Google “fact check” and you will run into some fascinating “fact-checkers” as well as fabricators and facilitators.
BY D. LERNER-RUBIN, JERUSALEM POST, OCTOBER 19, 2019
Let’s assume that most people want to base their opinions on information that is factual, accurate and unbiased. Of course we all pick and choose our sources, and those sources are chosen based on our preconceived expectations. But we try to be objective. Reporters and journalists are taught to be objective. Of course, not everyone paid attention that day and reporters are in fact only human, and we all know about humans. We humans are not perfect, let’s leave it at that. Reporters are in a tough position and must constantly judge their sources. Everyone has an agenda, or so it seems.
What is an information seeker to do? Fact checks seem to be a logical solution to challenge twists on truth, misrepresentations and out and out false information. They are proliferating with the fake news phenomenon. But many fact checking vehicles have their own agenda, naturally.
Google “fact check” and you will run into some fascinating “fact-checkers” as well as fabricators and facilitators. We skeptically investigated a few and threw in a rating system just for good measure – five stars is top honors, one star is just sad.
The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) of the Poynter Institute (“the world’s most influential school for journalists“) brings fact-checkers together from across the globe. Launched in September 2015 to refine and unify the growing science of fact checking, they aim to educate facilitators of news in getting it right. They publish a weekly newsletter, Factually, about fact-checking and accountability journalism, chock full of information for the truth-seeking public and journalists. IFCN set up a code of ethics and standards toward achieving veracity in reportage. They investigate and rate reporting from different organs. The IFCN certification has a one-year limit, and it offers transparency of its investigations.
Politifact is the fact-checking organ of the Poynter Institute. This site (add .com to the name and you are there) has won a Pulitzer Prize – says so right in the logo. The visuals include a veracity meter, The Truth-O-Meter. Mostly true, true, half true, mostly false, false and pants on fire! Truth-O-Meter readings give an immediate indication of each report. Next to the meter is the quote or claim with an attribution and a little image of the claimant. Click on the small box to get the big story. You will get an in-depth, blow-by-blow, detailed examination along with confirmed facts backing the truth as determined by the Politifact team, including accreditations.
The graphics may be playful, but this is a very serious truth seeking organization with seemingly complete transparency. Politifact was created by The Tampa Bay Times in 2007 and was part of that newspaper until it was acquired by the Poynter Institute in 2018. They list donors and amounts donated on their site, and are beholden to no individual or organization. It claims to be financially self-sustaining. Inquiries are welcome.
IFCN deemed Politifact compliant to its principles from June 20, 2019 to June 20, 2020.
★★★★★ Five stars.
FactCheck.org describes itself as a “consumer advocate for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in US politics.” Launched in 2003 by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, their mission statement states:
“We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in US politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major US political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.”
From its inception in 2004 until 2010, it had been funded exclusively by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, Annenberg foundation grants and the Flora Family Foundation. Since 2010, individual donations have been accepted. They boast financial transparency for anyone wanting to explore their backing. The Flora Family Foundation was founded by the Hewlett family “to promote the well-being of people everywhere.”
Interestingly, FactCheck partnered with Facebook (!) in 2017 in order to “debunk viral deceptions circulating” on Facebook. Quite admirable, but they do get funding from Facebook. You read correctly. They claim that “Facebook has no control over our editorial decisions.” They offer detailed financial transparency, easily found on the site.
They cover all the hot topics and people in the US, have some interesting affiliates in truth seeking including FlackCheck.org (for political literacy), NewsFeed Defenders – an educational game for students and teachers to develop tools for determining accuracy in information – Health Watch, SciCheck and Viral Spiral – an Internet rumor exposer.
They look highly credible, but don’t seem to have applied for IFCN accreditation, so:
★★★★ Four stars from us.
Snopes.com is the tabloid version of fact-checking: think National Inquirer on crack. “The truth is around here somewhere“ greets you on the landing page. They claim to be the “Internet’s definitive fact-checking resource.” Begun in 1994 by exposing popular topics, i.e. urban legends, Snopes is the most veteran of online fact-checkers. An independent site with lots of pitches for funding, a store (get your $25 Snopes T-shirt there) and – oh boy! – buy membership in the near future. Topics tend to be light and, well, entertaining. But, wait: On May 14, 2018, Snopes became a registered signatory of the IFCN. It expired on May 14, 2019, and Snopes has not reapplied since. E for effort? Entertainment?
★★ Two stars,
maybe two and a half.
The Washington Post began truth questing in 2007 during the 2008 presidential campaign. Only in 2011 did it become a permanent feature in at the Post. Their purpose “is to truth squad the statements of political figures regarding issues of great importance, be they national, international or local.”
Headed and staffed by a team of highly respected, seasoned journalists, their reveals are stringently factual, well written and researched. They are not dry reads, highlighted and summarized by Pinnochio-ish nose icons that rate the veracity of various claims. Checks are often initiated by readers' inquiries, which are encouraged.
Keep in mind that The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon. The WaPo Fact Checker maintains its independence and clarifies that no person working on Fact Checker is involved in any political activity at any level. They have an up-to-date IFCN badge of compliance.
★★★★★ Five stars.
TheWhistle.co.il is the only Israeli fact-checking site (not including Gil Hoffman). Color coding – blue is true, gray is sort of true/not true, red is just wrong – gives immediate information with more specific shades of truth graphed out along with a quote and photo of the utterer.
TheWhistle adheres to IFCN standards, is a registered amuta (NGO) since August 2016 and boasts over 300 different truth investigations published since July 2017. They partnered with Globes in January 2019. Listed as their sources are radio stations Galei Tzahal, KAN Reshet Bet, 103FM Unlimited Radio, local radio, Galei Israel along with television stations KAN 11, Keshet 12, Reshet 13 and Channel 20 plus a variety of filmed and published news sites.
Compliance to the IFCN’s code of principles in January 2018 confirms that none of the staff has “direct professional involvement in political parties and advocacy organizations.” However, a negative mark is raised with the funding – 16% from the New Israel Fund, 10% from the Morah Fund and 74% from private donors. Noted by the IFCN is the “supporting of leftist causes” of both funds, while each supports the rights of Israeli-Arabs and Ethiopian Jews, advocates for human and women’s rights and actively opposes government policy regarding those groups. The lack of transparency in both funding and spending is pointed out as negative and qualifies that the claim of IFCN compliance is out of place and challenged. Ouch. No revisions or updates have been found since joining Globes in 2019.
At last check, the most recent entry was five days old, and it was a single entry. A lot happens in 5 days.
★★ Two stars.
camera.org (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis) was founded in 1982, and is a special interest fact-checker. It exists to “promote accurate and balanced coverage of Israel and the Middle East.” It is non-partisan, and takes no position on issues or “ultimate solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Clearly, Camera is looking out for Israel and Jews without bias. Information is sourced from just about everywhere and it seems they will take on just about any questionable dissemination of information to provide indisputable evidentiary truth.
Camera has programs on college campuses in addition to a social media presence. Members ($) reap greater information benefits.
The contribution page of the site offers links to financials, including IRS, for transparency. Forget the IFCN seal of approval with Camera.org – they are clearly in a different category, but notable if their special interest is your special interest.
★★★★★ Five stars.
Timothy Leary coined the phrase “question authority.” Those words probably had as much, and possibly more impact on our view of the world than the LSD experiences associated with him. In a world glutted with easily accessed information, we have a responsibility to question the authority and veracity of information. Numerous fact-checking services exist. Many news services offer fact checking at least occasionally if not on an ongoing basis. If you are looking for the real story, you might find a fact checker helpful in your quest. Just keep the salt handy.