Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” Even he would’ve been impressed at the sheer speed at which information as a whole travels today, to say nothing of misinformation and active disinformation campaigns.
As a result of the surge in unverified information, fact-checking, or the process of verifying the accuracy of information shared, has become a vital part of the online content creation, communication and publishing world.
But what are some of the ways that writers, content creators, journalists and other content specialists fact-check the material they write? In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at online, automated and manual methods for fact checking to help you determine which one may be right for your needs. Let’s take a closer look.
Online Fact Checking Methods
With so much information available online, it’s easy to see how online fact checking tools can be so popular. Fact-checking websites, image search and easy source verification make it faster than ever to verify the authenticity of everything from photos to news stories.
Fact Checking Websites
Websites like Snopes have historically been popular for debunking urban legends and outrageous claims, but in recent years, with so much riding on U.S. political elections and what the candidates say, websites like PolitiFact and FactCheck.org have also become more popular to evaluate the candidates in a way that tries to be non-partisan and authentic in its results.
Reverse Image Search
Online tools like Google Reverse Image Search or TinEye help users to determine the origin of an image. If you’ve ever wondered, “Is that photo real?” these services will help you verify the authenticity and originality of a photo and see for yourself whether or not it has been digitally manipulated.
It’s easy to simply hit “share” online and not think of the consequences, but these days, with fake news, deepfake videos and outrageous news claims as the order of the day (and spreading) on social media, taking an extra step to check the credibility of the source is crucial. Websites like Media Bias/Fact Check exist for this very reason – to determine how reliable and reputable media outlets are when they make claims.
Automated Fact Checking Methods
Thanks to the development of AI, machine learning and similar technologies, much of the heavy lifting of fact-checking can be automated. AI and other systems are essentially trained on various patterns and when trained well, can excel at sifting through large amounts of data to flag something peculiar or otherwise inconsistent. Although no automated fact checker is 100% accurate all of the time, recent developments have continued to refine them.
Through the use of pattern recognition and a large assortment of databases, AI algorithms can cross-reference statements with reliable sources. Full Fact’s own live fact checking tool uses this type of technology to verify claims in real-time.
Natural Language Processing (NLP)
Natural language processing or NLP helps in the identification of false or misleading information by looking at the structure and context of the statements. Misinformation often shows patterns that NLP tools can readily identify.
Deepfakes, or AI-generated videos that mimic real people, pose a considerable threat to the spread of misinformation. There are several online tools that have been developed recently to help with deepfake detection, including Sentinel, Intel’s real-time Deepfake Director and Microsoft’s Video Authenticator among others.
Manual Fact Checking Methods
Despite advances in technology and its role in automating the detection of everything from videos to language patterns, there are still some things that humans admittedly do better. Our intuition and critical thinking skills can’t be matched by a machine, which is where manual fact checking thrives.
Primary Source Verification
This method involves going to the original source of a claim. For example, if a statistic is quoted from a research paper, the actual paper in question should be consulted to check its accuracy.
Consulting with experts in a particular field, especially in highly scientific or technical fields can help shed more light on controversial topics that are ripe for misinformation or disinformation campaigns.
Cross referencing involves comparing information from a variety of sources. If all of the sources verify the claim, it’s likely that it’s true.
Not a One Size Fits All Process
Fact-checking isn’t a one-size fits all process. There are going to be instances where one type of fact check is preferable to another purely because of speed and efficiency. With this in mind, here are our suggestions for the best type of fact-checking for your specific needs:
Verify Breaking News
Manual fact checking is ideal for verifying breaking news. Since these types of situations are so dynamic and there are so few facts at the beginning, journalists need to cross-reference with primary sources including any eyewitness accounts, together with experts and other officials to report quickly and accurately on an evolving situation.
Academic (or deeply scientific or technical) information often requires deep and specialized knowledge. Being able to consult with experts can be invaluable in these highly specialized fields. There’s a reason why scholarly papers and research are often peer-reviewed! Consulting with experts in the field helps ensure that the information is reported on accurately and that the data is interpreted correctly.
Image or Video Verification
Being able to determine the authenticity of an image is a much easier and faster task thanks to online tools like reverse image search. These online tools can help you determine if the content has appeared elsewhere or if it’s showing signs of having been doctored or manipulated.
Long-Form Investigative Journalism
Investigative pieces often dive deep to uncover new information. Online resources can help to scratch the surface but manual fact checking will make sure that all of the details are correct before publication.
Speeches or Live Debates
Automated tools can cross-reference statements against reliable sources in real-time, which can help give the audience immediate context or corrections if need be.
As you can see, proper fact checking is essential in this day and age. And although technology offers us several tools to help shortcut the process, human scrutiny of data remains at the heart of being able to tell facts from falsehoods. Whether you ultimately decide to use online resources, automated tools or more manual methods, making sure to fact-check your information before publishing is one small step that you can take toward making a big difference in how we consume and understand the information around us.