May 22, 2020

The Truth About Debunking And Fact Checking

In recent months I have noticed what appears to be an explosion of fact checking and debunking online in response to the fake news crisis that plagues the world. Many new debunking sites have sprung up, many of them no better than what we already had. And some of them far worse.

1. Debunking or fact checking anything by simply repeating claims others make about the topic is neither
debunking nor fact checking. It's 'he said, she said' gossip, journalism at its worst. It's the kind of journalism the tabloids are best known for.

2. Cherry picking is not debunking. For several years I wrote a local political blog about the city in which I live. The most common practice of those "debunking" my work was to publicly cherry pick one small detail that I got wrong while outright refusing to address the rest of my claims publicly or privately. Years later people are learning I was right and the cherry picking came back to haunt those who did it. Cherry picking is common in even the most prominent efforts to debunk unpopular claims.

According to Wikipedia:

"Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position while ignoring a significant portion of related and similar cases or data that may contradict that position. It is a kind of fallacy of selective attention, the most common example of which is the confirmation bias.[1][2] Cherry picking may be committed intentionally or unintentionally. This fallacy is a major problem in public debate."

3. Opinions are just that, opinions. Not facts. Check the source of the opinion. Does it come from a competitor? Might one competitor want another competitor to fail?

Of course you could argue that this entire article is simply opinion but all who read it are quite welcome to debunk or fact check anything I've written here.

3. Do many of the articles you read debunking a story appear as if they were written by the same person or group of people? Sometimes they are.

4. Don't take anything for granted. It has become common practice on many websites to link to their own pages as sources but you won't know they have done so unless you actually follow the link, and thus you assume they have linked to an independent 3rd party.

5. Another dirty trick used by some "debunkers" is to make the claim that something is posted to another website but those of us who actually take the time to follow the links often discover their claims to be false.

6. Quite often titles express the opposite of the truth printed in the article but since far too many of you never click through and read the actual articles you never know the truth.

7. If you automatically shout conspiracy theorist or quack every time certain names come up then you are part of the problem. There isn't anyone reading this who doesn't believe that there are some people who wish to manipulate the media to their own personal advantage and yet the first thing you do, without taking the time to learn anything about the topic at hand, is play into the hands of those who would manipulate the media by dismissing an unpopular opinion as conspiracy theory.

Speaking of conspiracy theories, as I previously wrote in What The Government Fears Most From Conspiracy Theorists:

"Most conspiracies are created after the fact with the only conspiracy being the cover-up. The King fears most, that you might learn what he didn't control. For it is in what cannot be controlled by the King that hides his greatest weaknesses."

Did you notice how I did that? There is no question that I am linking to my own work and not to a 3rd party. It's not just a matter of writing style, it's a matter of being honest. "Debunkers" who aren't using such practices are in-fact lying to you.

8. How do you know I'm not lying to you now? If you are still reading this article on Facebook and didn't click through then you can't check the hyperlinks to know if I'm telling the truth or not.

9. Because someone was previously wrong does not mean that someone is always wrong. As we say here in the Southland, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes." Can I verify that
blind squirrels do find nuts? No, but a simple Google search will verify that the expression is often used.

Did any of you not understand my last link was to a Google search?

10. Another common debunking ploy is to ask lots of different people who may or may not be experts in the field, questions about what was said then put together an article piecemeal. This reeks of picking and choosing which answers the debunker wanted to present to his or her audience.

11. Do the debunkers cite sources?

12. Are the sources themselves unbiased?

13. Are the debunkers unbiased? Who pays their bills?

14. Is the debunker selling books? About what? Are book sales the reason he or she is in the business of debunking? Having published a few books I know from experience that the first thing our publishers recommend is that we write to gain exposure.

15. I only want to know the truth. But when I read an article or watch a video I come away with questions. And if those who are "debunking" the article or video aren't addressing my questions then I can't help but wonder about those doing the debunking.

After all, the job of the media is to report the truth, answer our questions, not leave us with more questions than we started with. And if you can't do that then apparently you don't know the first definition of debunk.

"expose the falseness or hollowness of (a myth, idea, or belief)."

and are relying on the second, less credible definition:

"reduce the inflated reputation of (someone), especially by ridicule."

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