Oct 13, 2020 - Economy

Fact-checking goes mainstream in Trump era

Data: Duke Reporter's Lab; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Duke Reporter's Lab; Chart: Axios Visuals

There's been a 200% increase in the number of fact-checking organizations that have launched worldwide since President Trump was elected in 2016, according to data from the Duke Reporter's Lab.

  • Nearly 20% of those organizations are in the U.S.

Why it matters: An explosion of misinformation has consumers focused more than ever on finding facts.

  • "It's definitely a response to the extraordinary propensity for falsehoods that President Trump has exhibited as President and before that, during the campaign," says Lucas Graves, an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin and author of "What's True: The Rise of Political Fact-Checking in American Journalism."

Driving the news: During the first presidential debate, Americans primarily searched for ways to watch the debate and how to fact-check it, according to data from SimilarWeb.

  • The highest-trafficked website for fact check related-keywords during the first debate was CNN, followed by NPR and The New York Times.
  • CNN said that over 5 million unique visitors consumed CNN Digital’s ‘Facts First’ on the first presidential debate day and the vice presidential debate day.
  • A Times spokesperson says that in less than 24 hours after it was published, The Times’s fact-check from the first debate had millions of page views.

Between the lines: Many major news sites fact-checked the debates in real-time. Even tech companies like Twitter have begun to fact-check claims made on their platforms and add labels to disputed posts.

Yes, but: It wasn't long ago that news organizations were skeptical about including fact-checks in everyday reporting.

  • In the early 2000's, fact-checking became a movement among reporters, partly in response to bloggers that began fact-checking mainstream stories.
  • In 2010, New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane asked readers whether they thought reporters should fact-check public figures the same way public opinion writers do.
  • "From 2008 to 2012, there was still some debate around news outlets and where fact checking belonged and whether fact-checking was a legitimate form of journalism," says Graves. "It was still an edgy format."
  • But today, "nobody could argue that it was inappropriate for journalists to point out falsehoods from political leaders," says Graves.

Be smart: One of the problems with fact-checking as a commonly-accepted format of journalism was that some of the groups that pushed fact-checking years ago were partisan, and only looked to fact-check one side of a debate.

  • Groups like Media Matters (on the left) and the Media Research Center (on the right) have long been fact-checking politicians and even the media from a partisan lens.
  • In order to be counted as a fact-checking organization by the Duke Reporters' Lab, the fact-checking entity must be considered non-partisan and must review statements by all parties and sides. The Lab counts groups like Politifact, The Washington Post Fact Checker and FactCheck.org.

The big picture: The fact-checking craze has driven record investment, fueling a slew of new fact-checking startups. It's also fueled media companies to begin marketing around fact-checking.

  • Facebook and Google both launched $1 million and $6.5 million fact-checking grants, respectively.
  • CNN's multi-million dollar "Facts first" ad campaign was nominated for an Emmy. The New York Times "Truth" and "The Truth Is Worth It" ad campaigns both appeared during the Oscars.

What's next: Now that fact-checking has been widely accepted as a common newsroom practice, the conversation has shifted to whether fact-checking is effective.

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