It stokes fear, incites violence and unnerves communities everywhere. It makes people see reality in a way that others cannot even imagine. While it preys on the most vulnerable, it invades the places we once considered free from harm.
No, this is not Stephen King’s “It” lurking in a sewer, but it certainly is draining our society.
It is misinformation.
But there is an antidote: PolitiFact is leveraging its reporting power to debunk the falsehoods threatening the nation’s ability to make informed choices that protect a healthy democracy.
When bad information sweeps the country across social media feeds, major networks and digital news sites, people react. Sometimes they share it. Sometimes they believe it. Even people with good intentions accidentally repost misinformation. But, it becomes dangerous when a mass of people leech onto fictitious theories.
Over the years, PolitiFact has fact-checked more than 20,000 claims on social media or made by our country’s most prominent figures from state officials to members of the executive branch. A staggering number of those claims are associated with misinformation that polarizes the country and, worse, endangers lives.
While its Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking can offer clarity, PolitiFact’s objective is to hold those in power accountable for the things they say. Every day, PolitiFact journalists analyze statements said by those in office to flag misinformation and uncover the truth, helping citizens make the best decisions for their lives, their health, their values and their communities.
We caught up with PolitiFact editor-in-chief Angie Drobnic Holan about the state of misinformation and what to watch for in 2022.
Sara: We’re just weeks away from kicking off another midterm election year at the height of an infodemic. How is the PolitiFact team preparing to cover the midterms during what may be one of the most challenging political landscapes in U.S. history?
Angie: Right now we’re focusing on preparation. That means we’re tracking important issues for the public, such as COVID-19 and the economy. We’re also watching what issues both parties care about. For Democrats, we’re following their legislative efforts on a bipartisan infrastructure deal and a major reconciliation bill with support for families and tax increases on the rich. For Republicans, we’re watching their messaging around Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss and their attacks on Democratic overreach. And of course there will be issues that aren’t on our radar now that will be important in the months to come. We’re also watching which elected officials decide to retire. Depending on the district, a retirement can be a key pickup opportunity for the other side.
Sara: Eyes will be on key battleground states like Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. What will PolitiFact be watching?
Angie: We’ll be watching the Senate races, both open seats like Pennsylvania and contested seats like Arizona. And we’ll be looking at the House races that are considered toss-ups or in play. Many of these battleground states are expected to be contested in the 2024 presidential election, so we’ll be watching messaging closely. After the elections, we’ll look at turnout to see which candidates were able to best mobilize their voters.
Sara: While PolitiFact will be tracking candidates’ campaign messaging, accountability thrives when every voter actively participates in the fact-checking process. How can people be their own fact-checkers?
Angie: Like the old saying goes, you can’t believe everything you hear. We encourage readers to check out claims, especially claims that bring out negative emotions. Often a simple Google search with the word “fact-check” can bring you to authoritative sources like PolitiFact. But be careful! There are many bad actors on the internet. So look at multiple sources, and make sure you know the motivations behind whoever is giving you information.
Sara: What else can we expect from PolitiFact in 2022?
Angie: We’ll concentrate on fact-checking elections, but we’ll also continue fact-checking important topics such as COVID-19, immigration and climate change. These are topics that currently seem to generate a great deal of misinformation. Our task is to sort out fact from fiction.
Sara: PolitiFact debunks hundreds of claims each year, and every December, the team evaluates its findings to unveil the infamous “Lie of the Year.” Which lies are the contenders for the 2021 title?
Angie: Last year, we picked the category of downplay and denial of COVID-19. This year, misinformation about vaccines could be a strong contender. We’ve also seen repeated false claims that the 2020 election was rigged or fixed in some way. It’s a bit surprising that lies about 2020 are still going strong in 2021, but that seems to be where we are. Unfortunately, it will be a close contest this year.
Subscribe to PolitiFact’s newsletter for the most newsworthy, nonpartisan fact-checks. Every Thursday, Holan sends a quick, easy-to-read summary of PolitiFact’s critical analyses of stories dominating the week’s news cycle.