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Fact-Checking is an Active, Ongoing Effort

Laura Hazard Cohen explains that “First-generation fact-checking” is no longer good enough. Here’s what comes next:

“Fact checkers need to move from ‘publish and pray’ to ‘publish and act.’” “The idea that fact checking can work by correcting the public’s inaccurate beliefs on a mass scale alone doesn’t stack up,” write representatives from Full Fact (U.K.), Africa Check (Africa), and Chequeado (Argentina), in a manifesto of sorts published Thursday to all three sites.

“First-generation fact-checking” — the approach of simply publishing fact-checks, which sites like FactCheck.org do — is a worthy effort, the authors write, but it isn’t enough if you actually want to change people’s minds. “Nobody should be surprised when, despite fact checkers publishing lots of fact checks, people still believe inaccurate things and politicians still spin and distort. Fact checking can work but not if this is all we do.”

What, then, is to be done?

Hazard Cohen writes of leading fact-checkers’ plans:

Full Fact, Africa Check, and Chequeado argue instead for their second-generation approach that includes not just publishing but also pressure and working for system change:

First, we move from just publishing to “publish and act.” We seek corrections on the record, pressure people not to make the same mistake again, complain where possible to a standards body. In other words, we use whatever forms of moral, public, or where appropriate regulatory pressure are available to stop the spread of specific bits of misinformation.

It’s hard to overstate how important it is to return again and again to a topic.  In small towns, especially, boosterism – where local officials think Babbitt is not a cautionary tale but an instructional manual – fact-checking requires a patient but relentless response.

(In a place like Whitewater, this boosterism has mainly been of the center-right, but it’s slowly changing into a center-left version of the same.  Boosterism shaded blue will prove no better for communities than boosterism shaded red.  For some, hucksterism is probably more important than any religion, philosophy, or politics could ever be. That’s a sad state, but a manifest truth, too.)

In any event, a thousand maneuvers of public relations and marketing on behalf of boosterism (and these gentlemen will offer at least a thousand) are nothing against the attritional power of sound principles of history, economics, and law.

Attrition is slow, but properly applied its effects are inexorable.

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