Fact-checking tips from PolitiFact’s Editor-in-Chief

During the Ragan Communication Leadership Council’s winter retreat, PolitiFact Editor-in-Chief Katie Sanders shared tips for fact-checking questionable sources.

As the Republican primaries rage on, communicators are reminded that this will be an election year of many wild, sometimes spurious claims delivered loudly on the national stage. Whether your function is primarily internal, external or mixternal, the likelihood is high that misinformation or disinformation will reach your stakeholders in some way this year.

Whether the false claims are made with intent to subvert the truth or not, understanding how media and digital literacy skills can help audiences outsmart algorithms, detect falsehoods and make decisions based on verified facts is always good business.

During the Ragan Communication Leadership Council’s winter retreat, PolitiFact Editor-in-Chief Katie Sanders unpacked the tips that she and her team use to fact-check media and questionable sources.

Here are a few of her tips.

PolitiFact’s 7-step checklist

In most cases, you don’t need to do all these steps. Just start and go until you find what’s true.

  • Ask the source about the claim.
  • See if it’s been fact-checked before.
  • Do a basic Google search, then more advanced searches.
  • Strategically search online databases like Nexus, TV databases, etc.
  • Interview experts from multiple perspectives.
  • Use libraries and books. Interview authors so you don’t have to read the whole book.
  • Ask: What else? This is the magic question.

Going further

  • Remember that if the questionable media is only turning up on one medium (like falsified audio that only surfaced on TikTok), that’s a clue something is off. Look for irregularities in the image or context
  • Sometimes people distort a real event, as when a TikToker misinterpreted a class on caring for intersex infants. Whenever possible, go back to the original source.
  • You can find out who is making the claim by using keywords to find out more about a user or news outlet. This is called “lateral reading.” Find their name, the organization they’re affiliated with, etc.

For more information on how to access the full tipsheet and become a member of Ragan’s Communications Leadership Council, reach out here.


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