Fact checking is even more important today in this era of 'fake news'.
Image: politifact.com

Did you know there are about 80 species of locusts eaten worldwide? Or that Ontario uses 416 million litres of lakewater daily, in agriculture alone? I didn’t know these facts either until I became a fact checker, and what a world of crazy strange things I’ve learned since then. From craft beer, to asbestos, to nanoparticles in food – I’ve got a fun fact for it.

In case you don’t quite know what I mean by ‘fact checking’, it essentially involves going through an article with a fine tooth fact-comb, and verifying that all the facts are accurate and true. It’s a necessary step in the process of getting a piece from author to reader. Besides being important for your organization’s credibility and reputation, skipping the fact checking step can lead to some pretty sketchy situations, like the fake news and alternatives facts that flooded the internet during the most recent American election.

In an age of confirmation bias, and news bubbles created by social media, I’m grateful to fact checking for making me think more critically about everything I read. I find that in my day to day life, I tend to be far more attentive to inaccuracies in articles that I don’t agree with, but fact checking has given me a whole new perspective. No matter what I read these days, whether I agree with it or not, I’m always keeping an eye out for any kind of factual funny business. And when I’m chatting with people, I find myself adding in little disclaimers like ‘don’t quote me on that’ or ‘I’m not totally sure where I read that so it might not be true…’

In an age of confirmation bias, and news bubbles created by social media, I’m grateful to fact checking for making me think more critically about everything I read.

Sometimes checking a fact only takes a couple of minutes: a lucrative Google search, or a trip to the links at the bottom of the Wikipedia page. Other times, it’s a little more involved. You might end up making phone calls and sending endless emails to authors or interviewees. One memorable time I copy pasted 4 pages of a Japanese website into Google translate in order to double check a fact. Fact checking is no-holds-barred; you do what you’ve got to do to get to the truth.

But above all else, it’s a learning opportunity, and a chance to read and immerse yourself in cutting edge journalism! You learn so much in a short amount of time, I practically feel as though I’ve taken a crash course on the subject of every article I’ve fact checked. And you develop great research skills. I’ve learned how to search for the information I need much more effectively, and how to find reliable sources quickly and easily. If it’s hard to find the answer, I’ve learned not to be afraid to pick up the phone and call someone who might know. Interestingly, everyone seems happy to help when you say you’re a fact checker.

And  guess what? Alternatives Journal is always looking for fact checking volunteers! So shoot leah@alternative.ca a message and experience the wonder of fact checking for yourself!

 Mimi Shaftoe is in her third year of Conflict studies at the University of Ottawa. She's passionate about climate and environmental justice, and loves to read and explore new places. She is currently coordinating on A\J's Summer Student Takeover.

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