gallery The Importance of Fact-Checking

By: Jericho Cook

Technology is a wonderful thing: it allows us to be connected with people and events all over the world in a matter of seconds; it allows us to tune in to live broadcasts where we have a point-of-view experience in Hong Kong while sitting on our couches in North Carolina; it even allows us to have access to literally all of the information in the entire world at our fingertips.

Yet it seems that as technology advances and becomes more readily available, the less likely individuals will use that technology to ensure the content they are being fed is credible. With the influx of fake news sites ubiquitously scattered across the expanse of the internet (even though I’m not referring to CNN, they’re certainly not helping themselves), I believe fact-checking is more important now than ever before.

Wikipedia lists approximately 50 individual sites as being fake news websites, but the real number of fake news sites is more than likely exponentially higher than that. So if fake news sites are a dime a dozen, how can we be sure that we are not suckered into believing the misinformation that they present?

The fact of the matter is that, regardless of political affiliation, we need to make sure that we gather information from both sides of the aisle. We also need to make sure that we are not relying on solely one source for all of our information.

If Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are all reporting the same information, then we can more than likely trust that information to be credible.

The problem with a lack of fact-checking is that it can lead us to formulate opinions and biases on matters that may or may not even be true. This phenomenon is exceptionally dangerous because it can lead us to make decisions or take part in actions, that could potentially cause rifts between us and our longtime friends or family, all over something that is not even real to begin with.

For example, in one of my political science classes the other day, we were required to read an article where students at UC Berkeley “debate [the] cancellation of Milo Yiannopoulos speech”.

Even though the article could barely fill a full page in a Microsoft Word document, there are two major inaccuracies that I have found within it: firstly, the event was not cancelled, it was forcefully shut down by violent protesters; secondly, the article cites that Milo “has used racially charged language”, yet the article linked to that accusation does not mention anything that Milo said directly. In fact, it is essentially just an article about Leslie Jones, as Milo is only mentioned one time during the entire piece:

“In the wake of all this, Twitter permanently suspended the account of Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative commentator, for his role in what they say was a campaign to target Leslie with abusive tweets. Yiannopoulos says he did nothing wrong and that ‘Twitter’s permanent suspension of my account makes a mockery of their claims to be a free speech platform.'”

Although these inaccuracies may not seem like much, let me paraphrase an incident that I overheard during our class discussion…

Student A: “I don’t even know who Milo actually is, who is he?”

Student B: “Oh, he’s like the face of the Alt-Right movement. He just goes around and says really racist and sexist stuff.”

So, there are a couple of problems with this simple exchange:

  1. I can only presume Student B referred to Milo as being the “face of the Alt-Right” due to them seeing other media sources falsely attributing him with that title. Here is the full text of a speech Milo gave in Houston titled ‘HOW TO DESTROY THE ALT RIGHT’, in which he says “Just to be clear, I don’t consider myself a member of the alt-right.”
  2. When Student B says that Milo “says really racist and sexist stuff”, they were literally citing the article that we had to read for class (which was mentioned above).

I hate that I even have to qualify this, but please don’t misunderstand me as defending or justifying the outright lewd and radical things Milo often says. I am simply pointing out the problems that may arise if fact-checking is ignored.

While I am not suggesting that doing a couple of minutes worth of digging will change your entire perspective or opinion on someone or something, it will at the very least allow individuals to formulate a position using concrete evidence and facts.

Which is in desperate need nowadays.

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