Getting Facts, Analysis, and Opinion

Where do you get your “news” and what are you believing?

My Twitter profile is a simple list of the things that make me me.

In my Twitter profile, you’ll find the phrase truth seeker. I’m occasionally ribbed by far right Twitter users who don’t like my one-liners, often at the expense of people they support, including Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Sean Hanity, Bill O’Reilly, and Ted Cruz. These people, who cry “fake news” whenever they hear something they don’t like, wouldn’t know the truth if it hit them with a baseball bat.

But I take truth seriously. I want to know the truth about things. I want to be able to form my own opinions based on facts. I try to be yet another phrase in my profile: independent thinker.

And that’s why I’m so frustrated when people share inaccurate information, including links to false or seriously biased news stories on social media. It was enough to drive me off Facebook and it keeps me fine-tuning the list of people I follow on Twitter.

But what are good, reliable sources of information? Back in February, I blogged about an article in Forbes that attempted to identify some of them. For the most part, I agreed with the list. But it was limited and it failed to indicate any biases or whether the source presented facts, analysis, or opinion.

Some Definitions

Let me take a moment to define each of these, because it’s very important to understand.

  • Facts are truthful statements of what is or was. This is black and white stuff that can be proven and is not questioned (except maybe by people who cannot accept the truth).
  • Analysis puts facts into context in an attempt to explain why they matter. This can be extremely helpful for folks trying to understand the impact of past and current events and why they should care. Although knowledgable people can often make their own analysis, when there are too many facts that impact a situation for the average person to understand, fact-based analysis can be vital for the average person to make an informed decision. Bias can come into play in analysis, but the best analysis sticks to facts and avoids bias.
  • Bias, Defined
    The definition of bias.

    Opinion is what one person or organization thinks about a situation. Opinion can be well-reasoned, based on solid facts and good, informed analysis. It can also be based on false information and similarly flawed analysis. Most often, it’s falls somewhere in between with a mixture of good and bad information and analysis. But it always includes bias, which can seriously degrade the value of the opinion — especially for someone able to think for herself.

So what am I looking for in my news sources? Facts and unbiased analysis so I can make my own opinion.

The Chart

A while back, I came upon an infographic that listed news media sources on a chart. On the Y (vertical) axis was how factual the source was. Higher was more factual. On the X (horizontal) axis was how biased the source was. Middle was unbiased, left was liberally biased and right was conservative biased. The original version of this chart listed quite a few news sources. In answer to a question a Twitter friend asked the other day, I went looking for it online. I found version 3.0, which I’m reproducing in a reduced size here:

Media Chart 3.0
Version 3.0 of the chart by Vanessa Otero. (I highly recommend that you click the chart to view a larger size and the article that explains it.) This is an extremely handy tool for evaluating news sources — so handy that I’ve printed out a copy for future reference and will be looking for updates.

Understanding the Chart

No chart is perfect and if you read the comments on the post that explains this version of the chart, you’ll see that people have argued with its author. In most instances, they’re claiming that various sources should be shifted left or right from their current positions.

If you accept that it’s at least 95% representative of reality — which is where I stand — if you’re looking for facts, you should be most interested in the news sources inside the green box. That actually makes me feel pretty good because that’s where most of the news sources I listed the other day reside: the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, and NPR. In fact, my main source of news is NPR, which is minimally biased fact reporting. I listen to NPR on the radio all day most days when I’m working at home.

If you want analysis, look for sources inside the yellow box. Ideally, you’d want something in the middle of the yellow box, which is nearly empty. One of my favored news sources, the Guardian, falls slightly left in the top of that box; another, the New Yorker, is slightly down and slightly more left. This isn’t terribly surprising since I lean more liberal than conservative in most of my views. Still, neither source is either “hyper-partisan liberal” or “liberal utter garbage/conspiracy theories.” Whew.

The orange and red boxes contain sources that are light on facts, and high on biased opinion. Unsurprisingly most of the news sources listed are either far left or far right. The red box sources are especially troubling in that they include misleading information and/or inaccurate or fabricated information geared toward either far left or far right media consumers. This is where you’ll find Occupy Democrats and the Palmer Report on the left and Fox News and Breitbart on the right. The chart notes that they are damaging to public discourse. (Duh.)

Using the Chart

How do I use this chart? First of all, it’s made me want to spend more time with sources like Bloomberg, Time, and the Economist. These look like they might be good sources of fact and unbiased analysis.

Next, when faced with a “news” story from an unfamiliar source, I’ll look it up on this chart. If it’s in the red box, I’ll basically disregard it. Why should I waste my time trying to figure out what part, if any, in the story is factual? I certainly won’t share it — and I’ll downgrade my opinion of the reliability and judgement of anyone who does.

If it’s in the orange box, I may or may not disregard it, depending on the topic and the availability of corroborating stories. But again, why should I waste my time trying to figure out what to believe in a story?

Instead, I’ll focus on what’s in the green and yellow boxes, as close to the middle of the X axis as possible.

What about You?

What do you think? I’m not talking about the accuracy of the chart here — if you have comments about that, leave them for the chart’s author and she’ll address them. I’m just curious about where people get their news, what they’re looking for, and what they share. Let us know what you think.

And please — do your best to fight real fake news. Don’t share links to unreliable or heavily biased “news” sources.

Tips on Retweeting from a Seasoned Twitterer

Enough is enough already.

I’ve been using Twitter since March 2007. Since then, I’ve tweeted more than 79,000 times, been verified, and accumulated a modest 3000+ followers. I’ve written extensively about Twitter and have even authored video courses for on the topic. So it’s safe to say that I know a little about Twitter.

I don’t follow many accounts. As of today, it’s only 288. I pick accounts to follow based on my interests and what those accounts tweet. Sometimes I’ll add an account and a few weeks later, realize it was a mistake and unfollow it. It’s nothing personal. I just need to focus on the things that matter to me.

Recently, I unfollowed three accounts that were simply retweeting far too many tweets. I realized that their retweets violated a handful of “rules” I’d come up with to manage my own Twitter activity and retweets. This morning, I set them down in a short Twitter thread.

For the record, I pretty much detest Twitter threads — that’s when a twitter user replies to his/her own tweets creating a connected string of them — especially if they’re longer than three or four tweets. So you can imagine how much I hated making one that was seven tweets long. In my opinion, if you can’t say something in 1000 characters, you need a blog. I have a blog so I’m going to lay the contents of my thread down here where it can be easily read and found by others.

Here’s the thread, expanded.

1/7 The Intro

I was trying to be kind with this tweet. I had recently unfollowed someone who would consistently retweet multiple subtweets in a thread, none of which made sense on their own. And the previous week, I’d unfollowed someone who retweeted every single tweet in a lengthy thread, thus repeating the entire thread in my timeline in reverse order. And there were countless other people who seemed to retweet just about everything they saw, no matter where it came from. Enough was enough. I had to speak up.

2/7 Don’t Echo Threads

The other day, someone I followed retweeted the first tweet of a thread I thought might be interesting. I clicked the tweet and read the thread — all 20+ tweets in it. When I was done, I returned to my timeline and continued scrolling up. I saw the second tweet in that thread — which I’d already read. And then the third, and fourth, and fifth. And I’ll be damned if every single tweet in the thread wasn’t retweeted right there in my timeline.

After I’d already read the thread.

Why would someone do that? Don’t they understand the way retweeting works? The way threads work? Maybe not. Hence, this piece of advice: Don’t retweet every single tweet in a thread. Just retweet the first one or the one or two that resonate with you.


3/7 Don’t Retweet without Context

The other day, I unfollowed someone who retweeted about a dozen subtweets with absolutely no indication of what they were all about.

Imagine this: You read a tweet, then click it to read some of its responses. As often happens, the responses branch off into various threads, some going off into weird and fun tangents. One of these subtweets strikes you as funny or interesting, given the context in which you’re reading it. But the tweet itself doesn’t include any hint of the context.

It’s like the punchline of a joke without hearing the joke.

Yes, it’s hilarious. And yes, you want to share it. But think a moment. If someone didn’t read the tweets leading up to it, would they get the joke? If the answer is no, don’t retweet it.

After all, do you walk around reciting joke punchlines without the joke leading up to it?

4/4 Don’t Hijack Tweets

This is a pet peeve of mine, mostly because of my feelings regarding content creation.

Twitter offers two ways to retweet:

  • Retweet without a comment.
  • Retweet with a comment.

When you retweet with a comment, Twitter lets you enter the full text of a tweet and append the tweet you are repeating to it. The tweet normally appears right below it.

Twitter offers this feature so you can add your own thoughts about the tweet to it while retweeting it in a way that preserves it. But what this also does is basically turn that tweet into a new tweet — your tweet — so when people reply, like, or retweet, they are retweeting your tweet. The interaction does not appear on the original tweet.

Hijacked Tweet
How many times have you seen something like this? A one-word comment or finger arrow pointing at a tweet? A “comment” that adds absolutely nothing to the tweet but effectively hijacks it so the retweeter gets all the likes, retweets, and possible new followers? (For the record, I deleted this example right after I made it.)

And, of course, abusers use this to, in effect, hijack popular tweets.

A very good friend of mine did this very often and it upset me to the point where I unfollowed her.

If you’re going to retweet with a comment, make a real comment. Something that adds to the discussion or points out a fallacy or points followers to more information at another source or tags someone you think should see it.

Keep in mind that all tweets that you retweet with a comment are retweeted to everyone who follows you, including people who already follow the original tweeter. So you’re repeating the tweet. What good is that if your comment doesn’t add to the discussion? It’s just more noise.

5/7 Don’t Retweet Unreliable Sources

This is a tough one. As my friend and fellow author Sandee pointed out, how do you know who is reliable and unreliable these days?

I wish there was an easy answer. I know who I believe — well-known and respected media organizations with good journalism staffs and responsible reporting that are neither far right nor far left. So yeah: I’ll believe (and retweet) the New York Times but not Fox News or Mother Jones. Ditto goes for verified Twitter accounts for employees of these organizations.

And yes, people reading this might not agree that the New York Times is a reliable source. Fine. Just don’t expect me to follow you. I certainly don’t expect you to follow me.

Use your brain, folks. Don’t believe everything put in front of you. Always consider the source. Don’t share something just because you wish it was true. Isn’t there enough misinformation out there?

That’s not to say that I won’t retweet something that’s funny, especially satire that’s obviously fake. We all need a laugh now and then. But if it’s something that people [with a brain] might think is true and it obviously isn’t, I won’t retweet it.

6/7 Don’t Ask for Retweets

There’s nothing that reminds me more of everything I hate about Facebook than including “Retweet if you think…” or “Please retweet” in your tweet. I don’t need you to tell me what to retweet. If something is worth retweeting — in my opinion — I will retweet it. If not, I won’t.

You telling me to retweet something makes it far less likely that I’ll retweet it. Why? Because I don’t want to look like a moron who needs instructions on what to share.

And when you retweet something that includes a retweet request, what do you think I think of you?

7/7 Twitter is an Echo Chamber

I follow only 288 accounts because, unlike so many other Twitter users, I try to read the tweets of all of those accounts. I’m not likely to follow the accounts of people who tweet and retweet a lot of content I don’t find interesting. Don’t take it personally. After all, why should you? Who am I?

I’m just someone who has been using Twitter for a long time to meet a particular need. The advice here is the advice likely already heeded by the people I’ll continue to follow.

Who knows? It might help you get — and keep — followers, too.

Real News from Real Sources

Want to know where to get facts?

Forbes ArticleThe other day, one of my Facebook friends shared a link to an article on Forbes that discussed the difficulty of finding reliable news sources in a world where so many sources are labeled “fake.” The article listed, with objective descriptions, what the author considered honest and reliable news sources. I’ll run down the list quickly here; I urge you to read the article to get additional information about each source:

  1. The New York Times
  2. The Wall Street Journal
  3. The Washington Post
  4. BBC
  5. The Economist
  6. The New Yorker
  7. Wire Services: The Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg News
  8. Foreign Affairs
  9. The Atlantic
  10. Politico

There are runners up and financial resources, too. Again, I urge you to read the article to get those lists. (Spoiler alert: CNN is on a list; Fox News, Brietbart, Huffington Post, and Mother Jones are not.)

As I added on Facebook when I shared a link to the article, the real trick is convincing the people who already turn to less reliable news outlets that these news outlets are better and more truthful. Another challenge is getting people to understand the difference between fact-based articles produced by journalists and opinion pieces produced by pundits.

If you’re interested in doing the right thing during these difficult times — and don’t don’t fool yourself: these are difficult times — start by informing yourself about an issue by turning to reliable news sources. (Note the plural there; try to learn from at least two good sources.) Be careful to get information from journalists and not pundits. (In other words, skip the OpEd and political commentary pages/columns.) Go beyond the headlines! Think about what you’ve learned. Discuss it with other people you know and trust who have done the same thing. Then form your own opinions and act accordingly. Acting means calling your congressperson or senators when an issue comes up to vote. These days, it also means showing up for peaceful protests and doing what you can to help convince those sitting on the fence to see things your way and also act.

It’s sad to me that so many people are falling for “alternative facts” fed to them by unreliable news sources, many of which are playing political games for ratings or other gains. What’s even worse is that the “fake news” label is being applied to what are truly reliable news sources.

Stop the ignorance. Get your information from reliable sources and make your own decisions.