It’s an idea that has existed for as long as politics have been around, “well you can’t always believe what the politicians are saying,” or “I don’t trust politicians.” There is an overwhelming belief that politicians lie…. a lot. Unfortunately, calling them out for these lies has been difficult. Technology or rather the lack thereof made it relatively impossible to catch the politicians in their lies when they lie. The problem was transnational communication, which has historically been very slow. The lie would happen, an article would be written about the speech, and people around the nation would read it several days after the fact. This means that politicians had time to give more speeches, in some cases more lies, people took had to take the time to catch up to the most recent speech, so the lie would get ignored. Then came the advent of national news cycles, where lies were reported in a relatively timely manner, but citizens were still enslaved to the 6 o’clock news and the messages that those particular stations wanted to push.
Now we have access to social media sites that give us the ability to have near instantaneous communication, which spells danger for politicians who are a little trigger-happy when it comes to lying. They are not only subject to the few select journalists who are chosen to cover the campaign trail or Washington chiefs of newspapers. Politicians now have to deal with non-media sources or citizens checking what they say. A few organizations have taken it upon themselves to start fact-checking politicians in real time. The two organizations that have proved to be the most effective at this are Politifact.com and Factcheck.org.
Politifact was started in 2007 by the Tampa Bay Times Washington Bureau Chief Bill Adair with the aim of fact checking the statements of politicians and giving them a truth rating. These truth ratings range from “Pants on Fire” to “True.” Politifact has also won a Pulitzer for their fact checking efforts.
Factcheck.org is a nonprofit organization that is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. They describe themselves as a “’consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.”
Even though these organizations have been around for a while, their benefit to citizens has been limited by the access to the organizations. This is where social media comes into play, more specifically where Twitter comes into play. Each of these groups has a Twitter profile with thousands of followers.
The question is whether or not these organizations will be effective at getting the lies out of politics or if politicians will be more careful with lies knowing that these types of organizations exists, or if they current state of affairs will continue.
Right now it’s hard to determine what the effect of these types of accounts will have on citizens, the technologies are relatively young, so measuring their impact is challenging. But, looking at the two most recent debates and the organizations’ Twitters during that time, it’s safe to say that the politicians are certainly not being more careful with the knowledge of that these organizations exists, with the fact-checks totaling 17 from Politifact during the Presidential debate alone.
This is a relatively new area of study, so a conclusion about Fact Checkers is hard to come by, but it’s fun to look at how these organizations develop in the mean time, and hopefully this post isn’t rated “Pants on Fire.”