It’s time to stop looking at our time as the era of “fake news” and start looking at it as the era of “fact-checking.” It can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction in the digital age, so it is our responsibility to not always take headlines and viral memes at face value. We at Vote Smart want to help arm you with the tools and resources to do this.
Misinformation online is abundant. Oxford University found that in 2016 “Twitter users got more misinformation, polarizing and conspiratorial content than professionally produced news.” That means that more people read manipulation and falsehoods than facts.
Sensationalized, misleading, or simply false headlines flooded our news feeds in 2016 and 2017, and Vote Smart is here to help you weed out the garbage. By browsing our database of public statements, key votes, and more, you can see if a published claim is truth or trash. We also provide you with the ability to fact-check politicians to see if they have followed up their words with action.
Fact-check headlines or claims about legislation
As an example, if you read a headline that states “This president’s administration has not appropriated any funding for renewable energy,” then finding appropriations legislation could help you verify this. To do this, you can filter through our legislation page using the issue of “Government Budget and Spending” to read through all appropriations bills this year. You could add a keyword search for “renewable energy” to find any bills that mention that topic. The same can be done for any key issue.
Our researchers spend countless hours reading and summarizing these often difficult to read bills so that they are laid out, plain and simple for all. For instance, based on your keyword search, you'll notice the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017. Our Key Votes page notes that Trump signed this bill in May and that it mentions “renewable energy.” Though the act is over 1600 pages, you can scan through our simplified highlights to see that $20.4 billion were appropriated to the Department of Energy, including for renewable energy.
Fact-check headlines or claims about a statement
Often, biased sources will misinterpret or misrepresent a statement by an official to fit the publication’s own agenda. Some politicians have also tried to take back words that they’ve said or at times claimed that they never said them. Luckily, we catalog these statements so that they are not forgotten.
For example, following recent votes and discussion surrounding health care, another headline may have read, “John McCain does not want Health Care reform.”
McCain voted against the Health Care Freedom Act and it was reported that he would not support the most recent effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but the best way to know John McCain’s stance is to read it. If you filter his statements by the issue of “Health and Health Care” you will find every statement he has made on the subject. Around the time of the proposed vote in a statement on September 22, he stated:
"I would consider supporting legislation similar to that offered by my friends Senators Graham and Cassidy were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment. But that has not been the case.”
While a recent vote may appear as opposition to reform, you can dig deeper with Vote Smart into a politician’s reason for their position.
Fact-check a politician’s stance on an issue
During a campaign, candidates will make promises or claims about what they will do while in office. Our research allows you to hold them to their word. Our Political Courage Test asks candidates direct questions that will be important during their time in office. Examples include:
Do you support repealing the 2010 Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare")?
Do you generally support gun-control legislation?
Do you support lowering taxes as a means of promoting economic growth?
Some candidates answer these questions; the vast majority hide. If they won’t answer the questions directly, our researchers comb through their public records to answer the questions for them.
These topics that Congressman Huffman, and some of his cohorts, addressed will be up for debate while he is in office, and in many cases, he may have to vote on them. You then have the ability to compare his positions to his voting record to see if he, or any other politician, is following through with his claims.
If you scroll down to and expand Huffman's answer on the Budget, you will see that he answered “yes” to the question, “In order to balance the budget, do you support reducing defense spending?” To easily find all of his relevant votes, you can filter his voting record by issue, in this case “Defense.” You’ll find that he voted against a bill that would increase defense spending.
With any vote, it can be important to research why a politician voted the way that they did. A quick way to find Huffman’s relevant statements on the vote can be found at the top of the bill page. There, you’ll find a link that allows you to “Read statements Jared Huffman made in this general time period”. On July 14—the same day as his vote on the bill—he issued a press release on that very vote. If you don’t find the answers you are looking for, you can ask the politician directly using their contact information in the biography file.
Fact-check claims about votes, campaign finances, and ratings
Similar tools can be applied to fact-check claims about other aspects of a politician’s record. Whether it is a claim that a Senator voted one way or another on a bill, received funding from certain industries, or was given a positive rating from a particular interest group, our records are outlined to allow you to easily verify these claims.
Let us help you fact-check!
We know it’s becoming very difficult to filter out the lies that get passed around the internet. However, our researchers are here to help you fight back! Our Voter’s Self-Defense System was created so that you can do just that.
So next time you see a headline or an internet meme that sensationalizes an issue, search through our database or call our hotline (1-888-VoteSmart)—we want to help! Share our message and help us strengthen our research efforts by becoming a member of Vote Smart!