With all the phony headlines and hoaxes floating around the Internet, it can feel like April Fool’s any day of the year.
At PolitiFact, we’re debunking more false claims than ever. It’s a sad trend that people will maliciously invent fictitious stories and then pass them off as real, hoping for clicks. That’s our definition of fake news.
The hoax stories tend to straddle the line between absurd and disturbing. For the record, former President Barack Obama was not hauled into court for wiretapping President Donald Trump. A Hispanic woman who spoke publicly in support of Trump was not then deported. And the rapper Snoop Dogg was not arrested after criticizing Trump in a music video. If you only rely on social media, you might not know the truth.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
This year, fact-checkers around the world are taking a stand in favor of facts. We’ve decided to declare April 2 — the day after April Fool’s Day — as International Fact-checking Day. It’s our way of proclaiming the need for strong evidence and solid facts in politics, journalism and everyday life.
PolitiFact is part of the International Fact-checking Network, a group formed to encourage fact-checking around the world. In 2016, at a meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, we brainstormed the idea for an International Fact-checking Day as a way of bringing more attention to fact-checking and fact-checking methods.
We’re inviting you to join us in affirming the idea that in a complex world, facts matter.
You have a role to play here. There are many things people can do in their everyday lives to encourage facts and fight against falsehoods.
You can begin by training yourself to be a savvy news consumer. Seek out trusted news sources that have a strong track record of accuracy in their reporting. Look for well-researched, detailed reports. Find news organizations that have a demonstrated commitment to the ethical principles of truthfulness, fairness, independence and transparency. (We adhere to those principles at PolitiFact and at the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald, so if you’re reading this, you’ve made a good start.)
Be very cautious about sharing inflammatory news stories on social media. If a headline strikes you as so outrageous that you want to immediately tell all your friends about it, take a quick pause. It might well be fake. You can do your homework by inspecting the source of the news story. Is it a news organization you’ve heard of? Look at the web address. Is it a clever knock-off? For example, abcnews.com.co is a phony version of the actual news site abcnews.go.com and is a purveyor of fake news.
Other signs that a website might be fake are grainy graphics, off-kilter logos, and too many ads with flashing visuals or pop-ups. These click-bait websites offer quick-turn, low-quality content in a quest to maximize revenues. If every other story on the site seems outrageous and partisan, you might have stumbled onto a fake news site.
Be especially suspicious if the story makes a claim about people who hold the opposite political views as yourself. If you hate Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, you will be susceptible to stories that vilify them.
It’s fine to have political views, but we need to accept our own biases and how our strongly held viewpoints can make us more credulous about things we’d like to believe. There’s an old saying that if something is too good to be true, it probably is. The opposite of that applies on the Internet: If something sounds too awful to be true, it might not be. The bottom line is we all should do a little homework before clicking the share button.
Then there’s what you do when you see a friend or acquaintance has shared fake news on the Internet. It’s good to correct it, but do so with evidence and do it gently. When people are confronted harshly, it’s human nature to dig in and refuse to change. The best hope to get the truth out is to politely correct people and offer a link or two for evidence. Better yet, have those conversations in person. It’s easy for people to argue fiercely on the Internet, but it’s much more convincing to have a convivial discussion over dinner, drinks or coffee.
Finally, be prepared to work your brain in search of knowledge and dialogue. No one will hand you the truth on a silver platter. The wisest among us have always known that truth-seeking is a process. We get closer to truth when we stay open minded, seek multiple sources, check, re-check, look again and discuss.
We launched International Fact-checking Day as a fun way to get people talking. But the issues at stake couldn’t be more serious. People need accurate information in order to govern themselves in a democracy and make decisions in their everyday lives. We hope you’ll help us spread the word about fact-checking and the importance of facts, not just on April 2, but every day of the year.
Angie Drobnic Holan is the editor of PolitiFact. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @AngieHolan.
Politifact Florida is a partnership between The Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald to check out truth in politics.