Fact checking is a critical part of today’s media landscape. But just because something is called a fact check obviously doesn’t mean it’s balanced, fair or even really a fact check at all. AllSides curates fact check articles daily as part of our balanced newsfeed. Our readers appreciate this, and our Facts and Fact Checking section is full of insightful fact-checking from across the political spectrum. But some media outlets abuse the “fact check” title, and instead use it to advance personal opinions or subjective judgments.

Many articles that media outlets refer to as “fact checks” actually contain subjective analysis, interpretations and opinions, and are often colored by a media outlet’s political bias. This damages the integrity of fact-checking, making it even harder than it already is for news consumers to separate objectivity from opinion. We think fact checks should just stick to the facts, but they don’t always — and we want our balanced news feed to do a better job of making that obvious.

Going forward, when posting an article that a publisher has labeled as a “fact-check”, the AllSides news team will judge whether it’s actually just reflecting and checking the facts, or if the author is injecting their personal analysis or opinion, and we’ll label the article accordingly. Here’s how we plan to do it, and why we think it’s important.

How/Why We Label Content

Often, journalists blur the lines between subjective perceptions and facts-first reporting. This makes it hard for readers to tell if they’re getting the truth, or if they’re just seeing someone’s opinion or interpretation of the truth. What the truth may mean is very different from what the straight facts are. To help you tell the difference, our news operation features a special system for labeling news, opinion and analysis. Grey badges, known as content labels, are placed on every article we post to tell the reader if it’s an analysis piece, an opinion piece, a fact-check, or a dataset. If there’s no grey badge on an article, that means it’s just a straight news report. This is good for our readers, our brand, and for media literacy on the whole. We hope it’s also encouraging other journalists and news sources to be more aware of content labels and to use them properly.

Labeling Fact Checks

Until now, we referred to a news publisher’s label for “fact check” articles. In other words, if CNN or Fox published something and called it a fact check themselves, we would post it and label it as a “fact check” on our site, too, without a second thought or judgment on our part. But after an internal team discussion and recent analyses of content from Politifact and Snopes, we’re changing that process.

Going forward, when curating and uploading an article that a publisher has labeled as a “fact check”, our news team will judge whether it’s actually just a check of the facts, or if the author is injecting their personal analysis or opinion. If the article reads like a subjective analysis instead of a list of the facts, we won’t label it as a fact check in our system. This will be consistent with our current system for labeling news vs. labeling opinion vs. labeling analysis.

While some fact-checking sites like factcheck.org typically avoid blending facts and opinion, others, like Snopes, The Dispatch and Politifact, aren’t as consistent. Next time a “fact check” crosses your path, take that label with a grain of salt.

Have a question or a comment about this? Email us!