In the contemporary political environment of polarized claims about disputed realities, the online fact-check industry was born. These enterprises have received awards and praise but also accusations of bias and error, bringing their methods and conclusions into question. This paper examines the comparative epistemology of the three major fact-check sites: do they examine the same questions and reach the same conclusions? A content analysis of the published fact-checks addressing three disputed realties – the existence of climate change, the influence of racism, and the consequences of the national debt – suggests substantial differences in the questions asked and the answers offered, limiting the usefulness of fact-checking for citizens trying to decide which version of disputed realities to believe.
About the authors
Morgan Marietta is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and author of The Politics of Sacred Rhetoric: Absolutist Appeals and Political Persuasion and A Citizen’s Guide to American Ideology: Conservatism and Liberalism in Contemporary Politics.
David C. Barker is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for Social Research at California State University Sacramento and author of Rushed to Judgment: Talk Radio, Persuasion, and American Political Behavior and Representing Red and Blue: How the Culture Wars Change the Way Citizens Speak and Politicians Listen.
Todd Bowser is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
We would like to thank Michelle Amazeen, Danielle Brouder, Tyler Cote, Tyler Farley, Paul Murphy, Jordan Marietta, Joe Uscinski, Makayle Washington, and the members of the UML Political Communication Working Group, including John Cluverius, Joshua Dyck, Mona Kleinberg, and Jenifer Whitten-Woodring for helpful comments on earlier drafts.
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