Check Those Sources For Their Sources
I remember scrolling through IG and seeing a friend post a graphic on their story claiming that the COVID vaccines all had microchips in them to track your whereabouts. I bet you’ve heard that one before.
I decided to check out the page, and it’s from a site called RT.com. They promote themselves as a “truth over censorship” news outlet. However, there were two problems:
- Their claim had no links: the post didn’t have a “link in bio” feature at all, just a claim that the Pentagon developed microchips for the vaccine (and a photo of someone holding up a vial, which is vague enough to be misinterpreted).
- The page itself failed a media-bias fact-check: it’s been ranked as extremely low on factual analysis (and they’re accused of promoting Russian propaganda): https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/rt-news/
So, not only did they lack a resource, their reviews are poor. Not a great combo.
The lesson here is that if you’re going to make a claim, you need to make your proof accessible. Failing to do so implies, at the very least, that you’re not confident in your own sources.
(Hypocritical moment because I’m not linking the original post, but I’d rather not encourage clicks and exposure to bad-faith accounts.)
The next step is to identify the underlying message, or the “frame” of the source making the claim. This strategy comes from my own studies in political psychology, AKA “why, in a political context, do people do what they do & believe what they believe?”
is a bit of a vague term, but in this case, we can define it as the “use of language to determine the context of the information presented to us”. Fancy sentence, I know. Basically, it means asking this question: “what is this source trying to get me to do or believe?”
The underlying goal of false information is that it has an agenda. The source isn’t trying to just share information: it’s sharing wrong information, specifically to spur action and make you do something they want.
This is important because understanding this relates back to the purpose of this step: identify the frame the source is trying to push, or the underlying goal they’re trying to accomplish.
A simple way of identifying a potential frame/influence agenda from a source is to ask yourself a simple question: “is this source making me feel a certain emotion, or implying I need to do a certain act?” If the answer is yes, be skeptical.
Gather Info And Determine A Conclusion
We’ve now arrived at the last (well, not really) step. Once you’ve found your claim online, gathered information on both the claim itself and the source, cross-referenced what you have with other sources, and did some digging on what the sources are trying to prove, you can formulate your own conclusions.
Let’s use the microchip & vaccine disinformation example:
- We saw an IG post online claiming the Pentagon has made microchips for the vaccines to track people. But the post doesn’t have a link to their source for this claim. And the site itself has failed numerous fact-checks.
- Looking up “microchip in vaccines fact-check” we found a Reuter’s article fact-checking the claim, plus a MediaWise video breaking down the claim as well (and both cite their sources!). Furthermore, sources like Snopes, BBC, and factcheck.org all chime in as well.
- Looking at the claim itself, it’s clear that the false sources are trying to get the reader to lose faith in the government, the Pentagon, and scientists. The sources are also trying to decrease faith in the vaccines, and increase the likelihood more people turn them down.
- After gathering all the information, it’s clear that the “microchips are in the vaccine” has a specific agenda it’s trying to push, comes from unreliable resources, and has been proven wrong by multiple reliable resources.
Result? This claim is WROOOOOOOOOOOONG.
So, there we have it. Those are the steps I take when conducting a fact-check online. Like I said before, this isn’t an exhaustive list, and I’m sure there are other methods that are more effective. But this works for me, and even better, it’s teachable!
I hope this guide helps you get started on fact-checking. At the very least, hopefully, it encourages you to dig a bit deeper when you’re perusing through the interwebz.
Let me know what you think. And happy fact-checking!