Election FactCheck is an independent, non-partisan public service that will test the truthfulness of political statements during Australia’s federal election campaign.
Academics with subject expertise will check claims by politicians, interest groups and the media for accuracy. A second academic will independently review the check.
We do not pretend that issues are black and white — we acknowledge complexity — but we do believe that informed debate in a democracy is possible only when citizens have trusted information about the basic facts on contentious issues.
Fact checking during political campaigns is new in Australia, but well-established in the US. For the federal election, there are other local players – the American spin-off PolitiFact Australia, sponsored by Channel 7, and the ABC’s soon-to-be-launched fact checking unit. We welcome them. Each will work in a slightly different way, and we believe the more people testing the claims and counterclaims during an election the better.
The idea of fact checking is hardly revolutionary – it’s what journalists do every day, and something The Conversation has been doing since our launch two years ago. But in a 24-hour news cycle, there is often less time for journalists to check whether a statement is more spin than substance. As well, the internet makes possible a dedicated site to focus on bringing accountability to political assertions.
We don’t suggest fact checking is the sole answer to improving political debate. But it has a useful role to play. As Brooks Jackson, who set up FactCheck.org in the United States in 2003, wrote recently, fact checking can’t stop politicians bamboozling voters, “but we can make voters harder to fool”.
The Conversation’s editors will choose which statements to check. We will ask ourselves: how significant is the statement, how often is it asserted, and could it lead people to ask: “I wonder if that’s true?”
An academic with relevant expertise will be commissioned to check the statement based on the best available evidence. They will provide reasons for their verdict and provide relevant context.
A second academic will undertake a “blind” review of the check – he or she will not know the identity of the original fact checker. The reviewer will write a short report confirming that the check is accurate and adding comments if they wish.
Each week, we will fact-check any significant factual assertions on the ABC’s Q & A program on Monday nights. To allow us to publish the checks as soon as possible, there will be no review process for these checks.
We considered, and rejected, the idea of rating statements “True” or “False” or “Half True” or “Half False”. When trialling it, we found that a one or two-word rating was unhelpful to understanding the issue and was often too subjective. The difference between “Half True” and “Mostly True” was meaningless in many cases and depended on whether a statement was taken literally or put in context. We still publish a “verdict”, but it will be a short statement that allows for context if necessary.
We are keen to move beyond the national campaign to check statements made in local electorates. Help us out by telling us what’s happening in your seat - it might be a pamphlet you’ve received in the mail, or a statement a candidate has made in the local paper, or an email you’ve received. We particularly want to check statements of relevance to people in regional and country areas, too often overlooked by the national media. If you have an idea, please let us know. We may not always include a review for these checks, depending on how difficult it is to find two academics with expertise about a local issue.
OUR SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY
We welcome feedback, dissent and debate. We don’t assume our checks are the last word on a subject, and we are keen to hear your views. We will, however, moderate comments on our Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels in line with our Community Standards and in particular will not tolerate personal attacks, abuse, or defamatory language.
The Conversation is primarily funded by Australia’s universities as a way for academics to contribute to the national conversation and to share their knowledge and research. It also receives funding from the federal government’s Higher Education Department, corporations and individual donations. Our editorial independence is guaranteed in every funding agreement.
CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS
We commit to correct or clarify established errors. If you believe any FactCheck is inaccurate in a substantial way, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
REQUEST A CHECK
We welcome ideas about which statements we should check. Let us know through through the link on our homepage or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t guarantee we will be able to check every idea, but we will do our best. We also welcome ideas from media organisations as to which claims they believe are worth checking. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.
WANT TO REPUBLISH?
Whether you are a media organisation, a blogger, or a community group, you are welcome to republish our FactChecks at no cost. Just follow our simple guidelines