Fact-Checking the President-Elect's Tweets
Dec 24, 2016 12:00 PM PT
Fact-checking President-elect Donald Trump can be a chore, even for people paid to do it. The Washington Post wants to make it less so, with add-ons to the popular Chrome and Firefox browsers.
After installation, any time you click on a tweet on the @realdonaldtrump account, any fact-checking the Post may have done also will be displayed.
The fact-checking includes adding context. For instance, Trump posted this tweet on Dec. 12:
Even though I am not mandated by law to do so, I will be leaving my busineses before January 20th so that I can focus full time on the......If you view that tweet with the Post extension active, you'll see this displayed:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2016
"There's important context missing.At the end of the Post's comments is a link to a relevant story in the newspaper about the subject in the tweet.
"Trump originally pledged to hold a press conference on Dec. 15 to explain how he would avoid conflicts of interest as president. That was canceled before it happened. There remain questions about how Trump will ensure that his presidential decisions don't unduly benefit his corporate interests, even if he's not the titular head of the Trump Organization."
In addition to adding context to what can be misleading information in Trump's tweets, the Post applet offers some kibbitzing.
For example, on Dec. 11, Trump delivered this tweet:
Just watched @NBCNightlyNews - So biased, inaccurate and bad, point after point. Just can't get much worse, although @CNN is right up there!To which the Post software responded:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2016
"Just so you know.
"Trump regularly watches -- and complains about -- television shows."
Preaching to the Choir?
The software is designed to share accurate information "even in the place that's most associated with Trump's free-flowing streams of consciousness," Philip Bump, the Post political reporter who authored the extension, told TechNewsWorld.
Not all of Trump's Twitter followers are likely to be interested in the applet, though, Bump acknowledged.
"I think I understand that people who are big fans of Trump and believe him to be robustly honest won't be inclined to download it," he said.
"The nice thing about these extensions is that they can work with any Web content," Bump explained, "but there aren't too many places where someone so important is making so many compact misstatements."
Two kinds of people will be interested in the add-on, noted Dan Kennedy, an associate professor at the school of journalism at Northeastern University.
People who trust The Washington Post and believe that there are some facts in Trump's tweets will be attracted to the app.
"Those people will find it to be useful," Kennedy told TechNewsWorld.
Folks with a more jaded view of Trump also may be interested in the add-on.
"Some people who already assume everything out of Trump's mouth is a lie will find the app amusing and entertaining," Kennedy observed.
On the other hand, "if you're a Trump fan, you're going to see it as just one more sign of The Washington Post out to get Trump," he said.
Limits of Extensions
While any effort to air facts is laudable, the potential of an add-on like the Post's is limited, noted Matt Waite, a professor in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
"I always caution people when they talk about making Chrome extensions that they're a great idea and they work really well, but the number of people who actually use them is pretty small and the number of people who will find yours is even smaller," he told TechNewsWorld.
"I'm of the mind that any fact-checking that goes into our politics is a good thing," Waite continued, "but let's not get ahead of ourselves on how much of an influence this is going to have."
There's a growing perception in the wake of the 2016 elections that we may be living in a post-fact world.
"It's the genius of the right," NU's Kennedy said, "that there are now a significant number of people who think The Washington Post and Breitbart are the same -- one is just liberal and other is just conservative."