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Oped: Fact-checking starts with you
As news consumers, we're swamped with information. Whether we read newspapers, watch cable news or get stories from Aunt Judy on Facebook, we must decide which information is trustworthy.
Advocacy journalism outlets including Fox News and MSNBC, ideological talk radio and conspiracy websites such as InfoWars make this difficult. Was Trump snookered by North Korea? Will his tariff war hurt the economy? How we answer those sorts of questions might depend on where we get our news.
As the midterm elections approach, we must be prepared for another misinformation onslaught from Russia. Media organizations are taking steps to push back.
On July 6, the Washington Post reported that Twitter has purged 70 million fake and suspicious accounts since May to reduce the misinformation spread on its platform. Three days later, YouTube announced that it was giving $25 million to support legitimate news organizations, flag misinformation and highlight authoritative news sources.
Those actions reflect the emerging movement to help people become savvy news consumers. Media literacy organizations — such as the National Association for Media Literacy Education, the Center for Media Literacy and the News Literacy Project — work to promote informed news consumption.
Dozens of fact-checking organizations call out falsehoods by politicians and others. They include such well-known outlets as FactCheck.org, the Washington Post's FactChecker, Snopes and PolitiFact. A report from Duke Reporters' Lab this year counted 149 fact-checking projects in 53 countries. Recently in Rome, more than 200 fact checkers from 56 countries participated in the world's largest fact-checking conference.
The fake news fiasco of 2016 spurred public outrage and led to government action. According to Media Literacy Now, several states introduced or continued consideration of media literacy legislation in 2017 and 2018. In 2017, Washington, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Mexico passed media literacy education laws. All states should enact similar measures.
Many universities now have media literacy majors and programs. In 2007, the State University of New York at Stony Brook created the Center for News Literacy, which teaches undergraduate students to use critical thinking skills to judge the credibility of news reports.
The website AllSides provides differing perspectives on major issues, sorting news stories from the left, right and center. By fall, NewsGuard will be launched to fight fake news by providing users with reliability ratings and "nutrition labels" for 7,500 news and information websites.
In May, Facebook announced plans to start a news literacy campaign by offering tips on how to detect fake news and by recruiting researchers to look for misinformation on its website. In early July, Poynter.org reported that the WikiProject will create news information boxes to help Google users judge the veracity of local news organizations.
All of these measures are important, but without individual responsibility, they won't amount to much. We still have a president who has turned a blind eye to the misinformation issue. We still have countries and groups determined to shape U.S. public opinion through sophisticated lies.
Ultimately, the burden falls on all of us to be savvy news consumers and confirm the information in the messages that bombard us constantly. Don't believe everything Aunt Judy sends you on Facebook; verify it by checking several news sources. When you see misinformation, warn others.
Russian bots and trolls wanting to destabilize the United States, Macedonian teenagers seeking profits and misleading memes will be in full force for the 2018 midterms. They will set out to dupe you. Will you be able to sort out the truth from misinformation?
— Larry Atkins, the author of Skewed: A Critical Thinker's Guide to Media Bias (Prometheus Books), teaches journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University.