The last few years have seen the proliferation of ‘fake news’ across the media landscape. The Oxford English Dictionary named ‘post-truth’ word of the year in 2016. U.S. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway then added ‘alternative facts’ into the conversation in January 2017 following the contentious issues of crowd numbers at Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. News feeds have become saturated with the noise and distraction techniques of partisan politics, and voters have become wary of politicians who will often attempt to manipulate media narratives for personal and party gains.
With so much – and often conflicting – information in the public sphere, it can be hard to situate ourselves within the dialogue of contemporary politics. Yet, a belief that politicians are telling truths for which they can then be held accountable is vital for sustaining the ethics and integrity of a healthy democratic system. Trustworthy political facts therefore, are more relevant than ever as we look for ways to navigate and make decisions as the voting public.
Media spin is often used by politicians to sway public opinion on sensitive topics. The 24 hour news cycle drives journalists to sensationalise news and issues in order to keep viewers’ attention and has seen a decline in journalistic standards and the proliferation of misinformation.
In the attention economy where demand for breaking news is high in order to captivate viewers and keep audience shares, media channels have moved away from verified facts and into the arena of opinion and entertainment. Reading from sites that offer original sources to verify the information they give or support the opinion they present is a safe way to ensure you don’t fall prey to media bias.
Separating fact from fiction
Truth telling is a core democratic principle that extends from the government to its people. Factual political information from unbiased sources is important for people to be able to make smart voting decisions and act as their own political advisors. If we relinquish our belief in objective truth, then we become vulnerable to fictions and narratives that could sway our opinions.
The most recent 2020 demonstrated the consequences of when alternative facts and fake news become accepted as political facts. Five people died and over 140 others were injured when a mob was incited to storm the US Capitol building after false claims of a ‘stolen’ election by former President Trump. Without faith in the truth of the information released by the government into the public sphere, the democratic system crumbles as people lose trust in the state’s motives.
Where can I find political facts?
Digital news sources have grown in popularity as people have come to expect instant information and continual updates on trending news topics. 86% of Americans now get their news online via a digital device, while 71% rely solely on social media platforms to aggregate popular current affairs stories.
Online sites that focus on providing access to unbiased political information such as an elected official’s voting history or original bill and report documents, allow voters to make decisions right for them by removing media sensationalism.
Top tips for fact checking
- Check for an unusual website domain that can often be fake versions or typical news broadcasting sites.
- Look for author attribution and make sure to read the About Us page or information to help verify your news source.
- Watch out for overly compelling and sensationalist language that leaves you feeling highly emotional or agitated, this type of news writing is often opinion dressed up as fact.
As the new Biden administration settles in and the future of US politics begins to look more stable, voters are more aware than ever of the necessity for political facts. Within the democratic system, it is the responsibility of the individual to inform themselves and search out unbiased political information.
Using multiple media outlets ensures you are provided with plenty of context surrounding a topic, as well as exposing you to a more varied selection of views and narrative frames. Sites such as We Will Decide provide voters with direct sources and original documents from congressional voting to senators and representatives’ voting history, allowing individuals to make informed voting choices that best reflect their personal opinions.