Because honesty really is the best policy.
Let’s face it: nobody’s perfect. No matter how carefully you research a subject or proofread your work, you’re liable to make a mistake or two along the way.
While the internet is a phenomenal resource for marketing your product or brand, it has the unfortunate disadvantage of memorializing your missteps in perpetuity. Whether you’re representing a presidential candidate or a mom and pop shop, the more accurate your information is, the more effective your message will be.
Here are some common fact-checking errors you might come across online, and how they can be avoided.
1. Public Speaking Slip-Ups
As every presidential hopeful taught us on the campaign trail, if you speak often enough, you’re probably going to say something wrong. But just how much does fact-checking that kind of speech matter?
Take the presidential debates, for example. No matter who you were rooting for, it’s undeniable that both candidates, at some point or another, made claims that were blatantly untrue. Luckily, the moderators were able to fact-check on the fly. Even still, this kind of blatant disregard for absolute truth in the public sphere sets a dangerous precedent: after all, how can the American people truly vote in good conscience when they’re working with faulty information?
Thanks to the internet, information is literally at people’s fingertips. So the next time you’re preparing for a speech (or writing an article), make sure any stats you cite come from reputable sources! If you don’t have the trust of your audience, chances are you’ll also lose their interest.
2. Fact-Checking the Fact-Check
Although Radley Balko’s article ‘When fact-checking fails’ came out in 2014, its message holds as true today as it did back then. Although fact-checking is an important part of any political campaign (or business proposal, or blog post), it’s important to make the distinction between something that is technically true, and something that is actually true.
Let’s look at Balko’s example. In a campaign ad, a group of South Carolina politicians accused a gubernatorial hopeful of “protecting criminals,” claiming the man in question “got a sex offender out of jail time, defended a child abuser and represented others charged with violent acts.”
Did the candidate do those things? Well, technically, yes. But he’s a defense attorney: that’s literally his job. In cases like this, it’s important to go to multiple sources to ensure the fact-check isn’t letting overblown claims slide on a technicality.
3. Identifying Fake News
Speaking of going to multiple sources: if you want to write about political issues, or even share a political post, always verify that your primary source is a reliable one.
According to some of BuzzFeed’s top staff, hyper-partisan Facebook pages are publishing false and misleading information at an alarming rate. So before you add to the general outcry, do some research and make sure the information you’re sharing is actually true — perhaps by searching for similar information in non-partisan publications.
4. A Million Little Inaccuracies
In high school and college, teachers generally frown upon use of online sources like Wikipedia, directing students instead towards the nonfiction section of the library. The idea, of course, is that by going through the publication process, these books have been thoroughly vetted and cleared of any inaccuracies.
Unfortunately, as we learned with the “A Million Little Pieces” fiasco, most memoirs undergo no such rigorous fact-check. Originally published as a memoir, the novel was kicked out of the Oprah book club when it came to light that a good deal of its content was fabricated.
Luckily, Atlantic contributor Kate Newman has some advice: “Perhaps in a perfect world, every publishing house would have an army of fact-checkers — but what can we do until then? At the very least, it’s important to read more critically, especially for journalists, who perpetuate untruths when they rely blindly on books for fact.”
5. Tracking Typos
The occasional typo might be hard to avoid, but remember — even the smallest of mistakes has the power to change the entire meaning behind your message!
Take, for instance, this misprinted bible. Published in 1631, the holy book has one seemingly minor mistake: the word “not” is omitted in one of the 10 commandments. Now colloquially known as the Sinners’ bible, this book encourages its readers to commit adultery.
So the next time you’re publishing something important, make sure you’ve scanned at least once to make sure all the words are where they should be! Otherwise, you could end up with a faux pas of biblical proportions.
6. Misspellings in Media
Some words suffer from common misspellings: lose vs. loose, or they’re, their, and there. Although these typos are embarrassing, your reader will still probably get the gist of what you were trying to say.
Some misspellings, though, seem almost too ridiculous to be true. Take this newspaper, for instance, which misspelled its own name. Scroll down, and you’ll find a recipe book that instructed cooks to make their salsa with “2 tsp. of cement” instead of 2 tsp. of cilantro.
Again, avoiding these kinds of typos really come down to double- (and triple-) checking your work before you send it out to the metaphorical presses. If you have the time, returning to the piece with fresh eyes a few hours after completion can be the difference between a quality article and a newsworthy misstep.
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