Fact Checking

An email trumpeting that “Casa D’Ice is back!” has made the rounds again.

For anyone not in the know, Casa D’Ice is a restaurant in North Versailles, Pennsylvania, some 10 miles from Pittsburgh. The restaurant has a lighted message board sign out front, the kind that typically heralds the daily special or the Sunday sermon with black slide-in-the-groove lettering. Outspoken owner Bill Balsamico changes the sign every couple of weeks when he feels the need to make a political statement.

I don’t think Mr. Balsamico uses factcheck.org. In fact (heh) I reckon that 90.31% of all online content is not fact checked.

Fact checking is a reporting term for verifying statements through several reliable, independent sources before publication. We expect the professional media to do it and we censure the professional media when they do not. The Dan Rather fiasco over his CBS News story about President Bush’s Air National Guard service is a case in point. His statement on the documents that he reported were written by President Bush’s National Guard commander lead the 272,000 hits returned when I Googled “Dan Rather” “CBS News.”

I did not fact check my 90% statistic. I made it up out of thin air but I’ll suggest that someone out there can correct me. I’ll further suggest that I’m within 20% of the correct answer. That may be seriously poor statistically but it still means there is a lot of misinformation online.

According to another email this week, a 1,200 pound Great White shark was caught in the Chesapeake over the weekend. That’s wrong, too.

This Casa D’Ice sign caught my eye first: “President Bush’s great fuel efficiency program on trucks & SUVs [will] save 30 gallons in 2008.” I couldn’t find anything to back that up. The current energy bill requires auto companies to achieve a 35-mpg CAFE by 2020. “Social security recipients get 3 dollar raise per month.” The actual Social Security Benefit COLA Increase for 2008 was 2.3 Percent.

I like Mr. Balsamico’s signs anyway. They are pithy–sometimes Deckish–and popular. His heart is in the right place even if he sometimes uses “Internet wisdom” for his source. I have singled him out not because he is doing a bad thing but because he could do his good thing so much better. More people see Mr. Balsamico’s signs than read this blog. Since the signs have gone viral, many many more people see photos of Mr. Balsamico’s thoughts than read this blog.

All that leads me to posit this theory: Internet Information Popularity is inversely proportional to Internet Information Accuracy.

That’s a rather sad commentary.

FactCheck.org describes its own goal as “[reducing] the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.” The Annenberg Public Policy Center project is run by the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. It is funded primarily by the Annenberg Foundation.

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