The News Literacy Project keeps pressure on fact checking

  • Bob Oswald

    Bob Oswald

 
 
Updated 1/27/2021 11:14 AM

Can fact checkers take a break?

After all, gone is President Donald Trump, who, by The Washington Post's count, lied more than 30,000 times while in office. And his successor, President Joe Biden, in his inaugural address last week, spoke of a responsibility "to defend the truth and to defeat the lies."

 

No more lies? Mission accomplished? Only in a world of alternative facts.

We have to be careful not to let our guard down, according to Darragh Worland, vice president of creative services at the News Literacy Project.

"It would be a mistake to go too easy on Biden because (fact checkers) are fatigued from Trump fact checking," she said. "People need to know what their leaders are doing."

Worland is spearheading the group's National News Literacy Week, running Jan. 25-29.

The News Literacy Project is a nonpartisan, education nonprofit that provides resources and training to help people recognize false information, to know the standards of quality journalism and to appreciate the value of a free press in a democracy.

In partnership with media giant E.W. Scripps Company, the group is sponsoring its second annual News Literacy Week to expand that mission.

It seems to be working.

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During last year's event, which coincided with the primary elections, the group saw a 2,700% surge in traffic on its website, Worland said. Although it later slowed down, there has been an increase in people checking out the site. And just when there seems to be an overload of fake news.

"It could not be more timely," Worland said.

Besides the usual misinformation and conspiracy theories dealt with at last year's event, Worland said the biggest change for this year is an increase in false news due to the pandemic, racial unrest across the country and the general election.

"It seems quaint looking back on last year," she said.

An overload of misinformation will follow just about any event, making conversations much more divisive. Conspiracy theories, once held to the fringes, are becoming more mainstream.

"An alarming amount of people believe in conspiracy theories," Worland said.

So, what can be done?

"We need to bring news literacy to classrooms across the country," she said. "Students are at a significant civic disadvantage without news-literacy education."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Some social media platforms are also taking a stand against misinformation. Twitter recently banned President Trump for tweets that went against its Glorification of Violence policy and for the risk of further incitement of violence.

"Since the pandemic outbreak, social media companies have started to crack down on misinformation on their platforms more assertively," Worland said.

But it's really up to individuals to recognize fake news and be able to determine the credibility of information.

"It's about self awareness," Worland said. "You need to know what biases you have."

As part of its resources, The News Literacy Project addresses confirmation bias -- the tendency to seek out information that supports what you already believe -- as an element of being news-literate.

People believe what they want to believe, Worland said. "Motivated reasoning," used to justify a theory, then spirals into false narratives and conspiracies.

"You lean into theories that support your beliefs," she said.

That's the self awareness part of being news literate. It's the willingness and the ability to look at the other side and believe a narrative other than your own.

"Ideally, you can catch yourself before you fall into (conspiracy theories)," Worland said.

And know that there are individuals and groups willing to spin any theory to support their agenda.

Regardless of the facts, "people unhappy about the election will work overtime to try to dismantle it," she said.

Although misinformation has been flowing since the beginning of time, Worland admits that fact checking over the past four years has been even more exhausting for news consumers and journalists.

"With the opposing narratives, it has been hard for anybody to wrap their head around the truth," she said. "But we're not going to stop until every American is news literate."

To get involved in National News Literacy Week, go to newsliteracyweek.org. Take a quiz to test your news literacy fitness, pledge to get "NewsLit Fit in 2021" and join the conversation on social media.

• Bob Oswald, boboswald33@gmail.com, is a veteran Chicago-area journalist and former news editor of the Elgin Courier-News. His "Facts Matter" column appears Sundays in the Daily Herald.

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