I live in an area with a 50/50 voter split. You never know if you’re talking to a gun-toting Texan or a free-college Californian. (Oh, don’t look at me like that, I’m leaning on some cliches here.) People here tend to tread lightly when it comes to politics, depending on the social circle you’re currently in. There are certain topics people steer clear of in conversation. But now, my very own job title has joined the ranks of Undiscussable. (Not a word.)
I didn’t realize it until several months ago when I had a well-meaning, old-school Texan sit me down and run through a list of “alternative websites” for me to use when fact-checking. As an anti-politics Millennial (sorry?), I was more confused than anything. I reassured him I was thorough in using various sources, though I explained his had nothing to do with the type of work I did.
That was when he mentioned Facebook and it clicked. All of a sudden, I realized those strange looks I was getting had nothing to do with spinach in my teeth. It was because saying I was a fact-checker had become a political statement.
Somehow, the job that nobody knew existed two years ago has become a political weapon. Now, I can’t just say I fact check. I have to say, “I fact-check for magazines regarding small details like if so-and-so’s grandmother made bonnets or if the shop’s tiles are really green. I don’t do Facebook-type fact-checking.” It’s a distinction I never had to make before. And one that makes my job description significantly longer.
But honestly, as much as I try to downplay the work I do for the sake of politics, I’m proud of it.
I call dozens of people for each article that goes into a magazine like Texas Highways. I speak to former Olympians to fix things like the wrong date listed for when they played their first game. I speak with passionate conservationists, excited to share their story, and particular that we don’t call a lizard “pregnant” because apparently the right term for reptiles is “gravid.” And I speak with everybody’s grandmother named Betty Mae up in the Panhandle to confirm that she has owned the little cafe since 1962, when she bought it from her father—no, scratch that, it was her uncle.
That’s what I do.
I’m not telling anyone how to live their lives. I’m helping authors share their stories accurately. I’m catching those little details that fall through the cracks of a thousand words. And apparently, I’m now spreading information on fact-checkers. Honestly, I’m not sure how companies like Facebook do it. I’m not sure if they’re hiring trained journalists or if it’s all computer programming. But as a professional in the field, I’m just here to say: it’s not all the same thing. On the rare chance that you meet a fact-checker soon, have a little more curiosity and a little less presumption. Because I can guarantee you, they’ve got some stories to tell.