Opinions on How Fact-Checking Alternative Facts is way Harder Than You Think
I offer opinions on how to fact-check alternative facts from the perspective of a fact-checker who fact-checks alternative facts. Fact. Now here are my opinions on it.
Consider the following claims:
Hitler was a left-wing socialist, the Democrats are the Party of the KKK, the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, Islam is a naturally aggressive religion, the idea of the major U.S. party’s switching is a myth, all liberties are freedoms from government, there was no Islamic Golden Age, black people liked being slaves (it was better than northern wage slavery), a flat tax is more fair because low-income people don’t pay taxes, in person voter fraud is a big problem, crime is up, jobs are down, ObamaCare is socialism, climate change isn’t real.
This things all sound like they maybe could be true, and I’ve heard each spread around the internet like it was gospel truth, but each raises a red flag I can’t put my finger on right away.
Each begs for a fact-check and thoughtful discussion with expert opinions and citations, but such things aren’t so easily done (go ahead, google “is climate change real” and get back to me with a well-substantiated argument that will sway the masses one way or another without appearing to contain political bias, I’ll be waiting).
Do you see a commonality in these “talking points”? They aren’t just Breitbart and/or Infowars headlines, they are carefully constructed bits of misleading information that seek to give simple answers to very complex questions.
Some of them contain omissions of truth, some contain misleading points, some I think are actually just fully wrong, some are like appropriate first sentences to long well cited essays where the essay explains how the point is and isn’t true thereby offering perspective and nuance. But this is not what we get in practice, in practice we often just get the point with more loosely constructed points backing it up (if we even get that).
Each above point oversimplifies a difficult subject, and also, more insidiously, demonizes the modern left and normalizes the modern right.
Each point sounds good on paper, and potentially has lots of smart points to back it up, but isn’t purely accurate information.
The information might pass for what we consider “alternative media” or “opinion journalism”, but you’ll notice that you never hear those sort of points displayed as fact in a U.S. military field guide or on BBC world News.
Each point is a “talking point”, a cherry picked bit of information with an implied bias.
They are not lies, they are not exactly half-truths, they are a type of quasi-propaganda seemingly designed to spread emotion rather than fact. Information designed to slander liberals and support right-wing talking points.
They are, loosely speaking, “alternative facts” (likely in my opinion originating in right-wing think tanks in a semi-coordinated campaign to push-back against neoliberalism and progressivism in PDFs like these; although that is theory, not provable fact in each case, or if it is, I notably haven’t proved it here).
With all that said. One might assume that, as a fact-checker, all I have to do is:
- Quit my darn whiney liberal bellyaching.
- Show how the statement is right and/or wrong. Fact-checking each aspect of the talking point.
- Create clear concise information based on my research, adding in citation as needed.
Then, if I’ve done a good job, people will find the facts and be swayed. Right?
Well, maybe in-theory, but in-practice fact-checking alternative facts it is way harder than that.
As Lenin and Stalin (the left-wing authoritarian communist statists) and Hitler and Mussolini (the right-wing authoritarian fascist statists) knew, simple talking points repeated over and over again that tap into emotions work really well, and long Marxist type essays are so alienating that only a few intellectuals ever actually read them (likely why none aside from a few intellectuals actually seems to understand Marx, or Lenin, or Mussolini, or Hitler for that matter; who by the way are all intellectuals who wrote long essays that none except people like me read; how one fact-checks or blabs about Hitler without reading his book is beyond me, his book debunks the talking point… anyway, here I am being long and alienating).
This is to say, speaking truth AND being persuasive at the same time, all while speaking in short consumable snippets, is actually a fairly difficult thing. Here I’ll give an example that counters the KKK point above:
The KKK were Democrats up until the 1960’s. From the late 1960’s to today the KKK increasingly began to support Republicans as the party platforms changed and solid south Democrats became Republicans as the party moved to the socially conservative right in response increasing progressivism in America and the West. We know because the KKK often support candidates openly and even run for office and we can look at the party’s history, the voting map, and platforms to help show the changes. CITE: Ku Klux Klan members in United States politics, For decades, the Ku Klux Klan openly endorsed candidates for political office, Historical Presidential Elections, Political Party Platforms of Parties Receiving Electoral Votes 1840 – 2016.
So, we are good now, right?
We know that the parties switched and that the KKK used to be Democrats, but now they generally support Republicans like the rest of the socially conservative south. Right? That makes more sense than Obama and 97% of black voters and the majority of Mexican Americans supporting the Democrats because they are too dim to understand they are enslaved to the welfare state. CITE: How Minority Voters Helped Obama Win Reelection and Is treatment of minorities a key election issue? Views differ by race, party (the other thing strict voter ID and building a wall accomplishes; its always “also about votes” not just the face-value meaning of “law and order”).
In other words, it makes more sense that everyone is just acting in their own self interest rather than having been duped into working against it. Right? I’m sure that isn’t always true, but seems true in general. Even likely true for conservatives, they all benefit from not progressing toward a neoliberal integrated welfare state, they are all self interested to be Republican despite the tax breaks for the rich and freedom scraps for the working class to lap up. They just put social issues and liberty before scrap allotment, simple as that. Meanwhile the new immigrant, woman, black American, LGBT, or whatever is like, uhh “I pick team who doesn’t want to build a wall, ban Muslims, and tell me what bathroom to use”. That is the sort of stuff that switches the parties. <—- Opinion based on research.
Awesome, Job well done, now to kick back and relax in my liberal utopia… oh wait, you mean to tell me that the above sounds like liberal bias, that I’ve probably convinced no one, and that further I have just brought up more points which need fact-checking!
UGGGH madness. Darn you critical thinking, If only I’d had version 1.0 of Common Core and left it there I wouldn’t have this problem!
But look I get it, on one hand, I as a liberal I am always likely to give a liberal perspective unless I work hard to constrain every utterance to pure information. I’m only human, I’m sure I could benefit from a Powell or Hannity as a side-kick (please liberal Jesus, send me Powell and not Hannity, I can personally deal with bias and opinion as long as we aim toward facts).
On the other hand, short sentences like “the KKK was Democrats yo, lol” and “southern racist is still a southern racist, modern KKK members are typically Republicans” are easier to spout and remember than long accurate articles with citations.
Those quips probably aren’t going to win us friends from the other side, but if our information is designed to just indoctrinate our own side with simple blips, then we don’t have to worry anyway!
However, if I want to prove modern KKK are Republicans to all people, not just those primed to hear it, I need to cite proof and discuss inconstancies. And, I’ll also need to describe wage slavery and chattel slavery and the know-nothings and the difference between racism and anti-immigrant sentiment and so much else.
If I want to just indoctrinate a bunch of lefties, yeah I can make flashy memes and just drill the basics into their heads. However, if I want to inform lefties and help right-wingers see the center, without resorting to lies, I have a long road ahead.
This is to say, if I want to stand for truth, justice, and Americanism… I have a long road ahead…
…But here my road is even longer. Every counter point I make is itself a potential alternative fact.
A left wing one specifically.
My job gets even harder as I have to fact check my own conclusions and watch how I’m framing information. I likely need to edit, that will likely add to the length of the page. One sees the absurd rabbit hole that the lower-brow avoid.
If I went super low-brow and turned my essays into bite sized facts with citations, it wouldn’t be a bad idea, I’d probably make more money… everyone likes money, but the problem with the alt-propaganda (left and right at their worst) is that they often go an extra step and throw in stuff that is literally not true.
Now with information, your information is either true or not. If it is a little not true, it is “not true”. And that makes life complex.
Fact-checking stuff that isn’t true is very tricky. Not only do you have to grapple with something, you have to grapple with something you know is BS that you have to treat like “is real” out of respect. There won’t always be sources on “proof the climate isn’t changing”, right? Because it is, so there is a lack of proof it isn’t (it is about extent and human impact and the validity of solutions given economic factors and environmental factors and technology; not whether or not it is real).
Like I heard the other day “the Civil War wasn’t about slavery“… Ok, yes it was, it was about that AND other things. It wasn’t JUST about slavery, but actually dismissing the slavery aspect is a neo-confederate talking point. Now does the person spouting off the point know that? I don’t know, and I hate to accuse them of this, but the message is sure-as-heck coming from somewhere.
So now, do I talk about the right-wing strategy (from whence I’m dang sure points like this come)… well if I do that means explainers and that means hitting that wall of cognitive dissonance.
That means bouncing my info off of filter bubbles and making the reader angry.
That isn’t how one wins friends and or influences people.
Coming at it from the center and also discussing the left wing machine and what conservatives are trying to conserve away from makes sense, but again, length.
So, not only do I have to put in a lot of physical effort and pay attention to the size of the article and its wording, I actually have to grapple with another complexity. I have to deal with my own bias and try to step into others people’s shoes.
I have to seriously consider my own statements, but I also have to consider absurd things others think like, “OK, maybe the blacks really did like being slaves, let’s research that”… let me see if this neo-confederate viewpoint has truth to it. Well hmm, I found “the Daily Stormer” upon Googling that phrase, so I can Google-confirm I am espousing a fascist viewpoint (If only Crowder did this, then we might actually have that Utopia). NOTE: Google is a good first step, I generally don’t stop there in my research, this is just an example.
Yes indeed, the article Blacks Loved Slavery and Regretted Its End on the Daily Stupor is certainly offensive (and is for the lolz I’m sure). Ok Tom, don’t get triggered you have to stayed centered and fact-based. Don’t stoop to the level of the opposition, no one likes a cranky liberal. Give the article about those slavery loving blacks and oppression loving Jews a read and… anyway, my theoretical piece here doesn’t require me to fill my head with this drivel, the article sucks, I’m surprised Google ranks it, anyway liberty for all even Storm Crawlers.
So, like though, if I say to the above, “I totally get the Radical Republicans, too bad Reconstruction ended so quickly, what a shame” then that is offensive, right? I mean its not “America First” “Build a Wall” “anti-Mexican and Muslim” talking point, but it is historically messed up to say.
That isn’t PC, that might trigger a patriotically correct person, and you do not want to trigger patriotically correct people. If you trigger politically correct people you might get witch hunted, if you trigger patriotically correct people you might just get straight up hunted.
The lesson here is that intellectuals must go high. They must inform and fact-check.
If they go low they may earn respect, but they also may trigger “they who one would expect to have thicker skin”. No one likes being poked with a stick, especially not by someone who is trying to educate them. In other words, one has to constantly check their bias when trying to create information (as it seeps in naturally, especially with emotional subjects).
I can’t just tell someone “actually Hitler was a right-winger, read his book douche”.
It makes me seem like a triggered socialist idiot indoctrinated by the left, and plus I might miss a nuanced point about how some nazi planks are to the left of other ideologies (like their on-paper socialist planks were to the left of pay to pay healthcare, if you were a national). Actually a whole interesting conversation in there, it just that they use that point to try to slander liberals (not that it is an interesting factoid with bits of truth despite its qualities of lying by omission).
The fact-battle can only be won with facts and well construction information that avoids pitfalls like lying by omission.
This isn’t a battle that can be won with emotion (super tempting though, making fake news sounds fun).
I have to dig through the book and cite things and research and frame that in a useful way at.
Ok great I do that, but there is still a problem, and that is attention span.
A person has already read the MORE MYTH BUSTED: Actually, Yes, Hitler Was a Socialist Liberal, they know left-wingers are Hitler because just look at the violence at the Trump rally, obviously Trump could never be a fascist, when he says “America First” he just means it such an innocent way, I’m sure he isn’t even aware of the whole America first fascist movement, the progressives are obviously both the communists and fascists (think about it, WWII is the story of left-wing progressives vs. left-wing progressives and that is “why Hitler”, duh you liberals are to blame for all the world’s evils, obviously, right-wingers were just the silent majority, when Hitler formed his armies all right wingers were like “Nah bro, we love the Jews, didn’t you see me shake hands with Bibi” and “Hitler was like dude you are so brave sticking up for minorities, the blacks must have loved living with you”). No, Trump fans are just sweet real Americans fighting for freedom and prosperity against the Communist and Fascist violent leftwing. All they ever wanted was freedom and free enterprise, the awful socialists took it from them, these sweet victims, oh god no! <— hyperbole meant to illustrate how it sounds from the other side.
LOOK I get how bias and triggered the above sounds, which is kind of the point. I want truth, not bias slant. But fact checking bias has a complication of opening the door for more bias. THAT takes words to fact check.
Justifications for the above word salad aside,
A person already thinks they know what they know, they have already had their truths framed for them by Alex Jones.
They don’t need my liberal intellectual type-y fingers telling them what is what. It comes of as aggressive.
Plus, liberals are alway so smug thinking they are so smart, they just don’t understand business and liberty, they are too dumb, brainwashed by the universities to love socialism. Those poor misguided stinkin’ pinkos. Victims really, that is what they are. Useful idiots for the Communists (or fascists if it fits our narrative). <– things I hear said about liberals in comical form if that isn’t clear.
Anyway. I assume some Republicans are good people, so let me stop with the backwards insults and word play (see how that works; language is complex like that).
What I mean to say is that explaining the truth is long and drawn out, and deprogramming indoctrinated people is next to F’ing impossible, and it only becomes harder when you respect the other person’s position and go for straight up truth with explainers rather than equal and opposite propaganda.
And of course, one always has to check themselves.
Maybe I’m wrong on something above, maybe (snark aside) the other team has a point.
I have to check each point and think on it, I have to write about it, I have to take it seriously, I am looking for smart debate and counterpoints. I always hope that my final answer is going to be more centered than my first opinion.
This is a helpful process for getting toward centered truth, but it does not produce yummy bite size Crowder pages. It produces longwinded essays.
The truth of the Hitler thing is a long essay that cites the history of the fascist movement, but guess how many people read that, ponder, and then come back with thoughtful citations. It isn’t “a lot”.
Crowder’s Courtney Kirchoff (who I’m sure is a nice person and seems legit enough in her bio) just throws a few points at you at once, real simple, real snarky, seems legit, right?
They start with:
A favorite tactic employed by leftists is to describe the Nazis as “right wing,” with Adolf Hitler, their leader, as the grand leader of this “right wing” movement. Rewriting history is pretty common for leftists, as their history is littered with injustice (the KKK was founded by Democrats, did you know?). Injustices they claim to fight against today. Awkward.
But the thing is, that whole paragraph is a mess of lies. I can prove it… but proving it takes words.
In other words, I have no doubt Kirchoff has a valid point, but she did not fully check herself. She instead spread an alt-fact, then the alt-right picked it up. Now many think it is true. Now I have to write long essay. Maybe I can turn that into snappy counterpoint with meme, but I’m always going to be in a more difficult position. As I can’t just cherry pick out the points, call it a day, and be proud.
I’m not saying I always get it right, or don’t cherry pick, or am not biased. I am saying that I am constantly checking my facts and my bias to strive toward truth. That is different than striving toward the vindication of my principals.
Dude though, I wish Hitler was a lefty, that would make the current fascist lefties. If the fascists were lefties then maybe we call work together to make a decent healthcare bill.
No, i’m pretty sure the fascists are fascists, communist communists, progressives progressives, statists statists, libertarians libertarians, and most are just really voting on a single voter issue or general ideology looking for talking points to back up what they already think and counterpoints to make fun of online.
I don’t think people seek this because they hate truth, I think they seek it because they love truth in theory, but seeking it out and consuming it in practice is difficult (dear TV and internet, your rating seeking is not helping, that is mob rule).
Speaking of which, lets end on that.
When we seek ratings, or when we seek popularity, or when we seek money, when we seek these things over truth, then we get what we get. It is Plato’s democracy in-action.
Free enterprise and individual liberty sound good on paper, as does collective equality, but like, that is oligarchy and democracy, or for the fascists who we know aren’t really free enterprise people, that is a timocracy (like Sparta), or for the intellectual, I’m sure the long for some Philosopher King-based aristocracy.
The thing is, we can’t all eat the whole cake, only Tyrants eat the whole cake. When one constructs propaganda to “crush” the other team, it is a bit like trying to take the whole cake. It is a pathway toward despotism and away from western enlightened Americanism.
Why would we want vices of extremes controlling a Mixed-Republic? That has been recognized as a bad idea since 360 BC. Let us all back away from the alt-cliff and look toward that creamy fact-filled center. It may be a little boring and longwinded, but at least it is honest and sustainable.
Anyway, this article is long enough already. HAPPY!