Since joining the Snopes’ online-only newsroom as a fact-checker in 2020, I have helped fight the country’s so-called “infodemic” of malicious disinformation by debunking harmful rumors around high-profile police shootings, COVID-19 vaccinations, political violence — and more. In addition to reporting and the media literacy initiative, I lead a Snopes team to produce a biweekly political e-mail newsletter and help manage the fact-checking service’s social media accounts. Aside from Snopes, I’m an adjunct journalism professor at the University of Minnesota, teaching journalism ethics and best practices for digital storytelling to tomorrow’s generation of journalists.
2022 MJ Bear Fellowship Project
From the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol to persistent misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccinations, misinformation has led to dangerous outcomes over the past year. To combat that trend and strengthen people’s abilities to sort fact from fiction online, I am leading a team of fact-checkers in the Snopes newsroom to share our knowledge of identifying and debunking harmful internet content. Within this media literacy initiative, I have established several categories for grouping resources that aim to educate readers. They include “logical fallacies,” or strategies employed by creators of misinformation or disinformation that tend to short-circuit critical-thinking skills; “tools,” or guides that aim to protect people against specific types of misleading media, such as deepfake videos or digitally manipulated photos, and “explainers,” or pages that define human or technological patterns that play roles in online media consumption. Weekly, team members are producing online-only articles under those labels, drawing from our own experiences of researching rumors and determining their credibility, as well as missteps we often see social media users repeat. Between other editors and me, we are scanning writers’ drafts to see if, or where, they need to readjust their phrasing for the sake of clarity, add more information, or fix grammar/AP style errors. Then, I am compiling the published pages to appear together on snopes.com and helping promote the links on Snopes’ official social media accounts. Meanwhile, I am working with development staff to eventually build a new place on the website for accessing and sharing these educational pages. Ultimately, the project aims to equip readers with important skills to understand how factually-compromised rumors begin online (oftentimes in fringe corners of the internet filled with likeminded people); how, and under what circumstances, false stories thrive (for example, during breaking news events, people sometimes share links to justify their strong feelings, no matter the pages’ legitimacy); and what is needed to stop dubious claims in their tracks. As we told readers, “Misinformation is everyone’s problem. The more we can all get involved, the better job we can do combating it.”