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Fact-Checking Organizations: the New Media

Jack Malcolm, Freelance Writer

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Understanding truth in government these days is far more complex than many people ever realized it would be. As stressed in my previous article, “The Importance of Informed Citizens,” everyday Americans face challenges seeking the truth in politics. In the past year, I have found, while watching the news and reading various articles on political affairs, that  consuming news from many sources was critical in my quest to becoming fully and accurately informed about the world. The difficulty was in figuring out which sources to add and who to trust. Fact-checking organizations played a key role in solving this issue for me.

The 2016 election presented new challenges to citizens in pursuit of the truth. This election contained unprecedented claims and behavior. Where spin has historically been commonplace in American politics, this campaign seemed to move beyond spin and into outrageous claims and misinformation. Some websites were even publishing fake news articles to make money and influence voters. Additionally, the prevalent use of social media allowed misinformation to spread broadly and rapidly. Beyond these new challenges, consumers of mainstream media also needed to sift through biased reporting. While news agencies traditionally attempt to hold a neutral stance with their reporting, bias is unavoidable because of human nature. These organizations are not machines; they are managed and produced by humans with opinions just like everyone else and should be treated as such. 

Many who focused on the election soon became aware that headlines and soundbites could not be taken as truth without further research. People began to look to fact-checking organizations to validate information on the candidates’ proposed plans, statements, and questionable news that had been circulating. Sites such as Politifact, factcheck.org, Fact Checker by The Washington Post, Snopes and Open Secrets became valuable for checking political claims, busting urban legends, and tracking donations made and money raised by various organizations.

“There’s been quite a bit of increased interest in the idea of fact-checking in recent years. Several outlets have begun taking the issue to heart, posting their own fact checks or at least adding more background information to their published reports, like what some TV news networks or the Associated Press often do now. As for PolitiFact, last year’s presidential campaign brought in record traffic to our site, so people are definitely looking for it,” says Joshua Gillin, a Staff Writer for PolitiFact, PunditFact and the Tampa Bay Times, when I asked him about the increased popularity of fact-checking organizations.

Fact-checking organizations are so useful to everyone because each claim that is checked is compared with documented and indisputable facts. No one has to worry that information may be ignored or skewed because fact checkers make their evidence and resources easily accessible to readers. Some fact-checking websites provide a rating based on the overall verity of the statement for reader convenience. Each rating has definitive requirements needed to validate the objectivity of the work done. These organizations do important work that normal citizens, with limited political experience and knowledge, rely on to make informed decisions.

The emergence of fact-checking organizations has provided a great value to the public.  The ability of an everyday citizen to check the facts of suspicious claims that they read or hear is becoming more and more important due to our increasingly inter-connected society. The various outlets that may spread misinformation are growing and citizens are becoming more susceptible to these falsities. If citizens can check claims that pertain to their lives then the populace will become more informed and thus make better voting decisions, leading to a better United States.

The next installment of the series will explain how facts are checked and will walk through the process used by one fact-checking organization.

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Fact-Checking Organizations: the New Media