It should come to no surprise to most educators that the Internet is full of misinformation and downright inaccuracies. While some people may complain about Wikipedia as a source for information, my concerns are more directed at news blogs as forms as “new media.” It seems that anyone can throw up a blog, write some complete lies, add some doctored images, and then be quoted on television or on talk radio as a reputable news source. While I’m troubled by the existence and prevalence of these sources of misinformation online, I also know that the Internet offers a host of sites to help folks navigate through the lies. This week, I thought I’d share some of my favorite fact-checking sites to foster some healthy skepticism about the information people encounter online. Whether you’re confirming information you read on some blog, checking on that Facebook advertisement that’s offering free iPads, or looking into the Saudi prince who emailed you about sharing his fortune, these sites will help you sift through the falsehoods and the facts you encounter.
Snopes: Last Christmas, a relative sent me an email about a number of companies that were secretly going out of business right after the holidays. The email advised readers to avoid purchasing gift cards from the establishments for fear that they would be unable to use them once the stores closed down. While its technically an urban legend reference site, Snopes is also a great resource for double checking email communication. After a little searching on the Snopes, it was clear that the gift card email was just another false email that people had forwarded. Besides fact checking bogus emails, the site covers a wide variety of cultural and technical topics. Wondering whether James Taylor wrote Fire and Rain about an ex-girlfriend who died in a plane crash? Snopes can help. Puzzled by an email you received? Snopes can help with that as well. While some of the topics can be a little risque, the site offers a great deal of information in an easy to use manner.
FactCheck.org: Some of my conservative friends might complain about this site because it’s funded by the Annenburg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Although it receives some of its funding from the Annenburg Foundation, the site claims to be non-partisan and will not accept donations from politicians, unions or corporations. The main goal of FactCheck.org is to “monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.” Since a lot of these political ads, speeches and interviews make their way onto YouTube or other sites, I felt that I needed to include FactCheck as one of the sites in this post. It’s a tremendous resource, especially for settling some of those political arguments that might arise over those family holiday get-togethers.
Politifact.com: Keeping with the politics theme, Politifact is a project from the St. Petersburg Times which might make some of my liberal friends angry. Visitors to the site are greeted by an “Obameter” which keeps track of the President’s numerous campaign promises. While this graphic might anger some people, overall the site appears to target both political parties evenly. Besides offering a graphical “Truth-o-meter,” Politifact links to reputable sites where users can see the facts for themselves.
I’m sure there are other sites that can help students fact-check the information they encounter online, on television, in print and on the radio. Regardless of the fact-checking source they use, we as educators need to foster a healthy skepticism in our students so they become better consumers of information. This will not only help them during their educational career but in their everyday life as well.