Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A quick series of rules for spotting political hoaxes

This afternoon, a friend posted to Facebook a startling story: Mitt Romney had told a crowd of supporters that he had received deferments from military service in Vietnam, because, well...
My father did not want me serving, and he convinced me that yes, I was too important to go to Vietnam. I had a greater purpose in life.
It was, of course, bullshit.

Here are my rules for sniffing out a political hoax. They're not failsafe, because nothing is, but they've served me well and kept me from blogging stupid, stupid stuff many times. The rules?

Use your common sense. Did the candidate's statement sound like surefire political suicide? Well, as dumb as most politicians can be, they usually have a strong sense of self-preservation. If it sounds like a candidate tossed that caution to the wind, you'll want to double-check your sources before posting something to Facebook or your blog.

Google it, and check for mainstream media sources. Yeah, yeah, the MSM is biased and dying. Guess what? They also love gaffes—hell, half of all political coverage these days is gaffe-centric: It's why we've spent the last two days talking about Todd Akin. If there's plenty of MSM coverage of the candidate's comments, you can be reasonably sure. If, on the other hand, the only places where a quote appears is in the comments of MSM stories or on message boards ... it's probably a hoax. The mainstream media is not hiding stuff from you.

• When all else fails, check Snopes.com. It often has the answer.

Gaffes do happen, but not nearly as often as the Internet says they do. If a story sounds too good to be true—if it too neatly confirms your biases—then check it out. Nine times out of 10, the story that's too good to be true is.

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