Fact-Checking vs. Truthiness


Only six days stand between knowing who the next President of the United States will be. That being said, more and more journalists are hustling to find which of the two candidates are being more truthful in their campaigns.

Many journalists are now being called the “fact-checkers” of this 2012 presidential election. Twitter and Facebook updates were constantly being posted through all debates confirming what is or is not true about what was being said.

New data from Google illustrates the trend towards digital consumption of political news that’s really taken hold in 2012: more than half of persuadable swing-state voters get their political news on the Internet, and voters increasingly use online news sources to fact-check the candidates.

— Persuadable voters get their news about this year’s campaigns and elections online:  A near majority of persuadable voters (49%) get their news about this year’s campaigns and elections on the Internet, largely on search engines like Google.

— Persuadable voters “fact check” online:  Fully 64% of voters use the Internet to verify or “fact check” a claim made by a candidate, including 34% who do so weekly, and 58% search for information online about candidates’ voting records or positions on the issues, including more than a quarter (26%) who do so weekly.

— Persuadable voters trust the information they get online:  A broad majority (58%) believe the Internet exposes them to a wider range of views than they can get in the traditional news media and 62% trust the information they find online — right up there with network news (67%) and print newspapers (62%).  A big reason for this is persuadable voters’ belief that it is generally easy to tell what information is true and what is not online (41%), even easier than it is to decipher what is true and what is not on television (32%).


This shows what’s truly at stake in this presidential campaign with digital strategy and the role online plays in informing voters.

The honesty of what both candidates have said during the campaign has also caught the attention of late-night television satirist Stephen Colbert.  He has urged his audience to rely on their gut for what he has dubbed a feeling of “truthiness”.

Even today, with ads battling between which candidate pours more money into their campaign, “fact-checkers” are right there to debunk the truth about what is being thrown out to the voters on their TVs.

The authors, researchers from Victoria University of WellingtonKwantlen Polytechnic University, and University of Victoria, performed four experiments. In the first three studies, participants viewed names of celebrities, displayed one at a time. Some of the names also had a picture or a short verbal description attached. Finally, half of the participants judged the truth of the statement “this famous person is alive,” while the rest judged the truth of, “this famous person is dead.” The participants were more likely to judge a statement as true when it was accompanied by a picture or by a short description, regardless of whether the statement was that the individual was alive, or that the individual was dead. The effect was stronger for less familiar celebrities.

Now what does this mean for journalists and for the political sphere during the 2012 presidential elections? As discussed with other journalists at Columbia College Chicago, the question is can a candidate place a false ad about another candidate in the media world and sway a voter? Yes, whatever information is taken out from this false ad still resonates with the viewer/voter.

Given that we will live with the consequences of this presidential election for the next four years, we should pay close attention not only to the information presented by the candidates, but also the manner in which they present that information. There are many instances in which trusting the truth which comes from your gut could mean that you’re subscribing to something less than the truth. In other words: if it feels good, question it.


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