Fact-checking can help Americans find political truth

Fact or fiction, the internet is rich with information right at one’s fingertips. This bounty of knowledge also harbors false information that can mislead. Checking the validity of sources may be an extra hassle but is well worth it.

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

With the presidential election coming up in November, now may be one of the most important elections in recent history. The United States exists in an era of division and unrest amid a COVID-19 pandemic that has affected every aspect of daily life. Knowing about who one is voting for is an important resource for all Americans. Politifact is a site where voters can research their candidates in full detail. This 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning resource is where voters can see the policies of candidates and fact-check claims about them.

FactCheck.org is also a great resource for checking facts about politicians and a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. According to their mission statement, they “are a nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. “We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding, according to their mission statement”

Open Secrets is a data-driven site that analyzes federal campaign contributions, lobbying data and analysis of money in politics. The phrase often used, ‘follow the money,’ hints at unethical practices. Open Secrets investigates how money is spent in politics and by whom.

Memes that have images meant to appeal to the emotion of the viewer, combined with sensationalist wording can cause a tornado of false information due to reactions and re-sharing on social media. Snopes has a section dedicated to debunking memes and is also a resource for fact-checking in general since 1994. Their fact check process is transparent and methodical.

Viral Spiral is a part of FactCheck.org where readers can look into the validity of current and past claims. The site provides information in the form of a user question and answers, usually relating to whatever rumor is swirling around on the internet. There are also videos debunking claims and using archives to search past claims.

FlackCheck.org looks at false advertisements, science and health claims. Claims such as tobacco not being harmful, COVID-19 false information and detecting Patterns of Deception are explained. The site is easy to navigate and also features popular YouTube videos that support false claims that are then debunked.

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Media literacy skills are helpful to be knowledgeable and savvy in today’s world of false, biased and misleading information. It is a set of skills that are now being taught in schools. There are many free resources online for self-learning. A place to start is The National Association for Media Literacy Education, or NAMLE. Media literacy teaches that just because something is on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s true and focuses on the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication, according to NAMLE.

For more information about political fact-checking, visit Politifact, FactCheck.org and Open Secrets. General fact-checking can be done at Snopes, Viral Spiral, FlackCheck.org and NPR Fact Check. To learn more about media literacy, visit The National Association for Media Literacy Education website.

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