The idea of fact-checking statements and claims by political figures is great in theory. However, in practice, the fact checks are dividing us. The fact checks are similar to arguments made by lawyers that leave out contrary information to make their point. Rarely does a fact check explore the opposing argument. This means that partisans on either side are constantly being told by sources they trust that the other side is lying.
Usually, the source of disagreement about a statement comes down to a disagreement over wording that is used. If something is called bipartisan does that mean a majority from both parties support it or that at least one person from each party supports it? It is up to the fact checker to decide the meaning of bipartisan. He can say it is false that this legislation is bipartisan since only a couple of Democratic Party Representatives supported the legislation. Alternatively, he can say it is true that it is bipartisan since representatives of both parties supported it.
The usual fact check only provides information that supports their argument. It is possible to make a compelling argument for just about anything if your argument is not challenged. This is the case in a grand jury, the prosecutor makes the arguments as to why the person should be indicted. The defense is not present, so the jury only hears the prosecutor’s arguments. In these circumstances, it is said you can indict a ham sandwich.
A better fact check would provide the best arguments that each side is using. This way the reader would understand why people are on the other side. A one-sided fact check leads to the belief that everyone on the other side is ignorant. If something is contentious and the fact check cannot explain why people think differently, then truth is not what the fact check is seeking. It is more of ‘I am right and you are wrong.’
In some cases, true facts have been ruled false, because they are misleading. For instance, in Ohio, there were over a hundred voters with birth dates listed on or before 1900 who voted in the 2016 election. The reason for this is that voters who registered when the date of birth was not required had to have a placeholder date, so they chose 1900 and 1800 as that date.
In other cases, the fact checks are carefully worded to avoid explaining why one could make a differing statement. The point of this type of fact check is to win an argument not to increase understanding.
If truth is the goal, providing context and reasoning behind both sides of an argument is paramount. If we are told by our trusted sources that what other people believe is false, we may simply believe those people are ignorant or simple. If we can appreciate why someone can believe differently, we can respect those people and better appreciate why they have a different world view.