Evaluation: Reuters Fact Check
Updated: Sep 21, 2022
This week, I learned more about how anyone can create statements, including misinformation, disinformation and hoaxes, in the form of news or on a social media platform. It is a lesson for my digital media literacy course, taught from faculty at Arizona State University's mass communication education department.
To understand the extent of potential sources, spreaders if you will, of misinformation, it is vital to explore the different ways I can be a better media consumer and creator. One of such methods is the act of independently fact checking information encountered online, on television or, by some, in real life.
In this post, I will evaluate Reuters fact-checking process of a viral video, which hacker Rachel Tobac originally tweeted in 2018.
The fact check, published Sept. 1, is headlined "Fact Check-Voting machines that are hacked in viral 2018 video are no longer widely used." And Reuters concluded that the clip is missing context after recently being recirculated on the internet.
Let's start with a breakdown of the problem this post presents. The video, where Tobac gains administrative access to a voting machine in under two minutes at the annual DEF CON hackers' convention in Las Vegas, re-emerged in August 2022 - four years following its original virality. "Since it was originally posted in 2018, the use of the voting machine seen in the clip has been significantly reduced," according to the Reuters fact check team. "As of 2022, certain jurisdictions in only three U.S. states are using these machines. In 2016, jurisdictions in 18 U.S. states were using these voting machines."
States identified as still using the AccuVote TSX, a voting machine that has been significantly phased out, in 2022 include Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri.
Reuters describes the video length (0:01:30) and the exact date on which Tobac posted it. The writers are thorough in this process, shown when accurately describing Tobac's current position as the chief executive officer of U.S.-based security service SocialProof Security. They include a direct quote of Tobac from the clip: "I’m really concerned for upcoming elections because this voting machine is used in 18 different states and it’s extremely easy to gain admin access on this machine," she is heard saying.
The fact checking process includes a clear delineation of media outlets and people who covered the event at the time. Then, it links to multiple iterations of social media profiles that share the clip and other social media or video streaming platforms with additional posts of Tobac's video. I'll note that several of the links are now broken, indicating the posts may have been taken down. Reuters says the clip is shared on Tik Tok, then fails to link to a specific post. Overall, the organization is transparent in showing how it located the sources of potential misinformation, which allows readers to directly investigate claims.
So far, two SIFT techniques are employed in my chosen fact check.
Next, Reuters mentions external sources of information that it consulted to verify details, such as a database, about voting equipment and verified voting. It also links to one of its own stories that aims to point to the continued use of paperless voting machines in the United States. I most value the quotes from ranked election officials in counties that currently have the AccuVote TSX systems, specifically how they plan to use or change those models out ahead of the 2022 midterms and/or the 2024 elections. Many of the links are put into 2022 context. And direct sources to related bills or public web information are also provided, which supports the integrity of Reuters' research.
The "better coverage" on this topic that Reuters selected is attributed to a piece by the publication within its own fact check. I understand this may happen at other fact checking websites, such as PolitiFact, as well. It is very Justice Clarence Thomas of the organization.
Based on my findings, all lettered criteria of the SIFT technique were met in this fact check.
I found a University of Chicago public policy report on "Cyber Vulnerabilities in U.S. Election Equipment, Databases, and Infrastructure," titled DEF CON 26 Voting Village, which adds description to the event. (See pages 5-7 and 15-17 for deep dives on Tobac, AccuVote TSX systems in preparation of the 2018 midterm elections.)
Immediately, I notice that a DEF CON representative is one of the authors of this report and that tells me it is not entirely an independent publication. I am now not confident this is a credible source. And after further reading, I recognize there are, of course, policy recommendations, which signals the report is written by research experts with an informed agenda. Other authors include people from the University of Pennsylvania, Nordic Innovation Labs and Verified Voting, a reliable source, according to the Reuters fact check. I deem it more trustworthy but not a completely independent work.
Searching for more on this topic, I arrive at a post on the far-right libertarian financial blog and news aggregator One Zero. I do not grant the site much merit due to the partisan nature of posts and other analytical content that makes me concerned about the veracity of its claims. I drew these conclusions by stopping on the site and investigating the source, via biographical information about its founder and main editor Daniel Ivandjiiski. I wish there were sources talking about him in a more fair capacity, so I wasn't being swayed in one direction or another by slanted language or certain examples of his working involvement. I don't feel the need to proceed to finding better coverage because I have read the fact check, though I notice that One Zero interviewed Tobac for its piece.
I would use this Washington Post article to aid in my vetting of the video if I was worried about people on my feed(s) sharing altered versions of it. For the time being, I will not do so.
I hope today's blog gave you an idea of what it may take for skeptical viewers to debunk information consumed through mediums of modern technology. As always, thanks for reading my thoughts!
If you're looking for additional resources on media literacy and/or fact checking, I recommend starting here.