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In most documents that give instructions on how to discern facts from misinformation, they highlight the importance of looking for evidence in reliable and balanced references that support/reject claims in the article. However, I was not able to find any of them that explain how to search such reliable references and balanced references.

What guidelines do you suggest for searching for evidence supporting/rejecting the claims in a news article?

Please note that I'm not asking for fact-checking guidelines, but a specific step in news fact-checking that I did not find in any of the news fact-checking tutorials out there.

Again, my question is how to search the Web for evidence to reject/support Political claims in news articles. I'm not asking for generic search mechanisms about scientific (or other sorts of) topics. It's specifically about searching political evidence, and I believe this is the right channel to ask this question.

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    It's a good question, and certainly has some relevance to how political topics are debated and perceived, but I don't think this question necessarily about politics. I probably just google 'how to fact check' or something like that. This kind of need for reliably occurs in science, social media, academia,... all sorts of areas really.
    – ouflak
    Jan 17, 2022 at 12:45
  • @ouflak I edited my question and clarified why I'm asking it in this community.
    – 1man
    Jan 17, 2022 at 16:45
  • I am still not sure how fact checking the news would be on topic here.
    – Joe W
    Jan 17, 2022 at 16:50
  • Then please suggest me another more relevant StackExchange community channel to post this question to.
    – 1man
    Jan 17, 2022 at 18:07
  • related: How can a non-US resident best follow US politics in a balanced well reported manner? Also closed. It's a good question in general, but not really answerable here because asking 2 persons is likely to get you 3 opinions. Jan 17, 2022 at 23:10

2 Answers 2

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(1) Note any previous history of the publication and personnel with regard to publishing unsubstantiated stories, and failing to own up to major items they got wrong in the past

(2) Look for any clues regarding conflicts of interest - e.g. "Tonight's news program on cigarettes is brought to you by Philip Morris", although it's often not so obvious

(3) If political, learn the biases of the publication, and compensate in your reading. The majority of news media have biases

(4) Finally, whenever possible, seek out sources removed from the action, like news media from a third country with a neutral relationship to any parties involved

(5) Take anonymous sources with a grain of salt

(6) A very effective heuristic is to "follow the money". "Cui Bono?"

(7) Understand that in fast-moving stories, it often takes some time for the facts to come out

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A first test can be to check the reputation of the news source you are reading.

  1. Check the reliability of a news website by looking at its frontpage. When you take a look at the frontpage of a news website and only see headlines which show a very clear political slant, then the article you were reading will very likely also be very slanted.
  2. Use MediaBiasFactCheck.com. This website examines lots of news websites and rates their credibility and political bias. Sure, their ratings are also a matter of opinion, and fans of low-rated websites will certainly disagree with them. But it still gives you an idea what you are reading.
  3. It's important to know the difference between "Reporting" and "Editorial". While reporting is at least supposed to be unbiased, editorial content is always an opinion and as such has inherent bias. Most news sources publish articles of both kind and sometimes they are difficult to tell apart. It's far too often that you see people on the Internet trying to add weight to some claim by linking to articles as "sources" which are actually commentary and not news articles.

But still, even a website with a bad reputation might occasionally contain accurate information, and one with a good reputation might occasionally lapse. And even the most ferocious political commentary might occasionally have a point and be able to prove it. So what can you do to examine a specific article without resorting to ad-hominem arguments?

The most important thing is to look at what sources they cite for their information.

  • When they quote politicians, are they quoting on-the-record, not for attribution or on background? When they quote on-the-record, can you find the primary source so you get a better idea of the context and the tone in which it was said? For example, a transcript or video recording of the press conference where they said that?
  • When they quote "scientists" or "scientific studies", then they are likely talking about research papers published in a scientific journal. Can you find these research papers? Does the methodology in the papers seem sound? (This is a more complex subject which is perhaps more relevant for other websites)
  • When they quote surveys, who made the survey? Who paid for it? What were the questions? Clever people can get any survey result they want just by asking the right questions.
  • When they use personal on-site investigative journalism, keep in mind that what they see is anecdotal and filtered through the personal experiences of the reporter. One person visiting a crisis area might make a very different experience than another, and that will affect their reporting.
  • The same applies to interviews with anonymous people from the street. These people can only report on what they have seen and their perception of events. They are not necessarily representative.

But this of course assumes that any of these can actually be found out from the article. Modern journalism in the internet age is trained for brevity and clickbait-compatibility over accuracy, so proper source citing is often omitted. In that case it can be a good idea to look at who else reports about a certain event, and if they cite better sources. Especially media from the other side of the political spectrum can be useful in this regard.

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  • I've upvoted this, but is there any reason the comments about the reliability of mediabiasfactcheck.com were removed? I use that site myself, but being aware that it is not universally seen as authoritative has been enlightening. Jan 22, 2022 at 22:17
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica There was one comment about the reliability of mediabiasfactcheck.com, and that comment was self-deleted by the author. So you would have to ask them yourself.
    – Philipp
    Jan 22, 2022 at 23:30

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