The lost art of fact checking content

How does an individual keep their sanity within a crowd?

What space is this and how do we define it?

Technology in this day and age is a huge chunk of our everyday lives. From the time we wake up until we call it a night – most of us are looking down on life (quite literally speaking!) by looking into our mobile phones. 

There is so much noise and chatter that surrounds us, and what we cannot seem to free ourselves from and get a proper insight into what is fake and what is not fake content.

How is this happening:

  • The consumption of news through online media or the “Whatsapp University”
  • News is readily available via capsule news apps such as InShotsr, which pop up with headlines on our screens as we subscribe to them.
  • Every individual wants to be a part of the noise and stay relevant, with either an opinion or a forced opinion.

How does one look past these and learn to self-evaluate and think for yourself? The barrage of WhatsApp forwards these days, funnily enough, reminds me of the e-mail messages we once used receive when people would send a random e-mail detailing some feel-good facts and then at the end of it state that you have to share this with 7-10 people first for it to come true, or you are doomed!

Amusing, right? Well, that’s exactly what I think about when people around mindlessly share information without any facts or previous articles in support of what they share. False information, fake news and engineered news seem to abound.

News before and now

  • Before the technology spur - news first appeared in the offline channels and then what became supremely newsworthy ended up as trending online or what we’d call “viral news”. This approach involved just the media and had creditable fact worthy content, often extensively researched and then published. Journalists often did use the “click-bait” approach to have public get attracted by the headline in order to read the entire article.
  • Present day – Over the past 5-7 years and what still continues is a reverse trend, whereby what’s trending/ viral online makes it to the offline channels. This approach involved the public mostly and the rise of the whole “herd mentality”, minus fact checking. The journalists still continue with the “click-bait” approach. However, due to reduced attention spans and more technology available to consume, people seldom read the entire article and only consume the snippet of what they see upfront and form opinions.

Repeat after me – “Ignorance is not bliss.”

As PR professionals, our job is to be responsible for the brands and the public about the information that gets passed on through the various channels of communication – offline, online, word of mouth. 

It’s a “chaltha hai attitude” (lax attitude) that we should stop succumbing to, and I would sincerely hope that more people within the industry start questioning facts with brands and their decision makers in focusing on quality rather than quantity. 

There is something known as the SMART principle and that stands for being – Specific, Measurable, Accurate, Reliable and Timely. With the rise of capsule news apps, the risk we tend to face is with the news headlines that are just viewed and then passed on without reading the entire article.

The same goes with the sharing of news on microblogging sites such as Twitter, where recently I had to send out a counter tweet during India vs Pak world cup match as people were speaking fake information to hatred amidst religions and divide the people. 

Thankfully a lot of us know the sport and know how to keep our emotions for the sport separate from what’s trying to be manufactured around us. This is the mentality we have to start adopting while being aware citizens ourselves -thinking for ourselves first.

It’s not just the media that has a responsibility to the public, but also everyday citizens who consume and share the news.  While it is okay to have opinions, looking at both sides and analyzing it for what it’s worth is the task that lies ahead of us before sharing information. 

The solution and appeal, therefore, is to those responsible for sharing news to have it backed with enough accurate information and making the online and offline consumptions of news more detailed with fact-worthy headlines, rather than a distorted opinion of the article you are sharing. 

Context is key and the way forward is to approach news in a more sensitive and mindful manner.

Anuradha Kumar is a PR consultant and a cricket fan.  She has a Masters in Advertising and Marketing from the University of Leeds that she says helped her in understanding the concept of "thinking about thinking"

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