It happens to everyone. I'm sure you've experienced it once or twice. You're scrolling through Facebook (or Twitter, Instagram, your social network of choice), and you see something that just seems a little off. It makes you stop and think, "Huh. That can't be right." This happens to me at least once a week. And usually, I scroll on and forget all about it. But recently, I've been incorporating a new habit into my digital routine: fact-checking.
Whenever I see a post (usually a meme) that seems questionable to me, I do quick Google search to see what I can find. Usually, the first result is a Snopes article that debunks the post, tracing its origin and explaining why it shouldn't be considered legitimate. After reading the article, I copy a link to it and post it in the comments of the post, hoping the person who posted it will read the article and check their sources next time. I'm kind of an Internet vigilante that way.
Fact-checking is fun for me. It makes me feel good to know that my sketchy information sensor is finely tuned and that I can help other people work on theirs as well instead of blindly believing everything they read online. However, I had an experience recently that showed me my fact-checking intentions aren't always so pure.
It started off the way these things always do. I saw something on Facebook that I thought seemed illegitimate. So I Googled it. However, I didn't find a Snopes article at the top of the page. In fact, I found nothing. There were no sources I could use to debunk the claim that the post had made. And that left me feeling disappointed.
I wasn't sad that my sketchy information sensor had malfunctioned (although that is unfortunate). I was disappointed because the post had made a claim that went against my beliefs, and when I couldn't find something to argue against it, I was unhappy about it.
This experience revealed the dark side of my fact-checking habit: I was only fact-checking the things I disagreed with. When I see something that seems offensive or contrary to what I believe, I'm naturally inclined to disbelieve it and seek information that disproves it. However, when I see something that affirms my opinions and beliefs, I'm happy to accept it unquestioningly. This is a natural human bias, but it's one that I had hoped I'd overcome. Obviously, I hadn't.
Each of us has a set of beliefs and values that we consider to be integral to who we are, and that's great. However, if we let those beliefs and values keep us from being open to new information, then we're going to end up being blinded by our own delusions. I tried to reject something just because I disagreed with it. I was wrong. And if I had not been open enough to acknowledge that, I would have missed out on learning some new information that may turn out to be valuable to me in the future.
I'm still a big proponent of fact-checking. Each of us is responsible for checking our sources before we share or espouse something. But we can't just fact-check the things we disagree with. We have to be open to fact-checking information that supports our own opinions as well. So from here on out, I'm going to try to fact-check myself as much as I fact-check others. Ignorance and bias are walls that get in the way of peace and brotherhood, and I'm as susceptible to them as anyone else. So here's to fact-checking—not only others, but also ourselves—and to being open to the beliefs and opinions of others as we try to navigate this complicated world together.