How To Fact Check Any News Report?

News is everything. It’s our window to understanding the world. It’s what decides our thoughts, feeling & perspectives.

And that, makes it of paramount importance to get it in the most accurate form possible.

Our ways of obtaining news are limited to a few News/Media agencies, social media and of course the ‘Word Of Mouth’. Now what we need to understand is that all of the above have some sort of agenda and that makes it susceptible to manipulation of facts.

Before we accept any report we need to pass it through a 3 step verification process.

First Step]
Check Who Is The Publisher? 
Any information follows a simple path. The Source delivers it to the Reporter, the Reporter delivers it to the Editorial Team and the Editorial Team Publishes’ the content.
Anyone who has played ‘Chinese Whispers‘ will note the fallacy in this process. Not only does it introduce a factor of distortion but it also gives complete control over the content delivery to the Publisher.
But that warrants the question, ‘How To Judge The Publisher’?
There are several ways:

  • What is the agenda of the Publisher?
    It will be clear by reading the ‘About’ section of the website/blog/Social Media handle. If they have a declared agenda it automatically lowers their trustworthiness. If not, skimming through a few of their other content should give you a fair idea.
    Note: What the agenda is doesn’t matter. It could be a good agenda or a bad one, in either case it lowers the credibility. It is even more important to not make the mistake of believing in a publisher just because you agree with their agenda. 
  • Who owns/controls the Publisher?
    The general rule for credibility preferences is:
    Citizen Journalists/UGC  >  Privately Owned Wire Services  >  Privately Owned Non-Corporate Media  > Independent Media  =  Privately Owned Corporate Media  >  State Run Media.
  • What is the Publishers track record?
    It can be usually found by googling the Publisher.

IMPORTANT: This is step is extremely preliminary. It just helps you eliminate reports which are published on known ‘Fake News’ sites (Example: News Spoof sites etc.). It will also help you decide whether to accept the it at face value or not. It is NOT definitive.

Second Step]
Logically Analyse The Content:
This is a some what difficult to enact step because it needs you to have a lot of general knowledge and an understanding of the current affairs. Some reports are so outlandish that your judgement is sufficient to disqualify them (whether to do that or not depends on how much you believe in your judgement).
Your logical analysis will show you crucial points in the report whose proof is sufficient to prove/disprove the entire report. I like to refer to them as ‘Arch-Stones’.
Here are the ‘Arch-Stones’ you need to check.

  • Sources:
    Does it depend on a single source, if yes is it a 1st Person or 2nd Person source or a third party observatory.
    If it depends on actual graphic evidence, where did it emerge from?
    If it’s dependent on multiple sources, are those sources affiliated or not? (Basically, several sources from the same family/organisation/ saying the same thing basically institute a single source).
    The General Rule: The more the sources & the more non-affiliated they are, higher is the credibility.
  • Press Releases:
    Press Releases are in the grey area of Credibility. But ultimately they qualify as ‘Single Source’ and should be treated as such.

Apart from the above two other things need to be noted:

  • Citations:
    Which other articles/posts/research does the report cite? Those need to be ran through the same process.
  • Reporter/s:
    Take a note of the person/s who reported it.

Third Step]
Actual Verification:

  • Here’s our list of trusted Publishers: Media/ News Agencies We Can Still Trust.
  • Google Dork to find information about a website by excluding results from the website:
    ”Website Name’
  • Google all sources mentioned. If you suspect something try to contact them directly.
    Find out more information about them. If it’s a observatory then be very thorough.
  • If there is an Graphic Evidence, do a Reverse Image Search using Google Images, it should give you information about the original poster as well as other reports which use the same image.
  • Google the reporter, go to their Facebook or Twitter Feed. Journalists usually post stuff as they get it and the final article is published later. You should scrutinize for discrepancies between content posted by them & the article. There have been instances where even the wording of interviews was changed by the editorial team but the video recording of the interview posted earlier exposed the manipulation.
  • Search all the people mentioned in the report on Google & Social Media, find their accounts and go through their posts.
  • Search the general topic on Social Media and try to find out other sources or the original sources.
    You might also find results of fact checking done by other people. Compare your results with them.
  • Search the topic on forums like Reddit, other chat boards etc. Most likely these are the platforms used by extensive Fact Checkers.
  • Redo some of the steps a day or two later, to find any change or addition in information.

By the end of this, in most cases you will have got satisfactory results or will have reached a point where you need to judge for your own. At any such point it’s good to discuss it with some like minded friend or on Social Media.

Note: All of the above are not hard fixed guidelines. You need to judge for your own. This judgement can not be taught, it can only be acquired through experience and extensive general knowledge. The first step is reading a lot of news from good outlets this will help you with both.

Here’s are two examples where experience and general knowledge played the deciding role:

Example 1]
A report emerged about an incidence, I didn’t believe in it [based on a) The Publisher & b)The Source] but then an official Press Release swayed me in favor of believing it.

Then a few days later I believed in a report [based on a) The Publisher & b)The Source] even though an official Press Release stated the exact opposite.

Because the First Country was Germany & the Second was Iran.

Example 2]
There was a discrepancy between a Press Release by the Indian Navy/Coast Guard and reports by news agencies in Shri Lanka. The reports cited local fishermen.
Based on the source which fell into the ‘Multiple Non-Affiliated Sources’ category against a Single Source (Press Release), the news agencies should have been believed. [Note: India & Shri Lanka have friendly relations.]

But I believed the Press Release.

Although unaffiliated the fishermen were basically fishermen that is they fell into the category of ‘North Shri Lankan Fishermen’. They are constantly complaining that mechanized Indian Fishing Boats damage their business. This is almost an brainwashed belief which put their credibility down the drain.

In both cases, the conclusions reached were later proven.


Author: Rohan Dandavate

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