Writing

The shady side to the fact checking trend (and alternative methods for sorting through the lies).

Since the lying, incompetent orange man became the Republican candidate in the US, then president, fact checking websites and other content have been trending. Fact checking has become a buzzword.

Part of that comes down to US-centrism: after all, lying rich people are running most countries, as well as most of the transnationals that are pulverising the planet and people.

And part of it comes down to the trend over recent years, where more people are getting their news from social media feeds.

Blatant lies and manipulation are hardly new things to the US presidency either. Ironically though, it is Trumpface, one of the least convincing or capable liars of the lot, who is the centre of most of today’s “fact checking”.

The issue is that learning how to judge the veracity of what we are told – by political or corporate leaders, or the media – goes beyond verifying if, indeed, “Malia Obama (was) arrested with a gang of thugs in Chicago” or the three key tips in Facebook’s recently released “Educational Tool on Misinformation” (in quotation marks on purpose:P).

Facebook recommends: checking the URL of the site, investigating the source and looking for other reports on the topic. But what happens when a lot of the vile myths, bigotry, and manipulation that we are subject too is covered by a lot of sources, and created by the mainstream media?

Beyond making fact checking habitual before sharing content, we need to promote a culture of critical thought and political awareness. That’s our real defence against misinformation and manipulation, and it means things like: understanding who produces information, why they do it, and what their interests are in doing so (are they click seeking, backed by corporations, or by a conservative state), where information comes from, and how manipulation can come in the form of selective information and leaving out context, not just from factual error. It involves questioning survey and polling methods, questioning the choice of “experts” by the media, and doubting not just how it covers stuff, but why it chooses to cover what it does, while ignoring other significant issues.

People need to see political, social, and economic awareness as a basic human need – and to employ that when questioning the power dynamics behind, for example, the fact that Western media often judges poorer countries as “regimes” and “undemocratic” etc, but not the other way around.

Fact checking is defensive – but understanding the complexity of the forces that decide how we live and if we live- is empowering.

And part of that understanding is comprehending that the fact checking trend is itself a political tool. A lot of the corporate media are using it to build up their own waning credibility, and other sites are using it for SEO, or for political campaigning. What do those motivations mean for the information they are choosing to focus on and supply us with? The Washington Post for example, recently assembled its fact checking team, which tends to focus on Trump and politics but not on corporations – especially those that advertise through the paper.  Did you know that WaPo is owned by Jeff Bezos, a billionaire who is also CEO of Amazon? Is WaPo likely then, to fact check Amazon statements about its workers’ wages? Or about how the book and digital media industries work?

Not all CEOs lie- but they or their companies’ HR team usually does. And these CEOs are running much of the media that claims to fact check.

So while there are a few handy fact checking hacks out there, in the end the secret is being heavily involved in the world you live in, understanding how it works, who runs it, and why they do the things they do.

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