Fact Checking

Video credit: How to Spot Fake News – posted by Factcheck.org on Youtube



What is fact checking?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary fact checking is: “To verify the facts relating to (a piece of writing, a situation, etc.), esp. in the context of journalism” (OED).

Formalized fact-checkers are those who assess the veracity of statements made by political figures, by news organizations, and even by users of social media platforms like FacebookAs described by Moore, fact-checkers work parallel to newsrooms, to keep both politicians and political journalists accountable, a type of work that has greatly increased in necessity in recent years due to the “increasing sophistication of political messaging”. Fact-checking organizations such as PolitiFact, Factcheck.org, and others are meant to be non-partisan. Any organization with a clear political presence is excluded from fact checking gatherings (Moore).

As a result of the increased proliferation of fake news online in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the fact checking industry greatly expanded, growing from 44 organizations in 2014 to 195 in 2019. However, fact checking is an activity that anyone can take part in. While the fact-checking process should ideally take place prior to publishing, for a variety of reasons, incorrect information is sometimes released and circulated. Therefore, an awareness of fact-checking processes can aid readers in actively and critically receiving and assessing information.

How has this emerged as an issue?

Fake news came to the forefront of the North American public’s consciousness during the 2016 US Presidential election and has only continued to grow in profile since then, but did you know that the spreading of false information has a much longer history? This phenomenon can be traced back as far as the rise of printed media but the practice really took off in the 1800s with the dawn of the penny press, a time in which newspapers were sold cheaply enough that those outside of the upper classes could afford to access news media for the first time. The issue of fake news came to a head in the 1890s when “rival newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Hearst competed over the audience through sensationalism and reporting rumors as though they were facts, a practice that became known at the time as ‘yellow journalism’” (Centre for Information Technology and Society). This journalistic malpractice is thought to have helped to lead the U.S. into the Spanish-American War of 1898. Thus, in the early 1900s, the journalism industry began tightening their standards for professionalism. Despite this drive to publish only the truth, fake news continued to find avenues in which to spread, such as supermarket tabloids and satirical magazines.

With the dawn of the internet age, fake news found yet another vehicle for dissemination in chain emails. Organizations like Snopes.com have been combatting the spread of “urban legends” online since the mid-1990s. In 2000, a particularly famous fake news story about flesh-eating bananas gained so much traction that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was forced to set up a hotline to help debunk the myth. In recent years, social media has become a key perpetrator of fake news, spreading false headlines quickly throughout social networks. The monetization of the internet is also a driving factor behind the dissemination of fake news. Programs like Ad-sense reward creators for the dissemination of their information, not necessarily for the quality or accuracy of their content. For some, the creation of quick spreading fake news stories can be incredibly financially rewarding.

What is fake news?

There are a few reasons for the current proliferation of fake news. The first is the field of satire. Many satirical stories are over-the-top, outrageous, and funny, but nearly plausible to the point that it can be difficult to tell whether or not they are a joke. This is a healthy, innocuous form of cultural and political criticism that is practiced in functional democracies. Although this particular category of fake news is entirely fictional, its subversive commentary contains inherent and often revealing truths about our society. Examples of satire include The Onion, “America’s finest news source,” and Canada’s The Beaverton, “North America’s trusted source of news.”

But other forms of fake news are much more insidious and dangerous for democracy and public health. This type of dangerous fake news rose to the public’s attention through reporter Craig Silverman’s discovery of a huge quantity of fake news about the 2016 U.S. election that was created by teenagers in a small town in Macedonia. Though the teens stated that their goal was profit, not political influence, their pro-Donald Trump posts were nevertheless shared more than 140,000 times on social media sites like Facebook. Since then, the proliferation of fake news has continued to increase worldwide, especially after former U.S. president Donald Trump began using the term “fake news” frequently in his press briefings and online. According to some, like University of Illinois psychology professor Dolores Albarracin, Trump’s use of this term to discredit major news sources and turn his supporters towards less truthful sources of news played a role in the capitol riots that occurred in January of 2021. More recently, fake news on social media has been responsible for the spread of misinformation concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, including but not limited to false stories about its origination, vaccine misinformation, and the proliferation of racist hatred towards those of Asian-Pacific heritage.

As you can see, all of this has huge effects on politics and public life in general. People share these fake news stories and misinformation spreads, confusing the public about the facts, and impacting the democratic process. The difference between these fake news stories and satire is that there isn’t any humour involved, no underlying point to the farce, just outright deception for economic and/or political benefit.

In order to be more savvy media consumers and not get drawn in by fake news, we must become skeptical consumers of news from wherever it comes from, keeping an eye towards the agendas behind news organizations, national agencies, governments, and whoever else is disseminating information.


Think before you ink

When you’re reading articles online are you being a savvy media consumer? According to the University of Toronto, you can follow these steps to help fact check whatever you’re reading, watching, or listening to:

  • Verify the information with a fact-checking website like orgPolitifact, or Snopes
  • Look at the URL to make sure it looks right
  • Check out the site’s ‘About Us’ page
  • Read other news sources and see if they’re also reporting the story

Another helpful strategy for spotting fake news is to follow the SIFT method. This method encourages readers not to “go down the rabbit hole” of engaging with fake news, but rather to assess sources briefly and efficiently. While this may seem counterintuitive compared to what we have been taught “media literacy” means, Charlie Warzel of the New York Times explains that “[it’s] often counterproductive to engage directly with content from an unknown source, and people can be led astray by false information”. To evaluate a source using the SIFT method, you should:

  • Stop
  • Investigate the source
  • Find better coverage
  • Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context

Following these simple steps will help you determine whether or not the story is credible and prevent you from being misinformed by fake news and sharing a story that isn’t accurate or truthful.


After considering the impact of fake news on our democratic values, does it ever serve an acceptable purpose?

One response to “Fact Checking”

  1. Mahdi Aminie

    Not at all,if it is fake news what is the point of sharing it if its just going to spread.
    It might make people scared or happy but however they feel it doesn’t matter because this news is absolutely fake.

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