By: Heidi Kulicke
Sifting through the falsehoods and half-true sentiments popping up left and right online is Truthsquad, a journalist-driven, community fact-checking experiment of NewsTrust, in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity. The site (NewsTrust.net/Truthsquad) aims to help viewers decipher what’s fact and what’s fiction on the Internet, and is gearing up for an especially active 2012 election season.
Truthsquad’s goal is to give readers new tools for checking information on the Web — and, in the process, help build media literacy skills with the guidance of professionals, as stated on Truthsquad’s home page. The underlying concept is to combine the center’s newsroom of investigative journalists with crowd-sourcing and partner contributions while engaging visitors. Truthsquad doesn’t just target politicians, but media pundits and public figures as well.
Past topics have included claims such as, “Social security does not add one penny to the deficit,” (Sen. Richard Durbin, D-IL); “Eighty-seven million Americans will be forced out of their coverage by Obama’s health care plan,” (Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT); “Wisconsin is on track to have a budget surplus this year,” (Rachel Maddow, MSNBC); and “U.S. government calculates inflation without adding in the price of food and energy,” (Glenn Beck, Fox News).
Here’s how it works: Readers click on a quote, and each quote has links of related evidence to support or disqualify the claim. Readers can then add their two cents and mark whether they believe the quote is true, false, or mark that they’re not sure. And readers are welcome to change their answer as many times as they’d like, as more evidence continues to be presented. After a period of time, Truthsquad editors sift through the evidence and present a final verdict, declaring it true, false, mostly true, mostly false, or half true.
Truthsquad directly addresses the need to decipher the accuracy of information overflowing from the Web and traditional media outlets. But what differentiates Truthsquad from other fact-checking and investigative organizations such as PolitiFact and Factcheck.org is the participation it encourages from the public; however, there is no expectation that citizens will be better equipped to find falsehoods than journalists.
In the future, Truthsquad aims to create embeddable widgets for stories on any news site, encouraging the public to look deeper into issues and find out for themselves how true a statement really is. Newspapers can capitalize on this idea by creating fact-checking on their own websites, as news sites Voice of San Diego and Honolulu Civil Beat have. By connecting readers to news that matters to them on a community level while getting readers involved in the process, news organizations can create loyal readers and educated consumers.