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Evaluating a Reuters fact check

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 was a lesson from my digital media literacy course, taught by mass communication faculty at Arizona State University.

To understand the extent of misinformation spreaders, it's vital to explore the different ways I can be a better media consumer and creator. One methods is independently fact-checking information encountered online, on television or, by some, in real life.

In this post, I 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." Following recent internet circulation, Reuters concluded that the clip is missing context.

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 since it first trended. "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's 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's heard saying.

The fact-checking process includes a clear delineation of media outlets and people who covered the event at that 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. Note: several of the links are now broken, indicating the posts could have been taken down. Reuters says the clip is shared on Tik Tok but 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.

I've employed two SIFT techniques in this 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 U.S. The quotes from ranked election officials in counties that currently have the AccuVote TSX systems, specifically about how they plan to use or change those models out ahead of the 2022 midterms and/or the 2024 elections, are valuable. Many of the links are put into 2022 context. Reuters provides direct sources to related bills or public web information, which supports the integrity of its 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 happens at other fact-checking websites, such as PolitiFact.

This fact check meets all criteria of the SIFT technique.

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 and AccuVote TSX systems in preparation of the 2018 midterm elections.)

I notice that a DEF CON representative is one of the authors of this report, which tells me it's not entirely an independent publication. I'm now doubt this is a credible source. After further reading, I recognize there are policy recommendations, which signals research experts with a potentially informed agenda wrote the report. Other authors include people from the University of Pennsylvania, Nordic Innovation Labs and Verified Voting, a reliable source, according to the Reuters fact check.

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 its concerning analyses. I stopped on the site and investigated the source via biographical information about its founder Daniel Ivandjiiski to draw these conclusions. It'd be helpful if there was an external source on him that doesn't exist solely to sway my perception from slanted language or a curated selection of his work. One Zero interviewed Tobac for its post.

A Washington Post article also aids in a vetting of the video that could be useful if people on social feed(s) share altered versions of it.

For additional resources on media literacy and fact-checking, I recommend to start here.

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