Making Bigtime Factchecking Real
Posted on November 28th, 2011 by Craig Newmark
Recently, Jeff Jarvis at the City University of NY held an event on restoring factchecking to the news business. He did a really good job getting a bunch of players in this arena to play well together.
Special thanks also the to the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. (My contribution has been overstated, mostly prompting the event and tagging it as #factfest.)
Here's my very brief attempt at getting my head around what happened and what's happening with big deal factchecking. I'm biased, mostly wanting to have news again that I can trust, while figuring that I'm not in the news business and I'm not going to tell people how to do their job.
I'm subject to confirmation bias as well, wanting to see what I hope's happening. Politically, I'm what I call a "libertarian pragmatist."
1. Most people also want news they can trust again. That's true of most journalists, but most find that their publishers find factchecking too lengthy and expensive. It's like most publishers feel that if everyone else is cheating, it's okay for them to cheat.
2. Specifically, people want news and opinion to be factchecked, that is, evidence and reality based. Even pundits should operate on the evidence.
3. There already exist independent networks of factcheckers: at politifact.com, factcheck.org, and sunlightfoundation.com. There are also partisan "factcheckers," some of which operate in good faith, and some which deliberately seek to deceive.
4. There's no large scale successful network of citizen factcheckers or contributors to factchecking. However, American Public Media's Public Insight Network already succeeds as a sizable, funded, effective network of citizens which contribute to real journalism. In the near future, they plan to become a citizen factchecking network, directly working with the Center for Public Integrity. Also, the folks at Hypothes.is seek to build a large peer review network, focused on people with specific expertise, and this might get big.
5. Current software research may result in systems to help factchecking, but not in the current time frame.
6. My take: in the near term we can build a network of networks of factcheckers, both professional and citizen. This requires a little standardization of the way each factchecking database represents factchecks, whether of statements, public figures (mostly politicians), and pundits. That is, each factchecking database would respond to a query in a standard format, and return a verdict and a link to the reasoning behind that verdict. The devil's in the details, for example, a search regarding a statement would need to recognize different versions and phrasing of a particular statement.
7. News sites would need a means to indicate which statements, public figures, or pundits which have been factchecked. The indicator could be a widget, which when clicked, queries the database, or it could be pre-populated. It could also take the form of "truth goggles," a project of the MIT Media Lab, where a cursor placed over a statement would display the results of factchecking.
8. The widget or truth goggle could also be used to request factchecking. Either technique would be enhanced by browser plugins which might automatically scan text or video for previous factchecking.
9. Alternatively, in real-time video interviewing, the database could be checked quickly. For example, if an interviewer suspects the interview subject is misstating facts, a control room operator could quickly search factchecking database.
10. News outlets which used these tools for factchecking would become regarded as trustworthy. The others, well, not so much.
Okay, I've been living with this a long time, and trying too hard to be concise; both mean I'm being unclear or glossing over detail.
However, this is the biggest thing I might help with in my life, and feel that I need to say something and move the effort ahead.
[photo by Fabrice Florin at the factchecking conference]