Bullshit Prevention Protocol: Testing the Truth of Reports
|Chaudhry's, father and son|
Yesterday (Friday) I published several social media comments, most, but not all, anti-Government. In my opinion all of them should have been removed by the social media publishers because they were highly personal, racist, excessively intolerant —and most likely untrue.
Unfortunately, this is not going to happen unless there are laws in place to make social media publishers responsible for what is published, and unless progressively heavy fines, and even site closures, support the laws. Until this happens, I fear for the future of responsible reporting.
Meanwhile, internet users are left as the only ones able to assess the likely truth of what is published in the social media.
Here are some tips on how to check validity:
First, examine your own views. Do not dismiss an item because you disagree with it. It could be true, or at least contain some truth. You should ferret it out.
Secondly, ask what you know about the media. How is its credibility record? What are its likely shortcomings and biases.
Thirdly, ask what you know of the writer. What does he know on the subject? What are his or her views and biases? What does he hope to gain by writing the item? How accurate is his credibility record? Try a Google search if the writer could be reasonably well know.
Fourthly, ask how the writer knows about the story he has published. Check this very carefully looking in particular for "a friend", a "friend of a friend" and otherwise anonymous undisclosed sources.
Fifthly, see if the story was also reported in other media over the next few days,which could give it more credibility, and ask, if not, why not? Note, however, that purportedly independent multiple reportings from the same source, or string of similar sources, adds nothing to credibility. A falsehood or error repeated ten times is still an error or falsehood.
Sixthly, look carefully at the construction of the story, especially if it is built on a number of claims. Examine the plausibility of each claim. And ask if there are any ways to check or test each of them.
Bullshit Prevention Protocol
Michelle Nijhuis calls checks on validity Bullshit Prevention Protocol. She says:
I am often wrong. I misunderstand; I misremember; I believe things I shouldn’t. I’m overly optimistic about the future quality of Downton Abbey and inexact in my recall of rock-star shenanigans. But I am not often—knock wood—wrong in print, and that’s because, as a journalist, I’ve had advanced training in Bullshit Prevention Protocol.
Preventing bullshit is time-consuming, and thoroughly fact-checking an entire article can feel like a particularly demented form of needlepoint. There’s a good reason why my Facebook posts and tweets are almost exclusively about my family and friends, certain TV shows, and articles written by me and people I know and trust. I don’t have a lot of time to practice BPP for free, and I don’t want to share bullshit.
Thanks for reading, and congratulations. You are now qualified to practice.
■ Testing your skills
Try testing your BPP skills on Rajendra Chaudhry's claim that I reported in Friday.
This is what he wrote on Facebook:
"From a friend: As we speaking message received Police ordered by PM to arrest Ro Teimumu for supporting Qarase's perceived comments. Police contacted RFMF n was told not to and also told in clear terms that there is a change of Command at QEB. Period!!!"
1 Your own views. Are you already inclined to believe or disbelieve him?
2. Is Facebook a credible source, and if not, why not?
3. Is Rajendra a likely reliable source? What may he hope to gain by publishing this story?
4. What do we know about Rajendra's friend?
5. Has the story been repeated elsewhere?
6. What of the construction of the story?
He quotes a friend (claim 1) who says the police received a message (claim 2) ordered by the PM (claim 3), and goes on to say the police contacted the RFMF (claim 4), who said no, do not arrest Ro Teimumu (claim 5).
Ask why on earth Bainimarama should want to arrest Ro Teimumu who he leads decisively in the polls, when her arrest could backfire and generate a sympathy vote, And ask why arrest Ro Teimumu and not Qarase when it was Qarase who made the offending statements.
Finally, check to see if the story has been reported elsewhere. Then on the basis of your answers, made your own call. This is all you can do. Ro Teimumu was not arrested. It was a non-event that cannot be tested.
My own opinion is that this is the cleverest form of bullshit. It is a story that would have everyone denying any part of it, with no paper trail, and an outcome that cannot be tested because nothing happened.