It’s Time to Start Fact Checking the Fever Swamps

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The topic of the day is “fake news.” This takes two forms. The first is something that’s mocked up to look like a real news site and contains flat-out fabrications. The creators make money by trying to make their stuff go viral on Facebook and then collecting ad revenue. The second type of fake news is more familiar: hysterical conspiracy theories that make the rounds among the grass roots. There’s nothing new about this except for the vehicles it uses. In the past, stuff like this circulated via newsletter, and then email chains. Today it circulates via Facebook and other social media platforms.

In any case, these are both allegedly huge problems. I’m not totally convinced of this yet, since I haven’t seen any data about how widely spread this stuff is and whether it actually changes any minds. I’d put even money that it mainly gets circulated among people who are already highly receptive to fever swamp nonsense and who already hate whichever person it’s aimed at.

Still, let’s assume it’s a problem. Riddle me this: Why is it that fact-checking sites spend countless hours researching the accuracy of statements by politicians, but spend no time researching the latest crank news on Facebook? I recommend they start. To do this, they need to either (a) get deeply involved in the left and right-wing fever swamps so they know when something new is making the rounds, or (b) set up an automated system that alerts them when something political starts to get widely shared. The latter sounds like it might be tricky, but if Silicon Valley is supposedly populated by the smartest people on the planet, surely one of them can create a site updated daily that contains, say, the top 50 wacko viral political stories along with how they’re trending.

It’s time to join the 21st century. In the past, checking out the statements of politicians was important. It still is, I suppose, though few people seem to care much about it. In any case, viral stories on the net are probably a lot more important. It’s time to expose them to the light of day on a consistent basis and explain where they come from and whether there’s any truth to them.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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