Dispatch New Mexico - Fact-checking websites can offset fake news

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By Tom McDonald

One of my favorite website resources is Snopes.com. It’s straightforward, nonpartisan and well sourced in its findings, and in this era of fake news, it’s a great way to discern fact from fiction.

Of course Snopes is not the only fact-checking website out there these days, but it’s widely considered one of the most reliable. Criticisms that have been leveled against Snopes have pretty much been debunked as baseless by other fact-checking sources like Factcheck.org.

The site was created by a husband-wife team, Barbara and David Mikkelson, who launched Snopes in 1995 to chase down the sources and accuracies of urban legends. Since then Snopes has developed such a strong reputation for truth-telling that some hoaxes will actually claim to have been “checked out” by Snopes, apparently as a way to discourage people from going to Snopes to see for themselves. I got an email that made that claim and, sure enough, when I checked it on Snopes, the email came up as “False.”

So the hoaxers are hoaxing Snopes. It’s the world in which we now live.

Today’s top claim on Snopes.com: “An eighth Russian with ties to the Trump-Russia scandal has mysteriously died.”

“Unproven,” declares Snopes, which then backs up its conclusion with a lengthy report on the claim and the research done to determine its accuracy. “As of 9 March 2017, no credible news reports have placed (Alex) Oronov in the midst of the so-called Kremlin “peace plan” meeting, and according to his son-in-law and others, he would have been physically unable to have been involved. He also did not die under suspicious circumstances,” Snopes concludes.

Good, factual information for anyone who prefers the truth over all else.

Just for the fun of it, let’s bring Snopes closer to home. In searching the site for New Mexico-related report, I turned up:
• Donald Trump is not planning to rename New Mexico, as reported by a fake-news site during last year’s campaign. Nor did Trump say he’d build a wall around our beloved state, as reported by another faker last year.

• Another questionable media outlet reported last summer that an “Islamic refugee” was apprehended in Luna County in possession of a gas pipeline’s plans, presumably to blow up the Deming area. Snopes called the sheriff’s office there, as well as U.S. Border Patrol, and both said it appears to be a totally fabricated story.

• Of a less serious nature, here’s one that is confirmed as true: There’s a portion of highway at Tijeras in Bernalillo County that, when you drive over the rumble strips at 45 mph, plays “America the Beautiful.” Snopes checked it out and confirmed its existence — even posting a video of the highway’s “performance.”

I’ve heard about this singing highway but have never traveled the section of Historic Route 66 that has it. Now that Snopes has fully informed me of this clever creation, I might just have to seek it out on my next trip through the East Mountains. That would certainly be more convenient than visiting the other musical highways Snopes mentioned — in Denmark, Japan and South Korea.

• Another true New Mexico story dates back to 2004, when President George W. Bush made a stop in Roswell and held, sort of, an impromptu “press conference” at a now-closed restaurant in Roswell.

A posted transcript of the exchange between Bush and members of the press corps is, I think, laugh-out-loud funny, with reporters asking serious questions and trying to get presidential responses, while the president focuses on getting the correspondents to order something to eat and “help the local economy.”

Oh for the old days when presidents and reporters could enjoy some friendly banter. I’ll bet David Gregory — then an NBC correspondent that Bush called Stretch in the transcript, according to Snopes — misses those times as well.

Of course, Snopes is but one of the many truth-seeking sources out there. FactCheck.org and Politifact.com are a couple others I’m fond of. Rising concerns over fake news have given the fact-checkers a greater importance for media consumers who prefer fact over fiction.

So next time you’re about to share that outrageous email with all your friends, take a moment to copy and paste the claim into Snopes’ search bar, or go to some other legitimate fact-checking site, and see what the fact-checkers have to say first.

Still, you’d best be careful, because truths don’t always fit neatly into our preconceived notions. For a lot of people, the truth can be more offensive than a big fat lie. But, hey, as offensive and inconvenient as it can be, the truth is still factually based.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He can be reached at tmcdonald@gazettemediaservices.com