Roger Daltrey of the Who sang it with a full-throated scream in 1971: “We don’t get fooled again!”
And yet, we still do. Oh, do we ever.
Remember this one from the presidential campaign? The “news story” that spread the lie that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump for president? It was shared more than a million times. Or recall the faked report that the leader of the Islamic State was urging American Muslims to vote for Hillary Clinton.
With the proliferation of hoaxes, conspiracy theories, doctored photos and lies that look like news, it’s inevitable: We’re all chumps sometimes.
For those who are tired of it, along comes the first International Fact-Checking Day — which arrived, appropriately, on Sunday, just after April Fools’ Day.
Think of it as a global counterpunch on behalf of truth.
“It’s not about being killjoys, shaking a finger at everyone, so we’re trying to do it with a sense of fun,” said Alexios Mantzarlis, the 28-year-old director of the International Fact-Checking Network, based at the Poynter Institute in Florida.
“We really wanted to get the public involved in doing the type of fact-checking that journalists do,” said Jane Elizabeth, senior manager at Virginia-based American Press Institute, a partner in the effort.
Among the offerings is a trivia quiz designed for pub-goers.
And there’s a fact-checking lesson plan that, at last count, would expose more than 20,000 students worldwide to the notion of debunking a fake story. It’s available in English and 11 languages, including Russian, French and Spanish, with more to come.
“There is a generation of digital natives who nevertheless are quite digitally naive,” Mantzarlis notes.
Maybe most useful of all: Six “how-to” guides from fact-checking pros around the world.
Combine those with The Washington Post’s guide, published last fall, and you’ll be much better-armed for the endless fight ahead.
Here’s a sampling of the experts’ advice:
Read beyond the headline before sharing. It sounds almost too basic, but huge numbers of people never get past the headline before sending it to others. If they did, they might find out just how dubious its claims are, or at least have cause to wonder. The Post’s Glenn Kessler cites research saying that 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked.
Research the name of the supposed news site. As Claire Wardle of First Draft, a nonprofit organization devoted to trust and credibility issues, writes in her “How to Spot a Fake News Site in 10 Steps”: Such sites “often have names that sound realistic, but have already been flagged by other watchdogs as fictitious. By searching for the name, you might find that someone has already discovered that that page is not worth your time.” (A notorious example is the other ABC News, which is decidedly not the major broadcast network.)
Read the story comments. Jack Werner, a Swedish journalist and founder of a fact-checking organization, writes: “Often, some unbearable know-it-all (like myself) will have questioned the story before you and done some research. This tends to show up in the comments, so dig around.”
On Twitter, look at the number of the source’s previous posts. Aimee Rinehart, also of First Draft, observes: “A social media handle with fewer than 100 posts may be a lurker — someone who only reads posts and does not engage with others — or it might be a new account created in response to a trending news story. Conversely, if the handle has more than 100,000 posts, it could be a bot handle that posts hundreds of links to hyperbolic news stories every hour.” And, of course, look for a “verified” icon, too.
Vary your news diet. Expose yourself to points of view other than your own. And, as Kessler puts it: “Social science research indicates that people are most receptive to information that confirms their own beliefs. So people must constantly challenge themselves and remain skeptical of claims and assertions made by politicians and interest groups, especially if it sounds too good to be true.”
Look for “about” or “contact us” information. If it doesn’t exist on the originating site, or looks suspicious in any way, that’s a danger sign.
Observe other markers of established news sites. Wardle urges skepticism if a site doesn’t have: 1) A date stamp that tells you when the story was published. 2) A byline, which allows you to check on what else the journalist has written. 3) Hyperlinked sources. Wardle: “If there are none, you should be wary because journalists often include links to previous reporting.” If there are links, see where they go.
Of course, most news consumers who aren’t journalists themselves may not have the time or inclination for most of these measures.
In that case, something even simpler may suffice: Read widely, and with skepticism, and share a whole lot less. Every day of the year.
For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan