After hearing that factoid yesterday – April 1, 2018 – while listening to CNN on SiriusXM, I had to confirm the accuracy by checking two sources.
Why so exacting, even though I generally trust CNN as a news source?
First, it was April Fool’s Day, when many of us have our guard up against pranks, especially if we’ve ever been involved in April Fool’s Day jokes—whether as instigator, subject or accused mischief-maker.
Second, thanks to college training as an investigative reporter, I’ve maintained both anxiety and skepticism over the years about information. I’m always questioning. “Did I really hear that right? Is that really true? Are you sure? Am I sure?” And on and on….
Checking sources is time-consuming though, especially if you’re in a rush and you’re already feeling overwhelmed with too information swirling around you.
Yet if you’re not careful and take things on face value, you run the risk of being fooled, especially in the environment in which we live. That’s one of the reasons why we should care about #FactCheckIt all year long.
Granted, some information is laughably a hoax that we can see through immediately. Take the call I recently received from someone purporting to be an IRS agent. She told me the IRS needed to confirm information I had provided because it seemed problematic. She said she was going to tape our conversation so it could later be played in court. “Okay,” I responded. “But first,” I continued, “Let me say “hello” to everyone who will be in the courtroom. ‘Hi, everyone!’” My “IRS agent” disconnected me.
But other ruses these days are cleverly designed to trap us. Instead of using scare tactics, these tricks take advantage of our short attention spans and desire to get many things done quickly. These include:
- Well-designed phishing expeditions, encouraging us to click on websites that look like official ones but are actually scams.
- Paid infomercials looking suspiciously like mini-documentaries on TV or online.
- Opinions masquerading as facts in print, TV, video or online.
- The use of celebrities and platforms to spread misinformation and rumors, especially through social media.
- The urge by some to call out anyone or anything they don’t agree with “fake media.”
How appropriate and worthy that we now have a day—April 2, the day after April Fool’s Day—devoted to helping us be more critical thinkers, information consumers, and sharers of facts, figures and opinions.
If you can, check out the International Fact-Checking Network’s website. It offers some helpful tips for students, adults, and anyone else interested in guarding against false information.
However, if you’re short on time, you can follow these suggestions that work well for those I’ve advised as well as me:
- Slow down and pause before you take any rash actions, especially on websites that you’re not familiar with.
- Check, double check and even triple check the source to ensure it’s reliable.
- Avoid passing along links to others unless you’ve checked them out yourself first.
Also, please support journalists by subscribing to at least one newspaper, online or print, or watching network news. Journalists are trained to handle information with care, accuracy and integrity. The ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists, which real journalists follow, is posted prominently on its website for all to see. Journalists help protect our First Amendment Rights in the United States.
Meanwhile, here’s to #FactCheckIt all year long!