All Along the Watchtower
…Sure, there are examples of Fact Check Journalism doing good. And then there’s the NPR Fact Check of the 2019 State of the Union Address.
It’s a long read. I recommend it. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself agreeing with most of the commentary. If you’re not, then maybe you won’t. But whether you agree with the commentary or not isn’t the point. Ignore whether you agreed or disagreed with its sentiments. Read it again and ask yourself: Is this really a fact check? Or is this person trying to shape how I think by presenting his or her opinions as a fact check? As it happens, I think you’ll find that there are actual fact checks in the article, mostly in the well-researched responses to the immigration and border wall questions, other responses to foreign policy and national security questions, and in many of Jim Zarroli’s checks on economic statements.
But with those exceptions, NPR’s Fact Check is an analysis, commentary and opinion piece. There’s nothing wrong with that on its own. That’s an important role of the press. But publishing a piece like this as a ‘fact check’ is not just fiat news. It is fraud, a fraud of the kind that will kill confidence in the media stone dead unless others of influence recognize it and disavow it.
What am I talking about? Let’s take a look.
Three Glaring Examples Proving Snopes and the AP Have No Business Being Official ‘Fact Checkers’
Snopes and the Associated Press have been given power over social media to define truth but they are often wrong and the consequences are grave.
While our readers are still smart enough to check multiple sources and keep us honest, the power of Snopes and the rest of the “fact checkers” has grown immensely and ominously. Now, Snopes, the AP, and Politifact have woven themselves into the fabric of social media and have become the be all end all of “truth.” As a result of this new cozy relationship, they have the power to silence anyone they deem to be false—facts and reality be damned.
What’s more, if these new arbiters of online truth do deem content to be “false,” whether it is or not, the victims have zero recourse to challenge them and will see social media reach—no matter if it took years to build up—throttled and subsequently turned off.
But they are doing a service to weed out fake news, right? While Snopes and the like certainly do debunk many fake stories, the idea of solely relying on them for the truth is chilling.
Case in point. Within the last month, Snopes and the Associated Press both claimed that articles we wrote were false when they clearly were not. As a result of their illegitimate claims, the Free Thought Project has watched our website traffic drop.
On June 8, Snopes attempted to claim that a story we wrote about Veterans on Patrol was false by claiming that we said this veterans group discovered a child trafficking camp in Tuscon, AZ. The only problem with this claim is that we never made it. The Free Thought Project merely reported on the activities of VOP and noted the possibility that this camp could also simply be a homeless camp. It’s why we used quotes in the title around “Child Trafficking Camp” because these were their words, not ours.
Nevertheless, thousands of Facebook users who shared our article received a notification that they had shared news that was determined to be false—when, in fact, it was not.