Discover more from Random Minds by Katherine Brodsky
Who Checks the Fact-Checkers
(part of the Random Minds media literacy project)
When I first started out in journalism, the term fact-checker was quite different than what it seems to have turned into as of late. Back then, newspapers actually allocated some sort of budget to employ an in-house fact-checker who’d go over my work and double check that my work was accurate. That would involve following up with interviewees to confirm key quotes, double-checking facts and statistics I might have used in the stories, etc. Scrutiny. It was a fantastic thing. But as budgets got slashed, especially as free web content growth accelerated, many media outlets had done away with those kinds of fact-checkers.
And then as misinformation and disinformation begun to spread all over the Internet, a new type of fact-checker emerged from the shadows of Mordor. At first, I thought this was a healthy thing. Why shouldn’t there be some independent organizations that vet information and inform the public as to its validity? It seemed useful to have resources to be able to turn to in order to verify information that sounds suspicious.
But, who checks the fact-checkers?
Fact-checking organizations surfaced with a certain unchecked legitimacy and approval by the mainstream. In high school curriculum on media literacy, students are taught that specific websites are the go-to resources for verifying information. Except, very often those resources happen to get information wrong or are loaded with bias. These fact-checking organizations are frequently linked to or funded by organizations or people with vested interests and even though they claim otherwise, there tends to be a general lack of transparency about their internal processes.
Many, if not most, of the fact checking organisations are members of Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network, which is funded by the likes of George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, Google, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, Ebay’s Omidyar Foundation, and others. It’s possible that they all mean well and have no personal interests, but…I especially have to wonder whenever corporations get involved in such activities. For example, why do Facebook, Google, and Twitter help fund fact-checker Health Feedback? Why do Facebook and Google support Politifact? Facebook used to fund Snopes. FactCheck.org accepted funding from Google and Facebook to cover the pandemic.
How well researched ARE these fact-checking activities? How reliable is this information? Does the information only comes from official sources? Are those sources always truthful or are they pushing out a particular narrative? Consider, too, what the mainstream fact-checkers consider to be ‘credible sources’…publications such as the Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, CNN, etc. Even though, they’ve gotten stories incorrect, repeatedly. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve written for them and read them and they’ve done great reporting too. But their names don’t automatically make their stories ‘credible.’ Each story has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
The research, we’re told, is usually carried out by journalists, but who are these journalists? How experienced? Are they entry-level journalists? Journalism students? Experienced journalists? Here’s a hint: Veteran journalists are not likely to be working as fact-checkers. What oversight is there?
Of course there are also entirely fake fact checkers that are made to appear like independent fact-checkers but are actually funded by, say, Russia aligned propaganda outfits intentionally designed to spread disinformation. Wolf hiding in sheep’s clothes. And I’m sure Russia isn’t the only one to exercise such tools either.
It seems that instead of fact-checking, in the true sense of the term, as in verifying firm data—which is what I had hoped these resources would be used for—today’s fact-checking apparatus seems to be more concerned with re-enforcing consensus thinking.
What do you think? Are there any fact-checking resources that you trust? Is there a way to create any fact-checking resources that can be free of bias? Leave your comments below.
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Who am I? I’m a writer with an overactive imagination and a random mind. Outside of Substack, you’ll find my work in publications such as Newsweek, WIRED, Variety, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Esquire, Playboy, Mashable, CNN Travel, The Independent, and many others.
Here, you can expect to see little essays on topics ranging from self-censorship, how to have better conversations and word misappropriation to whimsical thoughts about losing imaginary friends and insomnia. Anything goes. Here, there’s no “left,” “right,” or even “middle”. Just random thoughts. And everyone’s welcome to be part of the conversation—in fact, it’s encouraged.