Life in the Box: Consider the Source

My post-election pledge to myself is to encourage my friends who share political views on Facebook to check their facts. It’s not as easy as it sounds. People who express strong feelings already think they have all the facts they need. But, in my experience, sorting truth from fiction is not simple; not black and white; and it’s good to have help in sorting things out.

I get a weekly newsletter about the trends in fact-checking from Poynter, an organization that teaches fact-checking to journalists. While the internet is now exploding with fake fact-checking sites, there are still some reliable ones. Soon there will actually be an international clearing-house for fact checking sites—that keeps a running tab on whether a particular fact-checking site is credible or not!

Snopes dot com is well-known as a place to check out “urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors and misinformation.” It’s good for meme-checking.

Another well-known site is Politifact, the site that gives a “Truth-O-Meter” rating of True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and “Pants on Fire.” It checks what politicians say, and in addition to the meter, explains their reasoning in longer articles if you click on the political statement in question. When you read the articles, you get more of a feel of the intricacies of current events beyond the headlines.

Now some of my Facebook friends may site sources of information that I’ve never heard of; online newspapers and such. So, I’ve started looking at these on a site called Media Bias/Fact Check. According to its “About” page, it was started in 2015 by David Van Zandt, who calls himself a “registered non-affiliated voter who values fact-based reporting.”

What I like about it is that it has separate ratings for “Bias” and “Factual content.” So a source could be “Left bias” and still have “very high factual content.”

For example, CNN rates high on factual content and sources, but sometimes “jumps the gun with breaking stories.” It also rates “Left” on its bias. Obviously.

Media Bias/Fact Check also looks at the wording of headlines for bias, and also how strongly (or not) a source is biased towards a political belief or set of beliefs. They look at the topics chosen—is there bias there? They call out “Purr Words” and “Snarl Words” that indicate obvious slant. They also look for “bias by omission.” I think this is very important, especially with a source like Fox, that is definitely guilty of this.

Telling only one side of the story has a way of inflaming people, and often when I see a Facebook rant, it is based on “not enough information” combined with innuendo. That’s a good thing to point out to people when you see it. They won’t mind telling you their source if you ask politely. And if you can offer them a good source of more balanced information, maybe with a link, you don’t have to argue, just present facts cheerfully.

Did I just say “you?” Yes, I am advocating a peaceful revolution with you as a co-conspirator. Uh-oh!

I can’t do this by myself, people! The personal risk in Facebook discussions is minimal, especially if you discuss things with “friends you don’t know that well” or “friends of friends that you don’t know at all.” Consider it an experiment in civil discussion. If someone indicates they don’t want to do this, then believe them and disengage. But reasonable people might respond, and you might find out that something you believe to be fact—isn’t really all of the story, either.

While it seems that I can’t pry people away from Trump TV (also known as Fox), I can look at my personal news feed and decide–one statement at a time–if I think there is some common ground to be built. And you can, too. Take a moment to disentangle the emotions (theirs and yours) from the facts, and just talk about the facts. If someone is a friend, they may appreciate your input and this can create a calming effect for you both. I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that there really are facts to be found.

Nancy Heather Brown is a retired, Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, narrating and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she enjoys learning new things and reflecting upon the creative process and life issues, both inside and outside the box. Her opinions are her own, and are not necessarily those of this web site.

Politifact – Pulitzer Prize-winning checker of public statements by politicians for urban myths and legend-checking

Media Bias/Fact Check methodology explanation  

If you want to subscribe to a newsletter about Fact-Checking, the Poynter Institute is all about that

If you’re going to be in South Africa in June 2019, you can attend the 6th Annual Fact-Checking Summit  

The BBC has an in-depth study of some ways misinformation is killing people

What should media do to prevent Trump’s lies from spreading like a flu – The Atlantic