Thursday, October 6, 2016

A fact checker response to poll showing low trust in fact-checkers

On Oct. 1, 2016, we shared news of a Rasmussen Reports survey showing that most Americans do not trust fact-checking.

The Poynter Institute's* Alexios Mantzarlis tweeted about it promptly, but other than that we saw no response from fact checkers. Today, however, "The Week in Fact-Checking" newsletter (sent out by Mantzarlis and Jane Elizabeth) has a minor mention of the survey:
A Rasmussen poll says that most voters (who were asked this arguably "leading" question) don't trust media fact-checking, but a SurveyMonkey poll says many voters consulted a fact-checking site during the first presidential debate.
We agree the question Rasmussen posed was far from perfect. It placed trust in fact checkers in opposition to the idea that journalists skew the news. Asking respondents to rate their trust in fact-checkers on a scale would have given better information. Asking about trust in different specific fact checkers would give even better information.

That said, we don't see the SurveyMonkey poll as any kind of contradiction to the Rasmussen survey. SurveyMonkey found 7 percent visited a fact-checking site during the debate, 19 percent visited one after the debate, and 9 percent visited both during and after. Finally, 64 percent did not visit a fact-checking website.

With the SurveyMonkey poll we do not get information about whether people visiting fact-checking websites trust the websites they visit. We often visit fact-checking websites. It does not mean we trust them. And the same goes for people who did not visit fact-checking websites. Maybe they trust the websites but figure they know enough to judge the debate without getting help from a fact checker.

The Rasmussen survey is the best we have at this point gauging public trust in fact checkers. While we look forward to better polling on the issue, Rasmussen gives us a fairly clear picture that the fact checkers have ground to make up building trust from the public.

We do not think their current methods, particularly those of PolitiFact, will build trust from the public.

We're not surprised the fact-checking community, and we count Elizabeth and Mantzarlis in that group, do not appear eager to address a broad lack of trust in their movement.

*The Poynter Institute owns PolitiFact through the Tampa Bay Times.

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