I am old enough to remember a time when people didn’t get their information from computers. My generation used a computer to enjoy a few rounds of Maths Circus or to send the occasional email. For information, we turned to books, news shows, newspapers, qualified experts and so on. We used reliable sources that did their utmost to find, check and report the facts to people.
We now live in a world where we are constantly glued onto our screens. We’re connected by an internet which gives any person or group a platform to blast unfiltered (mis)information at millions.
Why does fact-checking matter?
The internet has now become utterly overrun with websites and social media personalities that push nothing but twisted facts, propaganda and lies that seek only to serve their agendas. Should any facts contradict what they say, they either dismiss those facts as fake or ignore them. These people are often charismatic and entertaining, the “information” that they push seems convincing and effectively appeals to people’s individual fears and biases.
The consequences of this propaganda epidemic extend well beyond the computer screen. Let’s not forget that it was almost definitely internet propaganda that inspired a fellow Australian to kill 50 innocent people in Christchurch in 2019. It’s misinformation about minorities that divides our communities and encourages people to join hate groups which demonise and harass those minorities.
Politicians who ignore facts push through harmful legislation (like the racist White Australia policy of 1901) and can block legislation that could actually do some good like declaring a climate emergency.
Something must be done to ensure alternative facts don’t do any more damage. We can’t click our fingers and change the minds of every uninformed Australian but you can take steps to ensure that you are never fooled by inaccurate information.
Here’s a guide on how to tell if something you read or hear isn’t factual.
Research the person or platform stating the fact
Search the name of the person/website on Google (or Wikipedia) and if terms like "biased", "controversy", "banned", "conspiracy theory", "misleading" or "libel" appear then it’s a good sign that the person/website shouldn’t be used as a source of information.
Does the source openly refer to itself as "conservative" or "socialist" or other such labels? If so, then they are skewed towards a certain political side and what they say will be biased towards that agenda at the expense of accuracy.
Check for sources
Does the article/video/post have any sources? If not, then it could just be an opinion and therefore not factual. If there are sources, check them out. Repeat step 1 for each source.
Check the date
Sometimes a post that’s several months/years old will be re-shared on social media, that doesn’t mean it is untrue but it could no longer be relevant.
See if it is satire
Sometimes an article is satire and therefore should not be considered a news source. If the outlet is one of these then enjoy the laugh from reading, but don’t consider it fact!
Consult a fact-checking site
For an Australia-based fact, check to see if it has been confirmed or debunked by one of Australia’s three main fact-checking sites: AAP FactCheck, AFP Fact Check and RMIT ABC Fact Check. Snopes is an excellent fact-checking site for stories around the world, mostly American ones.
Now that you are a fact checking genius…
If you do determine that something you’ve read or seen online isn’t accurate. Don’t believe it or allow it to influence you.
Seek out only factual, verified information and vote only for politicians who accept such information. Put last anyone who ignores scientific facts about climate change, tweets conspiracy theories, are “okay” with white supremacist content, happily attends a reprehensible provocateur’s speech or do anything else of that nature.
A nation led by people who listen to facts and ignore propaganda and lies will be a great one. Let’s Make Australia Factual.
Markos is a writer and researcher who loves to share interesting content about everything. You can find him on @FactBuffet (https://twitter.com/FactBuffet) where he tweets interesting facts multiple times a day.