Fact checking the Daily Mail — Assessing accuracy and credibility

For our fact-checking project we decided to take an in-depth look at five articles on the website of the British morning newspaper, the Daily Mail. We chose to fact-check articles from the Daily Mail because it is one of the most circulated newspapers in Britain, as well as The Mail Online, their website, being one of the most visited online newspaper websites at this time.

The popularity of The Daily Mail was not our sole motivation for scrutinising their articles. In the beginning of 2017 Wikipedia announced that it had banned the use of the Daily Mail as a reliable source on their platform, citing it as having a “reputation for poor fact checking, sensationalism and flat-out fabrication.” This action was an unprecedented move for Wikipedia. This inspired us to first-handedly discover what actually is so wrong with content published by the Daily Mail.

Using methods described by the Science Literacy Project we assessed the following five articles and judged them on their accuracy and credibility:

It is fair to say that the Daily Mail provided more decent articles than we initially expected. Although it was assumed that we would find more overtly framed articles riddled with false statements and unsubstantiated, sensational facts, it turned out that, in most articles, they did not do that bad of a job — though definitely not a good job either. We discovered enough ‘issues’ in the articles that indicate that aspects of articles published by the Daily Mail are of low journalistic quality.

The Daily Mail has a tendency of over-sensationalising stories. This was found in the articles on Jamal Khashoggi, Obama on Trump, and the giant shark. Although the headlines of the articles mainly told (most of) the truth; words such as: ‘giant’ (shark) and ‘confused, angry racist’ (Obama on Trump) were added to draw in readers whilst they did not necessarily reflect the content of the article. It is evident that this sensational writing style is used across the majority of articles published by the Daily Mail — something that can be verified by taking a quick glance at their homepage.

The Daily Mail also has difficulty with quotations. In the ‘Obama on Trump’ article, for example, quotes were slightly adjusted to increase their aggressiveness; and in the ‘Somali-born Terrorist’ article, parts of larger statements were omitted to manipulate their meaning. The fact that a newspaper is not able to properly copy-paste statements and write down quotations without removing or adjusting information is, of course, very troubling. Manipulating quotations affects the overall meaning of events — especially if a topic has a big societal impact, you do not want your newspaper to present only half a quote, or, a slightly changed quote. This stimulates the misinterpretation of what information was actually conveyed about the event, and, therefore, actively misinforms the newspapers’ audience.

Another pattern that we stumbled upon was that the Daily Mail does not put in the effort to update their articles. This occured in the article on the giant shark, in which an updated Facebook post was not included in the general article update; and in the article on Khashoggi’s death, were the correct names and titles of the people involved were not included in its update whilst being incorrect in the original publication. By inaccurately updating their articles, or flat-out refusing to do so, the information the Daily Mail provides becomes misleading in the long-term and that, of course, is not preferable. Especially on their website it should not be that difficult to update their article and rectify errors.

To conclude, although The Daily Mail did produce articles of a higher quality than was expected, we still found several troubling patterns that probably have a negative impact on its audience — misinforming them. Making headlines or content overtly sensational, perhaps, is not that bad (it is part of the identity of the Daily Mail), however, adjusting statements and quotations or inaccurately/not updating articles is of concern. What the Daily Mail does, does not happen by accident — they actively try to influence the public opinion by spreading half-truths and omitting vital information..

 

— D.K. Degeling, A.N.H. Hjelt, J.R. van Nierop, J. Sam, Y.P. Samarawira

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