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Trust No One: A Beginners Guide to Social Media Fact-Checking

According to research conducted by Pew Research Center, 55 percent of U.S. adults get their news from social media either “often” or “sometimes,” noting that “social media is now a part of the news diet.” That is probably not what you want to hear during an election year that has been marred by false claims, misinformation, and misleading rhetoric on a number of topics such as the coronavirus pandemic, mail-in ballots, or the nationwide protests against police brutality.

Disinformation can be toxic in an election year, as we saw when Robert Mueller laid out the ways in which Russia interfered with the 2016 election.

But how can you self-check the news and determine you’re getting accurate information? In 2016, NPR shared best practices people can use when reading articles online which include:

  • Pay attention to the domain and URL
  • Read the “About Us” section
  • Look at the quotes in a story
  • Look at who said them
  • Check the comments
  • Reverse image search

Fact-checking news sources and fighting misinformation has been a hot topic for the past few years, and in addition to doing their own research, many have wondered what other tools are at their disposal to ensure they are receiving factual information in the era of alternative facts.

What Social Media Platforms are Doing.

Recently, we have seen tech giants Twitter and Facebook divided on how to handle the fight against misleading information following the former’s decision to fact-check one of the president’s tweets and hide another. In a swift move, the president signed an executive order targeting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, aimed at limiting the broad legal protections enjoyed by social media companies.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he stands by the company’s decision to fact-check and hide the president’s tweets (which went against the company’s policies), as well as other tweets they’ve flagged. “We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make,” Dorsey tweeted.

Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg went on Fox News to call out Twitter saying, “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online. Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

Facebook, which has been heavily criticized in the past for privacy scandals, and for failing to police controversial content such as coronavirus misinformation, did not hide the post that Twitter chose to hide. “What I believe is that in a democracy, it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments,” he said.

Following Zuckerberg’s statements, at least a dozen employees, some in senior positions, condemned the social network’s lack of action and his statements, and many staged virtual walkout protests. Currently, Facebook’s fact-checking program relies on independent fact-checkers to identify and review potential misinformation, enabling Facebook to take action. Unfortunately, policing social media posts is a time-consuming task, regardless of what fact-checking methods are being used, and many go unreported and continue to be shared.

Using NewsGuard to Verify the Credibility of Your Social Posts

For those who do not want to rely on social networking platforms, fact-checking tools like NewsGuard, a desktop browser extension tool that displays credibility and transparency content scoring, can help flag websites that peddle unsubstantiated claims. Earlier this year, NewsGuard released a special report on popular coronavirus myths which were circulating, and how they emerged.

A Beginners Guide to Social Media Fact-Checking - Donald Trumps Tweet

NewsGuard rates more than 4,000 websites responsible for approximately 95 percent of all the news and information consumed and shared in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy. The websites are reviewed every three months, as a matter of their own policy, to ensure the ratings are accurate. The tool has been credited as apolitical by various news organizations and operates with full transparency and disclosure, using the same nine criteria for rating all news websites.

Until recently, only Microsoft Edge mobile divide users on iOS and Android had unlimited free access to the service, however, as of May 14, all users of Microsoft Edge, be it on mobile or desktop have unlimited access. NewsGuard is offering its service for free to all internet users until July 1. After the trial period is over, NewsGuard will go back to charging $2.95 per month for the service.

Understand Political Bias with Media Bias Charts

Media bias charts are an easy and convenient way to rate media sources in terms of political bias and reliability. Ad Fontes Media, a Colorado-based media watchdog organization, is known for the creation of the Media Bias Chart, which you can view as an interactive chart or a static chart. To get the results, Ad Fontes Media analyzes the content posted by the outlets, keeping in mind that this rating system uses humans with subjective biases to rate things that are created by other humans with subject biases, so it is a difficult task.

A Beginners Guide to Social Media Fact-Checking - Media Bias Chart

The AllSides Media Bias Rating analyzes nearly 600 publications and journalists to determine whether an outlet leans toward the left, is left-leaning, is centered, leans right, or is right-wing. Visitors to the site can help improve the ratings by “agreeing” or “disagreeing” with them.

As a matter of personal opinion, because I know you’re totally wondering, I tend to consume news from what I call the Holy Trifecta of outlets, the Associated Press, Reuters, and NPR, which are often considered centrist in the media bias charts, and to me, provide accurate and timely information. Whatever the method you choose, whether you decide to rely on social media platforms to provide accurate information or you decide to do your own research, we hope this blog post was able to point you in the right direction to help make educated decisions.