Needed, Right Now, Today: Crowdsourced Fact-checking

After the bizarre press conference by Robert Murray, CEO of the company that owns half of the Utah mine where six miners are trapped, it became instantly clear to me how the tools of Web 2.0 could be harnessed for some sort of public good.

Murray charged an Associated Press reporter by name with inaccurate reporting of the mine disaster, inviting other reporters to ignore his coverage and turn exclusively to him, Murray, for “the truth.”

Rule of journalism No. 47: When the CEO of a company in a difficult situation says to listen only to him for “the truth,” run immediately to other sources to determine said truth.

I won’t get into the parsing of the facts here. My point is how much the world needs independent, 2.0-style collaboration to fact-check media controversies.

Murray’s charges create an ideal opportunity. Imagine a group of people, independent of the media and independent of commercial interests, willing to dig down and find out the facts about Murray’s charges (and the facts about the mine disaster itself). Did AP get it right, or were they indeed depending on the comments of union “lackeys” who “know nothing” about the situation, as Murray charged? [The entire press conference is priceless. I couldn’t find a link to the whole thing, which is destined to become a classic. Anybody out there have a link to the whole thing?] 

AP should, and will, defend itself. (As will Fox News, which also got spanked by Murray as an aside.) Neither had responded as of this writing. [Odd observation: Fox’s home page this afternoon included an item titled “Report: GI Journo Made Up Stories.”]

But those news organs cannot produce credible reports on their own actions. As I’ve written previously, the claims that MSM can cover itself are proof MSM is blind to its own limitations. Frankly, any MSM effort to determine whether Murray is right about AP’s reporting will be suspect.

For some background on crowdsourcing, a term coined in Wired magazine, see this Wikipedia entry on the topic. But since Wikipedia is itself a grand, some say deeply flawed, exercise in crowdsourcing, it may not be any more clear-eyed on this topic than AP is on its own mining coverage.  

What’s needed is a team of dispassionate footsoldiers who band together, with disinterested sponsorship and without the corporate and professional intellectual habits of MSM, to lay out the facts about who’s right and who’s wrong in a public dispute about the facts like this. This project would need to be established and, on a moment’s notice, be ready to jump into action. A sort of Code Blue truth squad. A sleeper cell of citizen fact-finders.

The tools exist. The need is here. The opportunity struck today.

It will be interesting to see if the culture of 2.0 is developed enough to produce a meaningful response.

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3 Comments on “Needed, Right Now, Today: Crowdsourced Fact-checking”

  1. history buff Says:

    Interesting article. Thanks for the post.

  2. Howard Owens Says:

    You mean, like the bloggers who uncovered Rathergate, or Tent Lott’s quote, or Josh Marshall and his bloggers look into firings of attorneys?

    This isn’t a task so much related to web 2.0 as much as blogoshere’s tried and true: We have computers. Now we can fact check your ass. (credit: Ken Layne, 2001).

  3. Craig Stoltz Says:

    Hi Howard, thanks for the note.

    You are of course correct that bloggers have organized to sniff out rats many times, some with quite significant consequences.

    My point about 2.0 is that there is no platform for making such collaborations happen. Unless I’m wrong, bloggers e-mail each other to organize efforts. I wish some group had a Code Blue Truth Squad platform where people could share info in real time, access shared documents, view each others’ posts, etc.

    Maybe such a tool exists among bloggers, or they (you?) use ad-hoc wikis. Maybe its a big rickety kludge of blogrolls, RSS feeders, e-mail, and so on.

    Although I wasn’t thinking of this when I wrote my entry, looking at your examples I see most are drawn from the world of politics, and perhaps partisan bloodsport. Nothing wrong with that. But it would be good if there were crowdsourced fact-checking on, say, environmental claims, health “dangers,” disasters (like the Minn. bridge collapse),etc.

    Anyhow, thanks for your comment. And keep doing god’s work.


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