specific group? What is the purpose of sharing this information? To inform? Persuade? Entertain? Sell something? Influence? Create outrage? Promote propaganda?
  • Can the accuracy of this information be corroborated?
  • Does it use sensational or balanced language?
  • What evidence is cited to support this information? Is the evidence used accurately?
  • Does this source examine the big picture? Is an exception being used to prove the broader rule?
  • What is the context for the information presented?
  • How current is information?
  • Is this fact or opinion? An opinion is not “truth” but rather a point of view. Be clear what are real facts.

If you are not sure that something is true, don't share it! That will only spread the fake news.

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Step Two:  Consult These Reliable Resources

 

Online Fact-checking sites:

Professional fact-checkers “read laterally.” That is, they open a new tab for each element of a source they want to verify, starting with the URL. They check "across" the various sources, not just within a source.

Other useful resources:

 

PHOTOS OR VIDEOS ON ANY SITE MAY HAVE BEEN FAKED OR ALTERED. For tips on spotting changed images, see https://www.poynter.org/news/three-ways-spot-if-image-has-been-manipulated.

REMEMBER! JUST BECAUSE YOU SEE IT ON THE INTERNET, THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT TRUE! TAKE A MOMENT TO VERIFY THE INFORMATION BEFORE YOU POST.

 

Prepared by the League of Women Voters Palo Alto, California. Includes content contributed by: the League of Women Voters of Berks County, Pennsylvania; Tessa Lyons, Facebook; Sarah McGrew, Stanford University; and Daniel Russell, Google.

THANK YOU!

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