I appeared on a podcast recently to discuss the explosion of misinformation that has followed the coronavirus pandemic. Intelligence Squared host John Donvan led myself and Professor Kate Starbird of University of Washington in a wide-ranging discussion.
April 2 is International Fact-checking Day, a new holiday that the International Fact-checking Network launched in 2017. We celebrate it every year at PolitiFact.
This year, I wrote a column in the context of the coronavirus, meditating on how, these days, everyday people have to fact-check their own information consumption.
Knowing whether a particular statement or claim is true or false is the foundation on which we make sound decisions for our families and about our health. It’s the basis on which we can judge our elected officials and make decisions about how to govern ourselves in a democracy.
But the true spirit of fact-checking is so much larger than that.
We have to ask ourselves: Are we willing to use evidence, reason, science and logic to govern our actions? Or do we react on impulse and emotionally, often out of an intense flash of fear or anger? Do we use prudence and thoughtfulness to come to a decision, or do we indulge our instincts and then stick to our stance no matter what?
It’s a critical decision, and one we each get to make daily, even hourly.“In the time of coronavirus, we’re all fact-checkers now”
PolitiFact started as a politics news website in 2007, but these days, it feels more like a mission. Over the years, we’ve evolved and grown to encompass many ways of promoting information integrity. I wrote a State of PolitiFact report for the site covering our core competencies, which include:
- Political factchecking;
- Withstanding attacks on the media;
- Fighting disinformation;
- Promoting media literacy; and,
- Working with researchers.
For The Atlantic, I wrote an essay about why fact-checkers report and write about so many of President Donald Trump’s statements.
It’s astounding even now, two years into Donald Trump’s presidency, how many things he says on a daily basis that just aren’t true.
Here are some of the president’s most frequent falsehoods: U.S. Steel is opening six plants (it’s not); Barack Obama’s administration had the same policy as Trump’s of separating children from adults at the border (it didn’t); Trump signed the largest tax cut in history (Ronald Reagan, among others, has him beat); a caravan of migrants was stirred up by Democrats offering health care and food benefits paid for by taxpayers (not quite); other countries owe the U.S. a lot of money for nato (this is false); the building of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border is well under way (nope). None of this is true.
Other presidents have spun whoppers to the American people for political advantage before Trump, and some of those untruths—regarding the realities of the Vietnam War, for example—were hugely consequential. READ MORE …
Here’s how this year’s ‘Lie of the Year’ story starts:
In the days after 17 people were viciously gunned down at a high school in Florida, the state’s Republican governor called for tighter gun laws and President Donald Trump hosted victims’ families in the State Dining Room.
The nation seemed steadfast in seeking answers and finding solutions.
“It’s not going to be talk like it has been in the past,” Trump said. “It’s been going on too long. Too many instances, and we’re going to get it done.”
But in the shadows, the internet engine of hoaxes and smears had started.READ MORE
We also debuted the Lie of the Year on MSNBC. Here’s video
I appeared on the radio program Marketplace recently to discuss PolitiFact’s fact-checking of Facebook. It was a good conversation; we talked about the persistence of false information and the historical challenge of fact-checking. Click below to listen to the program or visit the Marketplace website.
I was on a panel recently in The Atlantic’s Humanity + Tech event, underwritten by Google and in collaboration with MIT Media Lab. We had a fascinating discussion about combatting misinformation and fake news. Here’s the video via YouTube.
Bots & Ballots podcast
I was pretty sick with near laryngitis when I recorded this podcast last month for Bots & Ballots. But I’m glad I did it because I thought it was an interesting conversation. This is what I said is the problem with politicians saying things that aren’t true: “It distracts the conversation from reality and addressing real problems in a constructive way. That’s a huge part of the negative consequences of political lying — you never get to the real issues because you’re too busy trying to establish what’s actually real.”
Listen to the podcast or read a Yahoo News summary.
I know some people don’t like the term “fake news,” but I still tend to use it to describe intentionally fabricated information masking as a legitimate news story. “Fake news” does not mean “any news I don’t like.” (See this story for more on that issue.)
My interest was piqued recently when I learned that President George Washington had to deal with phony reports claiming he had actually been sympathetic to the British during the Revolutionary War. It’s a conspiracy theory that actually doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it was a real thing in Washington’s day, and one of his final acts as president was to lodge a formal rebuttal — really a type of fact-check — with the secretary of state’s office. Here’s the story I wrote about the episode for PolitiFact:
Politics in 2018 can seem so relentlessly negative, it’s tempting to seek escape in reading stories of the Founding Fathers.
Take George Washington.
Far from the staid-looking fellow on the $1 bill, Washington was a tall and athletic man, a skilled soldier, an avid horseman and a graceful dancer. Known for his eloquent silence, he instinctively deflected attention from himself so as to emphasize the birth of a new country and government by the people.
Still, there were ways in which George Washington’s life is like today. Here’s one: He had to fight fake news.
Forged letters from before his presidency claimed to show in his own words that he privately sympathized with the British monarchy and thought the American cause was doomed. The letters also suggested that Washington thought Americans weren’t ready for democracy. MORE …
Global Fact V in Rome
Fact-checkers from around the world gathered at the end of June in Rome for Global Fact V, the international fact-checking conference. It was a smashing success, with many great panels and discussions. (Read coverage of the conference events via Poynter.org.)
I combined work and leisure by bringing my mom with me, where we did a good bit of sight-seeing in Rome and Assisi before the conference started. Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip.