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It's a world wide web of lies (but facts strike back)

Mike Elgan | Oct. 17, 2016
The internet is overrun by urban legends, hoaxes and politicians who make up their own 'facts.' Here's help.

Political propaganda has successfully inoculated a minority of the voting public against the scourge of fact-checking. They've been told that the news media are corrupt and fact-checking sites mere smokescreens.

The professional political operatives that advise candidates also anticipate fact-checking and have learned to make their comments fact-check-proof. They do this by being slippery, vague and categorical, instead of specific. An entire political style of speaking has emerged, designed to be fact-check-proof.

For example, saying that a candidate voted in Congress against a specific bill designed to thwart ISIS is fact-checkable. Saying that a candidate "did nothing to stop ISIS" is not fact-checkable.

Saying that a candidate's specific policy prescriptions have been denounced by a specific expert is fact-checkable. Saying that a candidate "has no clue about what to do [about education and innovation]" is not fact-checkable.

Still, the fact-checking sites try to fact-check such statements and wind up posting long-winded explanations and somewhat subjective conclusions, all of which provide more fodder for argument, disagreement and partisanship, rather than clarity over the facts.

So is that it? Are we really living in a post-fact world?

How to be an informed citizen

Thanks to the social web and the way it exposes us all to unreliable content, we're mostly on our own when it comes to figuring out what's true and what's false.

In my opinion, each of the major fact-checking sites is pretty solid. And when several sites agree -- when there's a consensus among the fact-checking sites about a specific point -- that consensus can be taken as a fact you can rely on.

My favorite fact-checking sites include Emergent, On The Issues, Factcheck.org, Snopes, Politifact, About.com, Truth Or Fiction and Hoax Slayer.

My best advice is to promote these sites from passive reference sites to active sources of content.

Spend quality time proactively browsing your favorite fact-checking sites, as if they were blogs or news sites. They're great sources of information because they tend to be clear and present controversial information in a systematic way that helps understanding.

Also: Add the Twitter accounts of several fact-checking sites to your feed or add the RSS to your reader. Get the facts even before you get the lies.

Don't be like the fake Disney lemmings and follow the internet masses over the cliff of confusion. We are not living in a post-fact world. Facts really do exist.

And that's a fact.

 

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