FactsCan Plans To Test Political Claims During Election

Kady O'Malley, CBC News Feb 11, 2015

Tall tale-telling politicos, take heed: You could soon find your claims put through the truth grinder by the folks at FactsCan, a newly launched website that aims to provide an independent, non-partisan fact-checking service during the upcoming federal election.

According to co-founder Dana Wagner, who also works as a researcher at Ryerson University in Toronto, the team behind the site wants to help voters "separate out the truth from spin, distortion, omission, error and lies."

"Our goal is to enable Canadians to critically engage in political-speak, and to encourage politicians to be honest and accurate with their words," she told CBC News via email.

Unlike many countries, she noted, Canada does not have a major fact-checking outlet — and FactsCan is hoping to change that before the next election.

Site aims to raise awareness of 'deception in politics'

Wagner says a dedicated, stand-alone fact-check site offers some advantages over traditional media coverage.

"Since we're off the 24/7 cycle, and not simultaneously covering news, there's a depth of analysis we can bring that might not be found on other media outlets," she told CBC News.

The team will also "be looking beyond the major candidates' ridings to see what's happening in off-the-radar ridings and on social media, so there's an added breadth of coverage."

She hopes the presence of a new player on the field could also force media outlets to "up their game" by challenging them to produce their own high-quality fact checks.

Finally, she says, the very existence of the site could bring about a "new level of awareness on deception in politics."

They'll also be providing tips to readers on how to spot fibs on the ground, which, she says, will "heighten that awareness."

Other team members include Democracy Watch co-ordinator and federal civil servant Tyler Sommers and Jacob Schroeder, who works for a Vancouver-based social housing group and has a background in cognitive systems and analytics.

In a video promoting the site, Schroeder explains the origins of the project.

"We realized that we wanted a resource that tracked what politicians are saying, and could sort out whatever facts are in there — a place that wouldn't tell people how to vote, or what to value, but lay out the truth, as truly as possible, with no BS or alternative agenda."

Harper, Mulcair already fact-checked — and found wanting

The site, which went live last week, has already posted its verdict on statements by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Prime Minister Stephen Harper — neither of whom, it's worth noting, garnered passing grades on the FactsCan meter.

Mulcair's claim that the Islamic State (ISIS) is "literally the same as the insurgent group that U.S. forces have been battling for over a decade" is deemed "misleading."

 Meanwhile Harper's suggestion that "nobody in the world is regulating their oil and gas sector" emissions is simply "false."

According to the methodology posted to the site, scores range from "true" for "verifiably accurate" statements to "farcical" for a claim that is not simply "verifiably inaccurate," but " an egregious lapse of logic, almost indifferent to believability."

The group has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise sufficient startup funds to deliver fact checks throughout the upcoming federal election, which it estimates will cost $5,000.

Donor levels range from "The Minimalist," which requires a $10 donation, to a "Guardian of Truth," who, for a one-time gift of $1,000, can look forward to postcards, shout-outs on the site and a dinner with one of the founders in Vancouver, Toronto or Ottawa.

"The dinner is optional," the campaign website notes, "but we promise, we're fun company."

FactsCan has also issued an open call for volunteers willing to share their expertise, whether in "digging up the details" to "spotting logical errors" to managing online communities.

"Your contributions will get FactsCan off the ground, helping improve the quality of political discussions in our country," the pitch points out.

"There's a lot of good stuff to argue about without having to argue about facts."