Entering the new year, Americans are increasingly divided. They clash not only over differing opinions on COVID-19 risk or abortion, but basic facts like election counts and whether vaccines work. Surveying rising political antagonism, journalist George Packer recently wondered in The Atlantic, “Are we doomed?”
It is common to blame people who are intentionally distributing false information for these divisions. Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa says Facebook’s “[bias] against facts” threatens democracy. Others lament losing the “shared sense of reality” and “common baseline of fact” thought to be a prerequisite for democracy.
Fact-checking, the rigorous independent verification of claims, is often presented as vital for fighting falsehoods. Elena Hernandez, a spokesperson for YouTube, states that “Fact checking is a crucial tool to help viewers make their own informed decisions” and “to address the spread of misinformation.” Ariel Riera, head of Argentina-based fact-checking organization Chequeado, argues that fact checking and “quality information” are key in the fight against “the COVID-19 ‘infodemic.‘”