Fact Checking and the Internet

Over eight months ago, I wrote a blog post that used a quote. We recently received an email from a person telling us that we had attributed the quote to the wrong person (same name) and that many of the online reference sites (which we had checked) were in error about the author of this quote.

We are in the process of checking out what is accurate in regards to whom the quote belongs to – and it’s not as straightforward as it should be as there are discrepancies online. This process caused some interesting discussions in the AHA office about how deep you should go in order to verify something.

When I was at Maclean’s, we needed to be able to showcase that something was accurate if we wanted to include it in a story – in fact, we needed to have three separate and independent references about the fact or point if we were going to cite it in an article. We use that approach here at our PR agency – however, the person who wrote to us made us question whether, in this day and age, we need to go further than that.

Some facts are easier to check or confirm than others. When we write articles for client newsletters, develop speeches or we produce brand journalism pieces, there is a fact checking process that we go through with the client to ensure that what we are saying is accurate. And, I have to say, in my experience, there is usually a strong commitment to being accurate from the client. If there are errors in their communications pieces, they lose credibility with their stakeholder groups.

Quotes are a little more challenging to fact check (as we are finding), especially with the propensity of the online world to share information. If something is shared and it is wrong, it can be shared again and again while being wrong – and this perpetuates the error.

The world seems to move more quickly than ever these days and there is pressure to get things done. It’s also important to get them done right. And small errors pull at the thread of an organization’s credibility… and they build up.

The error – if it is an error – in our blog post isn’t a huge deal in the big scheme of things, but it matters to us. We’re checking on it and will correct it if it is wrong. And while I think that checking three sources regarding facts is still a good process, we are going to revisit how we fact check and see what we can do to improve.

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