Editorial: Fact checking in citizen journalism could keep government honest
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 21:09
The rise in citizen journalism, in the form of blogs, cell phone videos and other mediums, is a well-documented trend that shows no signs of slowing down. As communication technology continues to become more accessible, ordinary people have been able to share news with their friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers. Recent events such as the shooting at the Empire State Building saw quicker coverage, including video footage and commentary, from these citizen journalists than from traditional media outlets.
But coverage of events is not the only upward trend in citizen journalism. Ordinary people are increasingly taking on roles previously dominated by the mainstream media. This has been very notable in the area of fact-checking, an activity that used to be out of reach for an unprofessional consumer of news. However, with internet access becoming more widespread, citizens are able to independently confirm or refute points made by their elected officials and other public figures. This is leading to an increase in scrutiny, and therefore, an increase in transparency. The rise in citizen fact-checking has the potential to make our government much more honest than in years past.
This is especially useful during presidential campaign season. Republicans and Democrats alike seem to be focused almost exclusively on winning the election this November, and are often willing to sacrifice truth for politically convenient statements. Yet this campaign has seen an unprecedented amount of coverage on the lies perpetrated by both parties, thanks to a large community of citizen fact-checkers. When Paul Ryan blamed Obama for the closing of an auto factory during his speech at the Republican National Convention, the internet was ablaze with individuals writing about how the factory actually closed on George W. Bush’s watch. When Bill Clinton credited President Obama’s Affordable Care Act with lowering health care spending, bloggers, tweeters and other posters quickly pointed out that most of its provisions have not yet taken effect.
New technology has also empowered smaller media outlets, including student-run newspapers, to fact-check national politicians just as effectively as established media organizations.
Formerly, journalists and others in the mainstream media were the only people with the time and resources to fact-check every word uttered by a presidential candidate. But today, that power has become much more widespread, enabling details as minor as Paul Ryan’s marathon time to emerge as front-and-center news stories. If continued, this spread of fact-checking will go a long way toward making our democracy healthier and more accountable. We are all fact-checkers now, and that’s a good thing.