Just a little more than a year out from the 2020 presidential election, we’re bombarded by news and advertisements for political candidates. Fears about foreign countries unfairly influencing the election are running high, as are accusations about candidates’ connections, voting records and lobbyist affiliations here at home.
Just last week both Facebook and Twitter refused to remove ads placed by Donald Trump’s reelection campaign because the ads — widely shown to be false — do not break either social media platforms’ policy. Political ads and statements are considered direct speech, and therefore not subject to fact-checking.
In a speech to students that same week at Georgetown University, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said, “I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100 percent true.” But just because Facebook, Twitter and others can’t fact-check, you can.
There are a number of fact-checking services online that you can use for free, but it’s just as important to vet a fact-checking site as it is to verify the information itself. According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), a good fact-checking site uses neutral wording, provides unbiased sources to support its claims and reliable links.
A good one to try is Politifact, a Pulitzer Prize winning website owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Politifact is known for its Truth-O-Meter that rates statements as “True,” “Mostly True,” “Half True,” “False,” and “Pants on Fire.” Use this site for quick fact checks and for more in-depth analysis. You can search by person and by subject. If you’re a multitasker, you can follow Politifact staffers’ live tweets during the Democratic primary debate. The next debate will be held Nov. 20, co-moderated by MSNBC and the Washington Post.
Alternately, try FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer advocate site from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. It aims to “reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics,” by analyzing political TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.
While not strictly a fact-checking site, AllSides.com provides multiple perspectives on selected issues. You’ll see a news story from the right, the center and the left. For instance, for the Zuckerberg news cited above, AllSides shows stories from Politico (left), CNET (center) and Fox News Online (right). You can also see a full news media bias rating for each source. It is critical that you recognize bias in reporting, and this site is a useful resource. You can use this knowledge to do some fact-checking for yourself.
Use a Google search to debunk so-called facts you see in Facebook ads or elsewhere. Type the URLs of the sites you’d like to include, separated by the OR operator, and then the phrase you’re looking to verify. In our example, you would use this search: site:politifact.com OR site:factcheck.org OR site:allsides.com facebook political ads.
Because Facebook is rife with political ads, which are specifically targeted to your demographic group — by age, gender and interest — you should take a step back and eye the content with some skepticism. Like with phishing emails, these ads are carefully designed to generate an emotional response and then prompt you to take action, whether that’s making a donation, buying a T-shirt or visiting a candidate’s website, and ultimately winning your vote. The more inflammatory or heart-wrenching an ad, the more effective it may be, but don’t be swayed by these words and images. Instead, fact-check, or mute them altogether.
You can hide political ads and other posts with Social Fixer, a browser extension that comes with pre-made filters. Download Social Fixer, https://socialfixer.com. Once installed, open or reload Facebook. You’ll see a new wrench icon in the menu bar. Click Social Fixer Options to open a window and click on Filters in the navigation panel. You’ll see a list of pre-made filters. Click the plus sign next to Election/Politics 2019 to hide political posts from your newsfeed. You will see a small note indicating a post was hidden by Social Fixer. This filter is continuously updated with keywords and phrases as new political topics surface. You can also add your own filters when you identify a topic or person you would like removed from your feed, political or otherwise.