Sunday, September 25, 2016

Has the Internet enabled lying, crooked Donald?

We are in the early days of the Internet as a political medium and hopefully it will co-evolve along with our society and education system.

Last June, Donald Trump began calling Hillary Clinton "lying, crooked Hillary" and established a Web site of the same name. Leaving Trump's coarseness aside, is the allegation fair? (His coarseness calls for a separate post).

Politifact is a fact-checking Web site run by a Florida newspaper. They rate political statements on a six-level scale ranging from True to Pants on fire:

True – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
Mostly true – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
Half true – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
Mostly false – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
False – The statement is not accurate.
Pants on fire – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
They justify their ratings with reasoned, sourced analysis and have been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. (You can read the details on the rating rubric here).

The following are summaries of the Politifact ratings of statements by President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (Click the image to enlarge it).

As you see, Clinton is a bit more honest than President Obama and lies much less frequently than Donald Trump. The ratings of Obama and Clinton have changed little since January. Trump is telling the truth a little more frequently, but over half of his statements were found to be lies.

I retrieved the September ratings from Politifact this morning and retrieved the January ratings using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

I guess all politicians lie, but few, if any, lie as frequently as lying, crooked Donald. (The "crooked" part calls for yet another post on his business dealings).

The Internet has changed political campaigns just as newspapers, radio and television did. Candidate's statements are archived and Politifact and others can analyze them, but the Internet also enables the dissemination of lies like this faked image of Hillary Clinton and Osama bin Laden, which can be found on many Web sites:

(To be fair, a lot of democrats shared a fake image showing President Bush holding a picture book upside down at the time he was informed of the 9/11 attacks).

The Internet also increases the odds that we will see lies we might "like." As Eli Pariser points out in his book The Filter Bubble, ad-driven sites like Facebook have an incentive to send us things we agree with to keep us on their sites longer.

The Internet enables us to easily create and disseminate lies and it also enables us to discover and expose them, but does that matter? Has the Internet brought us to what William Davies calls the age of post-truth politics? After all, Politifact shows that over half of Donald Trump's statements are lies, yet millions of Americans are willing to vote for him. While Hillary Clinton and President Obama lie less than Trump, they also have millions of supporters who are ignorant of or indifferent to their lies.

That is discouraging, but remember that we are in the early days of the Internet as a political medium and it may co-evolve along with our society and education system to bring us something better. For perspective, check out this early use of television in a political campaign:

Update 10/23/2016

The Internet facilitates the repetition of lies and exaggerations and we tend to become more polarized as search engines and news services show us things we are likely to agree with. On the other hand, the Internet facilitates fact-checking services and Duke University tracks over 100 such sites:

Interactive map of over 100 fact-check sites

The Internet, like other technologies, can be used for good and bad -- the Internet doesn't tell lies, people tell lies.

Update 11/10/2016

Well, the election is over, so I made a final check at Politifact. Donald Trump ended up with 34% false and 17% pants on fire statements and Hillary Clinton ended up with 10% false and 2% pants on fire. Trump ended up with 4% true and 11% mostly true and Clinton finished with 25% true and 26% mostly true. These were close to their earlier scores, so it seems that lying was not much of a factor in determining the outcome of the election.

I find that disturbing. It is an indication that slogans, groundless claims, incivility and outlandish statements and promises count for more than truth on our attention-deficit Internet.

Update 11/15/2016

Here are the Politifact ratings of statements by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump after the election. Clinton clearly lied less frequently than Trump.

Ratings of Clinton and Trump during the campaign

We will never know whether Bernie Sanders would have beaten Donald Trump, but Politifact also finds him to be much more honest.

 Bernie Sanders' honesty rating

Update 12/9/2016

University of Havana Professor Armando Camacho has translated this post into Spanish -- read it here.

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