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This post was guest written by Courtney Resnicky, a senior at Wright State University.
The battle between who is telling the truth, who is twisting the truth, and who is flat out lying during this Presidential election seems to have become more heated than ever. In both presidential debates we’ve heard the candidates urge voters to “check the facts” on their websites and a rundown of the “lies told” pops up from various new sources all over social media after any big statement, debate, or rally. While it’s certainly necessary to separate fact from fiction, it’s also important to remember that there is most likely some involuntary bias in the fact checkers that are posted on candidate’s websites or on news sites that have already declared their allegiance for a specific candidate. So, what can we do in order to be informed voters and understand the background of each claim? Luckily, in a world full of technology there are actually quite a few options.
First, voters need to realize that they can’t rely on getting their news from a single source. Not all media is unbiased and even the most well-meaning of websites may occasionally get their facts mixed up. It’s important to “shop around” when looking for information about the presidential candidates and their platforms. Search media sources that are historically more republican, then search through sources that are historically more democrat and compare the two. Read through media sources that have a reputation as being more “moderate” or “independent” and take note of how their information may differ. Finally, check sources from outside the United States who are a little less affected by the political debates and may be a little less bias in some instances. Take LexisNexis Academic as an example. As a student, I find it to be a great tool for quickly searching through all these sources. It doesn’t necessarily rely upon your knowledge of specific media outlets and can pull information from all around the world to put a varied amount of sources in front of you. Voters may be surprised to learn how much opinion can differ or how information is skewed depending upon the outlet. However, being exposed to as much information as possible will allow voters to form their own opinion about a subject and enable them to conduct more-informed research before making a decision.
Research isn’t only important for learning general information about the candidates and their platforms. It’s also an essential skill to have when reading through the “fact checkers” that appear on many websites during large presidential events. Many fact checkers will provide a comment explaining the validity of an underlined statement along with a source that they can back their analysis with. Voters should use these links to explore the source and become more familiar with why the analysis may claim the statement is true or false. Often times, especially if the source is reputable, there will be links to other sources which will provide readers with even more background information. While it may be easy to simply scan through a single fact checker and tally up the ratio of truths to lies, it’s a much better idea to simply use these as a starting point to do further research. Additionally, much like how professors often require college students to “cite more than one source,” voters should make sure they look at more than one fact checker and scrutinize both the analysis and sources for each statement. If something doesn’t feel right, question it! Fact checkers are typically run by actual people and human error or bias can always come into play. Many fact checkers will even let you leave your own comments that, after approved, may contribute to the analysis. Just make sure you make sure you continue to do your research and don’t take things at face value.
More than ever, voters have access to innumerable resources. The trick is learning how to sift through this information and make a well-informed decision. Media research sites like LexisNexis Academic, media monitoring and analysis tools like LexisNexis Newsdesk, the proliferation of news on social media, the frenzy of the media that ensures numerous articles each day, and the easily accessible fact checkers from around the world mean that voters have a chance to do their own research and really dig into each of the candidates and their statements. Millennial and college-aged students probably even have access to academic research databases that aren’t open to the general public. We’ve all learned how to conduct research through projects at school, now it’s time to apply that skill to real life. The only way to implement change and truly be involved in this election is to become informed and, to do that, we need to remember not to take everything as it seems. It may seem arbitrary, but doing your research about the candidates and taking notes throughout the last month of this campaign will ensure that you know what – and who – you’re voting for on November 8th.