On Facebook last night, I stumbled over someone repeating a particular claim about Our Federal Government ginning up to do something vaguely snoopy and nefarious. It seemed familiar -- hadn't I read a debunking of it a few days earlier?
So I looked it up. The inflammatory post turned out to have used the same example as "Infowars" had. The truth was more nuanced: the Feds were talking about maybe possibly doing something kind of similar, though not quite as invasive or sneaky. That seemed interesting, so I posted a link to where I found it: Politifact.com, a reputable fact-checker that always lists and links to their sources, so you can follow up for yourself.
The responses were depressing. "Liberal bullsh-t." "Mostly false, so that means it's true." And so on.
No, look, facts don't have a political bias. Politifact and Factcheck.org have been quick to call out President Biden,* his Administration and Congresspeople when they talk through their hat or make up their own "facts." And when they post a piece about it (or anything else), they show their work, links and all, and favor primary sources. It's the opposite of rumor and hype. Politifact often includes a paragraph explaining why they gave a particular rating to an item as well. I don't think they're entirely right every time -- but they make it easy for me to go look for myself.
The Internet's oldest fact-checker (Snopes) started out as essentially an entertainment site and they can be pretty opinionated at times; these newer outfits, along with Tegna's online and on-TV Verify effort come from a journalism perspective and are making a good-faith effort to rigorously and transparently apply high ethical and sourcing standards to their work. I don't always agree with their conclusions in every detail, but they're right most of the time and they always bring more light and less heat to the topic at hand. In a media landscape flooded with opinion, they are working to unearth and share facts, not partisan politics.
It's nice to read and watch news and current-affairs commentary from people whose opinions agree with our own, but it's more useful to get tools for telling the difference between pleasant nonsense and uncomfortable reality.
* Since about a year into George W. Bush's Presidency, it has been my policy to refer to politicians and other public figures by name and title, or by full name, especially on first mention. I respect the office, if not always the individual holding it. I don't use nicknames and avoid the bare last name on first use. This does not indicate any particular regard; I was just tired of BS.
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