I think I’ve sent my last fact checking article. I’ve gotten so used to investigating suspicious links on Snopes and sending rebuttals, to copying and pasting Politifact URLs into messages, that I have failed to notice the utter uselessness of those activities. I keep sending them to the same people.
The facetious promise of fact checking is that liars will be held to account and forced, by a truth-demanding public, to reign in exaggerations and to tighten up misleading claims. And that seems to work often enough. But the bald-faced lie, the pants-on-fire falsehood, actually seems impervious to fact checking in a way that spin is not. And I don’t know what to do with that.
Our discourse if now filled with claims and official statements that nobody defends as true. The inauguration crowd was not the largest ever. “Under God” was not omitted from the Pledge of Allegiance. The map was clearly altered with a Sharpie, for heaven’s sake. Exposing the falsehood of these assertions is easy, and it is useless.
Lies like these are a weapon against which fact checking is defenseless. Because they are not actually attempts to establish an actual state of affairs or even to spin a narrative. They are assertions of power. The ability to contradict reality in broad daylight and to be lauded for it is a fearsome ability. It means that people fear to contradict you. Lies and fear go hand-in-hand.
What’s the alternative to fact checking? Building honest power honestly. When we use our influence to advance transparency and integrity, we strike a greater blow against falsehood than a lifetime of fact checking.