During my author visits to schools, in addition to the usual questions I get about my historical novels and my research methods, students and teachers often ask me for tips on how to decide which sources of news information they can trust.
A major challenge today is that anyone can post anything online, no matter how untruthful or ridiculous it might be. In fact, contrary to what we might assume, the more outrageous and unbelievable a claim is, the more likely it is to spread rapidly on the internet. And the more engaged and angry people get on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, the more money those companies make.
One good way to verify information is to seek out one of the handful of organizations that provide unbiased fact checking. And unlike media companies and so-called social media “influencers” who profit from internet activity, the organizations listed below are supported by contributions, and they have no motivation to be anything but truthful.
FactCheck.org Annenberg Political Factcheck – a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Monitors the accuracy of statements made by major U.S. political players.
FactChecker (Washington Post) Weekly blog from the Washington Post.
PolitiFact.com Produced by the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly. Includes a “Truth-O-Meter” scorecard that checks attacks on political candidates.
Snopes.com Oldest and most comprehensive fact-checking site on the Internet.
PunditFact Dedicated to verifying the accuracy of claims by pundits, columnists, bloggers, political analysts, the hosts and guests of talk shows, and other members of the media.”
It’s important to keep in mind that whenever Americans get angry at each other, the enemies of democracy are the ones who benefit. Political discord and polarization within our country gives an advantage to our international rivals such as Russia and China. The cold-war era days of espionage and spies have, for the most part, been replaced with online disinformation professionals. Agents employed by foreign powers are paid to sit at computer terminals and pose as Americans by creating fake online identities. Their goal is to spread lies and to make outrageous claims, which lead Americans to distrust each other, and ultimately, to question the legitimacy of our government.
Democracy can’t function without informed citizens, for In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”