Absolutely (NOT) Fake News!

We live in a strange time when the term Fake News is heard multiple times a day if you consume any sort of media regularly—TV, internet, magazines, etc. Our Dear Leader uses the term often, especially in his voluminous tweets. So how are we to figure out what’s real and what’s fake when it comes to news? Here is one fun tool that may help shed some light on the topic. Designed to foster certain tendencies in its users, the game Factitious is free on the web. The makers of the game, Game Lab at American University in Washington D.C. and JoLT, another cooperative of various departments at American University, hope to help raise player’s IQ when it comes to spotting the differences between fake and real news.

The game is easy to play. You log on and see this screen:

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You can either go right into the game via quick start or you can register via full start and enter your name, age, gender, educational level and email address to keep track of your progress. Either route you choose the game begins with this screen:

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You are shown a full, brief article that actually appeared somewhere on the web and asked to discern whether or not it is fake news. If you think it is fake, you either swipe left or check the red x. If you think it’s true, swipe right or click the green check mark. Pretty easy, right? Well, not so fast. The article in the second picture above sounds sensational, so it has to be fake right? How can you be sure? It just sounds implausible, right—eating brains has a health benefit?

As it turns out, there are clues, such as are there verifiable details in the story? Are there individuals mentioned by name that can easily corroborate the story? Is the story verified by other outlets running the same or similar stories? These are all good clues that a story is genuine. What are some earmarks of fake news? There are often few to no details for a fake news stories: anonymous sources make spurious claims, there are vague mentions of locations and many other specific details are lacking specifics. Additionally, many fake news stories fail to link to other, known reputable sites, such as major news networks or popular, widely read blogs, and many times the journalists are not mentioned by name.

As you go through the game you are given the opportunity to test how well you do or do not use these tools to make discerning choices in your reading material.  There are three rounds, and you’re given a score at the end of each round:

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By the time you finish you are given a final score and given some mild praise (note the confetti):

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This game is a good way to begin assuring yourself and others that you get your news from reputable sites and are not taken in by deceivers. The game can be tricky, with some outlandish stories proving true and other, more innocuous appearing stories exposed as fake. The real world will often present the same difficulties, so we have to do our best to help decide for ourselves, and others, what sources we can trust and what sources we cannot.

One problem with this site is that there aren’t enough stories loaded onto the site to play more than a few rounds before you start to see stories repeated. I have made a request to see if there is a planned upgrade, but as of this writing I have not heard back. I will update if this status changes.

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How Does the Federal Government Spend?

Most all of us at one time or another have complained or at least wondered about how the feds spend our hard earned tax money. We’ve all heard irritating stories about the Pentagon spending absurd amounts on mundane objects (here is an old LA Times article from 1986 on the topic of overspending in the Pentagon in particular mentioning a $7,622 coffee maker), pondered how the president spends his vacation time or had concerns about some other use of the public coffers that may be wasteful. After all, we don’t want our money spent frivolously or for some unethical government contractor to take advantage of such a huge, difficult to manage entity as the budget of the United States.

That’s where www.usaspending.gov/  comes in. As billed by the site itself: “USAspending.gov is the publicly accessible, searchable website mandated by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 to give the American public access to information on how their tax dollars are spent.”

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Masthead

So you can check on this information in multiple ways. As one example, you may see how much money is spent in the state of Tennessee.

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State of Tennessee

It can be broken down in various ways as well. As can be seen here Davidson County receives well more than 1/3 of the just over $40 billion allocated to the state for Fiscal Year 2017, with a figure of $15,351,958,126. The next county, Shelby, receives $1,620,940,881, and is the only other county to receive $1 Billion or more.

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TN County Breakdown

 

 

There are many more ways to look up information beyond state by state breakdown. This site is just waiting for your curious fingers to enter new search terms or click on the numerous links on the site.

Sorting Fact From Obfuscation

In these unprecedented times in U.S. politics it can be difficult to discern the truth from the spin. The site http://www.factcheck.org/ has taken up the mission of helping anyone who desires to do so. Their mission page states:

“We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.

FactCheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The APPC was established by publisher and philanthropist Walter Annenberg to create a community of scholars within the University of Pennsylvania that would address public policy issues at the local, state and federal levels.”

A quick perusal of articles prominent on the site the day I visited (4/28/17 for the curious) covered such topics as the insecticide chlorpyrifos, Trump’s spin on his first 100 days, Trump’s mischaracterization of President Obama’s purported role in forming the gang MS-13, White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s Hitler gaffe and the 2017 Webby award this site has won.

The site is easy to navigate and there are a few helpful ways to find specific information: you can peruse an archive by topic, search for a desired article or simply browse through the pages. There are additional links to similar and sister sites, ways to ask your own questions and links to other resources offered by the organization, such as ways to browse and view media appearances by their writers.