Everywhere you look, information is being presented to you and now more than ever, we have become aware that the information is not always accurate. So, it has become necessary to learn and take advantage of a growing number of resources that now make fact-checking easy for anyone.
“Information is the basis for all of the decisions that we make. It is the basis for our civic agencies and our civic freedoms, and it’s a basis for democracy itself,” said Peter Adams, with the News Literacy Project. “So, if we base decisions and ideas off of bad information, it can distort the democratic process and damage our communities and our families.”
The News Literacy Project is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that provides resources for students and the public to learn how to sort through and verify the information.
“First step, I would say, is to pay attention to where you are in the information ecosystem,” explained Adams. “So, if you’re watching standard space news, you at least know some processes of verification have taken place there.
“When you are on social media--when you are on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram--most of that is user-generated content. So, you don’t know who produced that information and you don’t know their motives or their methods.”
Regardless of where the information comes from, it is wise to still fact check what you read. It’s something that has become quicker and easier to do.
“Checking the comments can actually be a great way if something seems a little too ‘on the nose’ or it is making you really angry or fearful or you are having a strong emotional reaction,” said Adams. “So, pause [and] check the comments. If you don’t see anything in the comments, do a quick Google search. You can do that in about 45 seconds.”
In addition to conducting your own searches, there is also a growing list of credible websites dedicated specifically to fact-checking information. One of the oldest is Snopes.com. On the homepage of this website, there are recent news headlines already researched and fact-checked. You can also use the search bar to fact check other articles. You simply type the headline or pose it in a question form and the website will present you with fact-checked links to get accurate information on that issue.
“In the same way that there is a social good to showing some restraint with your garbage and not throwing it in the street, if everybody took one minute before they shared something they weren’t sure about, we could eliminate a lot of pollution in our information streams,” said Adams.
So, if fact-checking has become easier and faster than ever, why isn’t everyone doing it?
“In a way, the internet has so much content on it, which is fascinating and amazing, but it is so hard to digest,” said Dr. Daniel Jolley. “So, if we are able to base our social media habits on what we already know and what we believe, it makes it easier to navigate. It makes the world more easy [sic] to understand.”
Dr. Jolley is a senior lecturer at Northumbria University in the U.K. and focuses on the psychology of conspiracy theories and misinformation. He explained some people feel safer staying in what he called an “echo chamber.
Essentially, the echo chamber is reading and sharing information that supports or echoes their beliefs. For these people, it’s scarier and a risk to their psyche for them to check information that could challenge their belief system.
“It is important to talk to people who are in those echo chambers, but the key thing is to have compassion,” explained Dr. Jolley. “If you go in and tell that person they are wrong and you are right, then already that person will be defensive.”
Having compassion while normalizing a habit of fact-checking could help all of us filter through all the information thrown at us to get to the actual facts.