Earlier this year, in June, the phenomenon Muhammad Ali alias Cassius Clay died. World famous as a boxer and known for his many unforgettable statements. Like “It isn’t bragging, if you can back it up”. In reality, this statement was first used in 1934 by the famous American baseball player Dizzy Dean. Fact checked.
Maybe this is not the most famous statement of Muhammad Ali but it is certainly relevant for this day and age. Checking facts is hot. And that trend is best explained when you look at the developments of at least the last ten years. With the American elections still in mind and closer to home the Brexit in which both the Leave and Remain camp were guilty of twisting truths and hard lies during the campaign. Various media also went along with the flow and after the referendum, for example, reported that the British had no idea what a Brexit would mean when they voted, according to the search behaviour on Google one day after the Brexit. Journalist Allison Graves of politifact.com showed that this was unsubstantiated reporting and therefore untrue.
Since 2007, the fact checking website politifact.com mainly checks statements by American politicians for facts and has now received a lot of competition from TV stations and newspapers during the last elections in America. All with their own fact checkers. Google is also currently rolling out a global fact checkers service and adding it to its news overview by means of labelling.
With the arrival of many fact checkers in their search for the truth, it can lose its strength when accuracy and independence are at stake or questioned by a political preference, commerce or another agenda.
Fact checking can only play a meaningful role if there is also trust. If this trust is not there, fact checking will not win it over sentiment, fear, gut feeling. It is in this light that the results of and sentiment surrounding the Brexit or the American elections can be placed. Or the rise of populism.
“Don’t count the days, make the days count.” (Muhammad Ali)