Editorial Standards and Ethics Policies

When the MediaWise project was first imagined, it aimed to teach 1 million American teenagers how to tell fact from fiction online, with half coming from underserved or low-income communities. Today, the work of MediaWise has expanded to teach Americans of all ages crucial digital media literacy skills.

MediaWise has created multiple channels and outlets to reach the largest audience possible, including:

  • Influencer-created content, such as partnered videos on YouTube and other platforms;
  • A strong social media presence on popular social platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and TikTok;
  • Videos and text format fact-check stories produced by our team and the MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network;
  • In-person and virtual presentations and trainings across the U.S. for audiences of all ages;
  • In-depth information about MediaWise and its mission on Poynter’s website and shared through @MediaWise channels across social media;
  • Providing information to local and national media organizations about MediaWise’s work and mission;
  • A network of MediaWise Campus Correspondents at college campuses all over the U.S. who teach their peers the tools for how to tell fact from fiction online;
  • Online educational courses and materials available on Poynter.org

As the MediaWise project expands with more content types, platforms and initiatives, each will be held to the same high standards of editorial excellence described in this document. These standards and guidelines will be continually updated throughout the life of the MediaWise project as needed. Any additional questions that may arise can be sent to MediaWise manager and editor Katy Byron.

This document is meant to be referenced by MediaWise staff, interns, MediaWise Ambassadors, guest trainers and others involved in the MediaWise project, including the MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network (TFCN) and the MediaWise Campus Correspondents (CC).

MEDIAWISE EDITORIAL PILLARS

MediaWise maintains five pillars of editorial standards which all content must adhere to as part of the MediaWise project:

  1. Factually accurate: All MediaWise content must be as reliable and factually accurate as possible at the time of publication, with all sources and source material vetted to the best of our abilities.
  2. Mission-driven: All of MediaWise content will seek to serve the overall project mission of teaching people of all ages the skills necessary to sort fact from fiction online. This is the common thread that connects all MediaWise initiatives.
  3. Audience awareness: The MediaWise project tailors its programs based on age demographic because different age groups use the internet differently, and are exposed to disinformation and misinformation in a variety of ways, formats and platforms. We strive to keep our content accessible and relatable to these audiences including Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X and Seniors. As such, all MediaWise content, programs, training and educational materials should be planned for and positioned to connect with the intended audience. 
  4. Safe Community: All MediaWise projects, online content, presentations and social media accounts should be safe for people 13 years and older, and provide a safe community for learning, free from negative language and any other negative visual stimuli which might distract from creating a space that fosters learning and education.
  5. Non-partisan: The MediaWise project is a nonpartisan initiative dedicated to taking a balanced approach to news and editorial content, with the primary objective of presenting the facts.

 

  1. FACTUALLY ACCURATE

Every fact-check is different but all MediaWise project content will be reported, sourced and verified to the best of our abilities at the time of publication.

Our reporting process includes the following:

  • Thorough research through search engines like Google;
  • Reaching out to parties which are the focus of a fact-check to include their perspective
  • Searching online databases and public records; 
  • Reviewing publications, academic studies and other original data and documentation.

In cases where a MediaWise fact check must cite reports from news media that rely on unnamed or unattributed sources (usually due to the extreme newsworthiness of the report), we note that we cannot independently verify their reporting.

Our general rule of thumb — Better to wait and be right than rush to publish and be wrong.

When we reach out for comment:

When a significant portion of one of our fact-checks is dedicated to looking at who shared the claim, for example, a social media account owner, MediaWise staff will reach out for comment (at times on behalf of the teen fact-checker, when more appropriate), and include the relevant portion of their response within the published fact-check. If a response is received following publication, the response will be added to the fact-check’s description or caption and include the date of the update to the fact-check. 

Corrections:

No one is perfect and mistakes will happen. MediaWise issues corrections with the appropriate transparency as quickly as possible if an error has occurred. Depending on the platform on which the fact check was originally published, corrections may be handled differently to address those platform differences:

  • Instagram Story: We will post a correction on the Instagram story, add it to the corresponding highlight and include text with the correction information in the related feed post (if there is one). 
  • Instagram feed post: We will add text to the feed post caption with details of the correction.
  • IGTV: We will add text to the feed post caption with details of the correction.
  • Twitter: We will add a tweet to the thread of the original tweet. If the error was particularly egregious, we’ll also publish a new tweet linking to the tweet with the error.
  • Facebook: We will post a correction on our page and link to the story with the error, or if possible, edit the original post and note that the post has been updated and corrected.
  • YouTube: We will add a correction to the video description box and text in the video title at the end.
  • Poynter.org: Corrections or updates will be added to the bottom of text article fact checks featured on Poynter’s website.

If the correction is debilitating to the story, we will consider removing it and issuing a correction in the relevant format in an attempt to reach the same audience who saw the initial story. These instances will be handled on a case-by-case basis and must be approved by the MediaWise manager Katy Byron. 

Readers can bring errors to our attention by emailing us at mwtips@poynter.org or by sending us a direct message on any of our @MediaWise social channels. We may not respond in cases where the request for correction is unwarranted.

MediaWise is a nonprofit project of the Poynter Institute. The Ethics Guidelines for Poynter Publishing can be found here.

 

Our participation in the International Fact-checking Network

MediaWise is a verified signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles. They include: 

  • A commitment to nonpartisanship and fairness.
  • A commitment to standards and transparency of sources.
  • A commitment to transparency of funding & organization.
  • A commitment to standards and transparency of methodology.
  • A commitment to an open & honest corrections policy.

MediaWise first became a signatory to the IFCN principles on May 8, 2020. The application and an independent assessment of our work is available for the public to view via the International Fact-Checking Network. The network offers a complaint process to the public for anyone who believes that a fact-checking organization is significantly violating its commitment to the code.

 

  1. MISSION-DRIVEN

The overall goal of the MediaWise project is to teach people how to sort fact from fiction online. This is our works’ guiding beacon and driving force. No matter what new types of disinformation and misinformation arise online, teaching people how to spot it using fact-checking skills is our primary focus. We will constantly evolve what we teach and how we teach to adjust to the problems of the day as the internet and misleading information that goes viral are morphing and changing, at times, daily. Our core principle will not waiver, and our project will remain focused on teaching fact-checking skills as they are proven to improve digital media literacy and critical thinking in people of all ages. 

  1. AUDIENCE AWARENESS

The MediaWise project takes an audience-first approach.

Our goal is to be as accessible to our audience as possible and it applies to everything we do, including: 

  • Being as authentic as we can be in our language online and during presentations – be ourselves and encourage them to be themselves as well;
  • Keeping in mind which audience and on which platform we’re trying to reach – how we would communicate with an 18-24-year-old on Instagram isn’t the same as how we’d communicate with a 13-17-year-old on TikTok or a 50- 65-year-old on Facebook;
  • We take into consideration previous knowledge and do research on our audiences, especially for live trainings, to ensure what we are teaching is the most helpful to them and they are learning something new, but also not breezing over the basics if that is necessary. 
  1. SAFE COMMUNITY:

The MediaWise project aims to be a safe space, where those who seek to improve their digital media literacy skills can have an open and honest dialogue without fear of bullying or other disrespectful comments or feedback.

Online comments:

The MediaWise project staff is dedicated to promoting open dialogue and critiques of fact checks, but derogatory comments about a fact-checker, a MediaWise project staff member or any other member of the MediaWise community will not be tolerated. 

The MediaWise project staff are empowered to immediately remove any comments on our social media accounts that violate our language standards, employ racial epithets or tropes, threaten or attempt to intimidate, name-call, or disparage any community or group. MediaWise staff are also empowered to remove any comments that spread misinformation or disinformation. We reserve the right to block and ban commenters that violate these terms, since these types of comments undermine the goals of the MediaWise project.

Threats that are specific in nature will be escalated immediately to senior staff, and if necessary, local authorities (example: comments that disclose information about a MediaWise staffer or youth fact-checker that would otherwise not be known, or are threatening a specific staffer). In these instances, the comment will be removed and the user will be blocked.

If a fact-check receives comments that continually violate our policies and can not be reasonably managed by the MediaWise staff, comments will be disabled for 48 hours. Following the 48 hour period, comments will be reinstated and closely monitored. If a fact-check continues to receive a large, unmanageable volume of comments that violate our policy, MediaWise will permanently disable comments on the fact-check. 

When a fact-check’s comments are initially disabled, MediaWise will speak with the student fact-checker and/or guardian about concerns as well as their comfort level, and act accordingly.

Any time comments are disabled on a fact-check for any of these scenarios, the fact-check description will be updated explaining the reason why, and link to our editorial standards for additional background information for the audience.

We will communicate to the audience when the MediaWise team has decided to disable comments, in the description or caption. Sometimes the platforms will disable comments on fact-checks, please consult the comments policies for each platform to learn more. 

Language:

The MediaWise project will avoid using foul language in our content unless the language is central to a particular fact check, such as a fact check related to a quote that includes foul language. In those cases, we will bleep or blur the foul language.

Explicit content:

The MediaWise project includes educational content and fact-checks for people of all ages. As such, we will avoid publishing content and educational materials that include sexually explicit or overly violent topics, unless they reach viral status. In those cases, that content will be handled with appropriate care and consideration and may include an advance “Viewer Discretion” warning for the audience.

 

STORY SELECTION AND RATING OVERVIEW

Our fact checks strive to be engaging by focusing on teaching media literacy skills while telling a good story. We want our audience to come away with tangible tips, skills and advice for how they can identify reliable and unreliable information online.

How we choose claims to fact-check

The MediaWise project prioritizes choosing fact checks that focus on issues and news that are of immediate relevance and interest to our audience, looking for topics that are impacting and affecting them. In most cases, the claims we fact-check have already gone viral on a social media platform. 

MediaWise youth fact-checkers look for claims that have gone viral on their own social media feeds. We also encourage our audience to submit claims to us by flagging possible misinformation on social media through the use of our hashtag, #IsThisLegit. Readers can also submit claims they would like us to fact-check via email to mwtips@poynter.org.

While we would love to be able to check out every reader-submitted claim, the MediaWise team will prioritize claims that have garnered the attention of a lot of people on social media. MediaWise cannot fact-check opinions, predictions or promises.

Political neutrality in content:

The MediaWise project is politically neutral and does not support any one candidate, party or issue. We will do our best to maintain political balance in the number of fact-checks we do on each side. While it is important to tap into trending and relevant topics and conversations, it’s also important to be sure we are offering equal scrutiny and criticism across the political spectrum. 

It’s important to note that our fact-checking is not necessarily a reflection of the number of misleading stories out there supporting one side or another. We will strive to maintain balance across our own content in order to continue reaching viewers across the political spectrum and strive not to alienate anyone by fact-checking more of one side of the aisle over the other.

Ratings:

For every fact-check story, a rating is included that tells our audience what we concluded after fact-checking a claim. MediaWise fact-checks typically fall into these ratings categories:

  • Legit. The claim, photo or video is real and the information is accurate. 
  • Mostly legit. The claim, photo or video is mostly true, but some small details are incorrect.
  • Needs context. The claim, photo or video does not have all of the information needed to be fully understood and assessed.
  • Mixed bag. The claim, photo or video is roughly half true/ half false.
  • Mostly not legit. The claim, photo or video is mostly false, but some small details are rooted in truth.
  • Not legit. The claim, photo or video is inaccurate or being taken out of context. 
  • Satire: The claim, photo or video used humor, irony, exaggeration, and false information to comment on current events and pop culture. It may be fake but it’s meant to be a joke. 

Editorial oversight

Each fact-check written by a youth fact-checker goes through a rigorous editing process with a member of the MediaWise team. Student fact-checkers will research, report and write their fact-check and give the claim a rating. A member of the MediaWise team will thoroughly edit the script, confirm its accuracy and either agree with the rating, or choose a new rating.

The edited script will be sent to a second MediaWise staff member for review. When a fact-check rating can not be decided on, the fact-check will be sent to MediaWise Editor and Program Manager Katy Byron for final approval.

Once the script has been approved, the youth fact-checker will record and film the fact-check. Each video fact-check is reviewed by a MediaWise staff member and given feedback before being posted to social media. Once the fact-check has been approved, it will be posted to social media by a MediaWise staff member on the student’s behalf.

 

MEDIAWISE ETHICS POLICIES

The MediaWise project strives to maintain the highest ethical journalism standards across all of its iterations, including youth programs.

Political neutrality and staff:

The MediaWise project’s mission to teach enhanced media literacy skills to all ages seeks to present facts unaffected by agenda or biases. We recognize that unconscious bias can be powerful but with the stakes so high and the country so divided on political issues, the MediaWise team sets its own opinions aside as they work to uphold the principles of fairness and independence, steadfast in its dedication to remaining as impartial as possible and avoiding political conflicts of interest.

As such, the MediaWise project team – including staff, interns, and members of the TFCN and CC – is not permitted to:

  • Campaign, rally, march or fundraise for a political party or candidate;
  • Donate to a candidate or campaign, political action group or political party;
  • Express political views and commentary on social media, either in support of or opposing any candidate, political party, position or issue.

The MediaWise team can (and should!) participate in the political process as voters as part of our responsibilities as United States citizens.

Any potential conflicts of interest should immediately be brought to the attention of MediaWise Editor and Program Manager Katy Byron.

Our ownership & Disclosure of project funders:

MediaWise is owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and is made possible through grant funding and charitable donations. The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)3. The EIN for the organization is 59-1630423. You can view The Poynter Institute’s most-recent public financial disclosure form 990 can be found here. To tackle the spread of misinformation online, MediaWise has partnered with social media platforms to teach digital media literacy on the platforms. There may be instances where we will be fact-checking a claim involving Google, Facebook, TikTok or any of their affiliate properties. When this happens, MediaWise will disclose in the fact check that the individual company funds the MediaWise project and, when relevant, supported creation of the fact-check or other content. However, MediaWise maintains editorial independence from its funders. 

Sources of funding that contribute more than five percent of total MediaWise revenues in the previous calendar year will be listed here:

  • Google News Initiative
  • Google.org
  • Facebook
  • TikTok

MediaWise is a non-partisan organization. It has not accepted donations from political parties, elected officials or candidates running for public office.

 

GUIDELINES FOR REFERENCING STANFORD HISTORY EDUCATION GROUP MATERIALS

The MediaWise program was inspired by the research conducted by the Stanford History Education Group and its Civic Online Reasoning curriculum. Any methods, techniques or phrases that a reasonable person would find unique to the Stanford History Education Group’s Civic Online Reasoning curriculum, must include attribution to Stanford History Education Group if used by MediaWise and its partners, in any form.

Reasonable attribution includes mentions or references to “the Stanford History Education Group”, “SHEG,” “Stanford” or “Civic Online Reasoning.” Unique or proprietary phrases or techniques include, but are not limited to, the “three questions are at the heart of the COR curriculum: Who is behind the information? What is the evidence? What do other sources say?,” “lateral reading,” “click restraint” or references to SHEG’s research studying fact-checkers.

Any errors in the application of this policy will be corrected if it is within MediaWise’s control to correct them. Poynter cannot take responsibility for attribution by third parties who are not our partners, like press outlets.

Last updated: April 26, 2021