Someone once said that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.
It may have been Mark Twain. Or Jonathan Swift. Or Winston Churchill. All of them have been credited with inventing the saying, which in and of itself proves the difficulty of finding truth.
Wherever the witticism came from, at no time has it felt more literal than in the age of the internet, when the push of a single button can broadcast a lie around the world in an instant.
To make matters more complicated, the world isn’t divided into truths and outright, intentional lies. Sometimes the truth is also buried in piles of well-intentioned but false conclusions, outdated information, half-truths, incorrect assumptions, things that are only true in certain circumstances and things that are technically true but were taken out of context.
In those conditions, it is a wonder any of us is ever really right about anything.
So, how can we find the truth in such a world? The first step is having the same commitment to accuracy in our own lives that we hold our journalists, scientists and other professionals to.
My Facebook friends know I’m quick to comment on their posts, sources in hand, to let them know that the quote they posted is fake or the “news” article about a politician they hate is a hoax. People may think this is some sort of journalistic superpower, but often debunking something takes a 10-second Google search for a few key phrases from the post. It’s the same thing I do before sharing, and I cannot tell you how many times it has saved me from embarrassment.
Second, read the article.
This may sound like simple advice, but as someone who writes the articles I can tell you that many, many people skip this step. They then respond with a comment full of inaccuracies, which others who also didn’t read the article then assume was part of the article, perpetuating the cycle of misinformation.
I once saw an article about a professor getting fired that had dozens of comments underneath arguing over whether he should have lost his job.
The professor was a woman.
Next, be willing to change your mind. The human mind has a natural instinct, called confirmation bias, to automatically dismiss any information that opposes our beliefs as false and anything that confirms our worldview as true.
People who are good at finding the truth are also good at overcoming confirmation bias. They are able to listen to diverse viewpoints and read information from opposing sources with an open mind, looking for logic and evidence rather than what makes them feel good.
Part of that process is actively seeking information from a variety of good-quality sources. Primary sources are best — if you want to know what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about COVID-19 testing, go to the CDC website. Second best is to read multiple news reports from quality news outlets with a reputation for accuracy, written by named journalists with experience covering the subject and firsthand knowledge of the situation.
The more mysterious a source, the more suspect it is. You will rarely find truth in anonymous, undated “articles” on little-known websites that attribute their information with phrases, such as “police say” without ever naming a single department or officer. Look for specifics in the who, what, when, where, why and how of the article and if they are not there, ask yourself why.
Another tip for truth-seekers: Check the date. A legitimate news article may have been great information when it was first written, but no longer accurate now. Look for updates. And make sure not to get fooled by those posts that claim the media is “ignoring” the death of an American soldier or other event, when the real reason you’re not seeing it in the news now is it happened six years ago.
Separating fact from fiction in this world can be daunting, but remember: The truth is out there.
Go find it.