back to article Google has unleashed Factivism to smite the untruthy

I remember when I first noticed “factivism”. It was more than 10 years ago. In 2003, Californian internet evangelists were still bruised by the implosion when the United States invaded Iraq on a bogus pretext, WMDs. The web evangelicals thought: wait a minute. The Internet (PBUI) is a Good Thing. The Internet delivers …

  1. LDS Silver badge

    "Over decades, politics became about talking at people"

    Rhetoric was already a key political skill in ancient Greece and Rome - where some political position were elective (evidently, of very little use wherever you got a position for being born in the right family and order only). So, nothing new under the Sun.

    Most people are gullible, and prefer to hope about fantastic promises than see realizable ones fulfilled. You just need to touch the right chords, and that's what rhetoric - especially is modern implementation, often poll- and spin- driven is about.

  2. Hollerithevo

    Those who like facts will pay attention. Otherwise not.

    I myself like facts and I believe I am swayed by them. Would I be persuaded by facts that took me to places I don't like? I hope so. If I felt the facts themselves were solidly based. For instance, I would trust a review of a medical breakthrough more from the BMJ than, say, the Daily Mail.

    Some do not care as much for facts as for an emotional state. My example is Giuliani claiming that Clinton was never in New York after 9/11, being shown footage of himself beside Clinton right after 9/11 and recanting, then repeating at a rally the next day that Clinton was never in New York after 9/11. The emotional state for his followers (and perhaps for him) is more important than facts.

    1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: Those who like facts will pay attention. Otherwise not.

      The problem is Google claims that it's participation in PRISM isn't a fact.

      "Be careful who you trust, the devil was once an angel." - Ziad K. Abdelnour

    2. tfewster

      Re: Those who like facts will pay attention. Otherwise not.

      Facts, but in context please. The Daily Mail may be perfectly correct in saying, e.g. statins can cause cancer. But without context (X% greater risk on a minuscule base?) or acknowledgement that statins are generally life-savers, it's just - well, typical Daily Mail

      I highly recommend Bad Science by Ben Goldacre as a tutorial on how to treat "facts"

    3. Spanners Silver badge

      Re: Those who like facts will pay attention. Otherwise not.

      I would trust a review of a medical breakthrough more from the BMJ than, say, the Daily Mail.

      I think many people would trust a review more from the Beano than the Daily Mail.

    4. Grunchy Bronze badge

      Re: Those who like facts will pay attention. Otherwise not.

      Well big deal if Clinton was in NYC after 9/11, what good did it do anybody?

      Maybe Giuliani meant she wasn't there in a figurative sense rather than a factual, physical sense.

      1. James 51

        Re: Those who like facts will pay attention. Otherwise not.

        Habitual lying and denial of the actual state of the world around them is usually classed as a mental illness and does not bode well for policies or interactions with institutions and other countries that do not have a causal relationship with reality. We have had campaign in poetry, govern in prose. We now we have campaign in lies and hate, waiting to see how this one ends and fervently hoping it is not how it has ended in the past.

  3. Nolveys

    Just apply this one on a loop:

    "Fact: What the candidate just said doesn't actually mean anything."

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      "My opponent is a liar and cannot be trusted"

  4. Mage Silver badge

    so if one side is simply making stuff up

    Both (or more sides) make up different stuff.

  5. Mage Silver badge

    Google as the Brahmin priesthood?

    Ha ha!

    I'd trust them less than Clinton, Blair, Bush, Trump, Putin etc.

    Though I think their agenda is making money. At some stage though all large corporations become more interested in Empire Building and Ego than purely profit motive. That's a worrying thought.

  6. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Over decades, politics became about talking at people, in the belief that can humans can "be engineered and corrected by instruction from their enlightened betters”

    If only. It seems to have become a "free for all" for those on the inside and "let the rubes deal with the shit, just keep them busy" for the rest.

    Meanwhile we get fed bullshit that even pigs would avoid. Ukraine is being invaded and Russians shot down MH-17. Iran is active in Yemen. ISIS is absolutely not a joint CIA-Saudi effort. Bogeyman of the day has WMD. Trump is worse than Bill Clinton regarding wymmen etc. etc.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Yeah, yeah, yeah, and the CIA blew up the twin towers, launched a cruise missile at the pentagon and all those missing people who died were really taken to the dying and polluted future to save the human race from extinction. Oh, don't forget, the lizard people are the real rulers of the world.

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Interesting approach, just one problem

    It's the Presidential Elections. Since when have facts ever mattered during this period ?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Interesting approach, just one problem

      Worse, with the $$$millions sloshing around in campaign funds, it only takes a diversion of a small amount to the sort of companies who do social media marketing campaigns to put out any message you want. Yes, they already do it, and a Ministry of Truth would just be another target for them. They'd just need to to widen their range and create "references" for their "truths".

      I remember seeing one of these companies highlighted on The Gadget Show last year (when I finally decided enough was enough and cancelled the series link) and they were demonstrating and bragging how they could get almost any topic "trending" within hours by splashing it all over their own feeds and bots and how they cultivate and even pay for "followers" and re-tweeters etc. Naturally the Gadget Show hosts were impressed rather than horrified or critical.

  8. Eddy Ito
    Black Helicopters

    I actually think Trump is being truthful when he says the election is rigged. Perhaps the only explanation of his candidacy so far is that he is running a false flag campaign to hand the election to Hillary. Seriously, what would Trump do differently if he was trying to lose the election?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A: He would have run like Jeb Bush, a low-energy version of Hillary, spouting pandering and platitudes, taking money while complaining about all the money in politics. They would have looked pretty much the same, and you would have voted for the one with two X chromosomes so that you could feel progressive.

      And they would have succeeded if it had not been for Trump and those meddling centipedes...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Yeah, Trump's caught the Bernie Disease. He caught a whiff of success, and now he's come over all gung-ho for the race! Well, what happened to Bernie will be made to happen to Trump too!

        Nothing must be allowed to impede Hillary's Progress towards the Presidency. So let it be written, so let it be done.

  9. ratfox

    I'm wondering how many people believe Trump when he says Obama created ISIS.

    I'm aware that Trump meant that Obama's policies allowed or partly caused the rise of ISIS, but I'm wondering how many of his supporters believe that Obama directly created it.

    I guess it's a version of Poe's law.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Head in the sand?

      "I'm wondering how many people believe Trump when he says Obama created ISIS."

      Would you prefer the long,

      https://duckduckgo dot com/?q=obama+created+isis

      or short,

      "I'm in denial of the denial of reality, people will believe anything"

      version of the truth here?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > "I'm wondering how many of his supporters believe that Obama directly created it."

      In other words, "I'm wondering how many of the people I disagree with are blithering idiots."

      Do you really need to demean your ideological opponents to score against them? You wouldn't, if the truth were on your side. Unfortunately your side is being forced to ingest a giant pulsating wad of corruption and call it yummy. Bon Appétit!

      1. James 51

        Unfortunately your side is being forced to ingest a giant pulsating wad of corruption and call it yummy. Bon Appétit!

        True but Trump won't be in office for ever.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That question is only relevant if there is some solution for this. You can fact check Trump all you want but most of his voters don't care about the truth - to them the truth is what he says it is.

      Then you get to fact checking Clinton, and her labyrinthine explanations about her email server have evolved so much it isn't clear exactly what "fact" you're trying to check.

  10. J 3
    Paris Hilton

    Leveling down to the lowest common denominator

    As someone posted above, I also care about facts. Many people do.

    Sure, quite a few people do not care, and no amount of fact-checking and/or logic and/or pleas for human decency will make a difference to them. Fine. It is always been like that, and always will. That does not mean we should then just give up our will to live, go live in a dumpster, and all that. After all, what's the point, right? No.

    There are lots of people out there, all those who are not political junkies, who only started paying attention to this circus after the first presidential debate. They might have "heard" rumors on their Facebook timeline or Twitter or whatever that there was craziness going on, but they might not have really read anything until now, or paid attention to the candidates. They are NOT saturated in this like I am, for example. Maybe they do not know one cannot literally acid-wash emails -- for all they know, one can, who knows. Some might be even more uninformed and actually be ready to believe that Hillary has been fighting a less than 10 year old organization "all her adult life", even if she somehow is a co-founder of said org (huh?).

    Sometimes fact-checking seems pointless, and it sure is if you pick the right scenario. That does not mean that it is without value.

    But yes, "who fact-checks the fact-checkers" is a VERY relevant thing to keep in mind. Since this is all a bit new, maybe mechanisms (not necessarily tech) will pop out, or have already, to establish who is trustworthy (always under revision) and who is not, just like it is done with polling.

  11. W4YBO

    Well, I'm not paying attention unless it supports my pre-existing biases. So, there!

  12. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Well at least Clinton's team didn't use Boot and Nuke

    The other side would have had a field day.

    What's worse, the meticulous and constant rebuttal of arguments, like Usenet of old with nested quotes or just letting made-up shit go uncontested?

    Both stem from the same problem, that nobody is able to articulate a coherent vision for the future based on how things are at the moment, explain why this is for the greater good, and say how to get there from here. If that could be set out first, then it might be possible to have a somewhat decent debate which isn't just finger pointing and name calling.

    1. Sherrie Ludwig

      Re: Well at least Clinton's team didn't use Boot and Nuke

      Both stem from the same problem, that nobody is able to articulate a coherent vision for the future based on how things are at the moment, explain why this is for the greater good, and say how to get there from here. If that could be set out first, then it might be possible to have a somewhat decent debate which isn't just finger pointing and name calling.

      We tried that. A guy named Bernie Sanders noted that the people of countries with government paid tuition and healthcare seem to not go broke as often, and that being the world's policeman only got us a bunch of grief, and tried to suggest going about things differently. If the powers that be had not decided that, having been blindsided by a skinny black guy once, they were not about to have that happen again, we might have gotten somewhere. Maybe not anywhere better, but at least different.

      1. Clunking Fist

        Re: Well at least Clinton's team didn't use Boot and Nuke

        "having been blindsided by a skinny black guy once,"

        Indeed, just look at all the damage/change he achieved, his first heroic action being to close Guantanamo Bay...

        "A guy named Bernie Sanders noted that the people of countries with government paid tuition and healthcare seem to not go broke as often"

        You mean Ireland, Greece and Italy? Or Cuba and Venezuela?

  13. Florida1920

    It is a fact

    That politicians lie. You can tell, because their lips are moving. No matter who wins, the rich get richer, infrastructure goes un-maintained in favor of useless pork projects and increased military spending, while the electorate drowns itself in "reality" TV programming because trying to parse actual reality requires too much effort. Why think, when XYZ News Channel will do it for you? And tout drugs, cars and other crap you don't need along with their soporific propaganda.

  14. From the States

    What Juvenal said centuries ago still applies today.

    "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: What Juvenal said centuries ago still applies today.

      Cui bono is more apt these days.

  15. Baldy50


  16. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Facts are irrelevant in this campaign

    I don't care. I'm not voting for Trump because of facts of any sort. I'm voting for him because it's the political equivalent of pulling the pin and tossing the grenade in the china shop.

    This country sucks balls. It deserves him and the shitstorm he'll bring.

    I certainly don't want Clinton and more years of "business as usual"

    1. Sam 15

      Re: Facts are irrelevant in this campaign

      "I don't care. I'm not voting for Trump because of facts of any sort. I'm voting for him because it's the political equivalent of pulling the pin and tossing the grenade in the china shop."

      It's the political equivalent of pulling the pin and hugging that grenade closely to your chest.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Facts are irrelevant in this campaign

      Don't bother with Trump. As others have noted, he's a false flag promoted by the Clintons and the media, and he's a good friend of Bill Clinton and Jeff Epstein. You can also check out Podesta's "Pied Piper" strategy e-mails, and maybe consider looking into Pence's ties to Koch Industries.

      The only way to vote against the establishment is to vote third party. Staying within the two-party system is exactly what has brought us to our current situation.

    3. peter_dtm

      Re: Facts are irrelevant in this campaign

      If you don't get this - you are part of the problem

      If you do - then remember vote early - voting often is reserved for those who are part of the problem

    4. small and stupid

      Re: Facts are irrelevant in this campaign

      Not a History Channel fan i take it.

      There are always worst options than 'business as usual'

  17. Andy Non Silver badge

    Has this article been fact checked?


  18. Badger Murphy

    Even dubious fact checking is a step up

    Look at the situation in its current state.

    1.) Some pundit or politician spouts some BS.

    2.) Many start to believe said BS and internalize that "information" before any rebuttals are made.

    3.) Fact checking may or may not be done on aforementioned BS.

    4.) Only a minority of the initial audience goes to view the corrected record.

    5.) BS largely stands, and gets repeated, further cementing the BS as fact among the audience.

    If fact checking were done on the fly, before these bogus assertions can get repeated and re-tweeted a billion times, then there may at least be some pause. Even if the fact checker is not fully trustworthy by one or more sides of an argument, the fact that it was contested at all is better than it not having been.

    Obviously, the trustworthiness of the fact checker is a concern, but certainly no more so that an unchecked BS artist running his/her mouth. We can worry about the trustworthiness of the fact checker once the fact checker exists.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Even dubious fact checking is a step up

      I've found Snopes, PolitiFact and PBS Frontline to very reliable.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Trump really could not care less about his Truth-O-Meter rating."

    Since when has any politician scored highly even lowly on the truth-o-meter ?

    Didn't Sir Humphrey teach you anything ?

    "A good speech isn't one where we can prove he's telling the truth. It's one in which nobody else can prove he's lying"

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    On the implementation...

    A quick look at the New Scientist article suggest those "facts" will come from the internet itself.

    Just looking at how the internet produces "facts", this leaves me a bit unconvinced.

    On a slight tangent, Google results themselves seem to be becoming less and less useful by the day. For a start, they don't seem to take obsolescence into account, so when looking for anything IT related, for example, the first thing you need to do is to filter anything over a year old (the second thing is to ignore any Stack Overflow results). Then the other thing is, for some reason sites that try to *sell* you something always seem to rate higher than sites with actual knowledge (I use private browsing and Google cookies are rejected, so there should not be much browsing history bias, not that that would justify their choice, mind).

  21. Bob Rocket

    The simple fact is

    All facts are subjective.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: The simple fact is

      You forgot the /sarcasm tag.

      1. Bob Rocket

        Re: The simple fact is

        Don't need no sarcasm tag, I would like to see the objective reasoning of the two downvoters.


    2. HAL-9000

      Re: The simple fact is

      I call that denialism. Facts are usually undeniable, hence the handle 'fact' aka 'a thing that is known or proved to be true'. I think you may have justifiable issues with conventional wisdom, but conventional wisdom is far from factual.

  22. ecofeco Silver badge

    Irony in spades

    An article with an agenda complaining about the possibility of facts verification having an agenda.

    This is satire, right? Right?

  23. The Indomitable Gall

    Babies and bathwater spring to mind

    Clearly those are some extremely bad examples, but surely the best approach is to encourage sensible fact checking, rather than dismiss the whole idea based on poor implementation?

    My vision for the future of fact checking would be to start with figures and quotes. Most published quotes are stripped of context -- the fact checkers only need to put that back in, which would instantly undermine most purposeful misrepresentation.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The Internet (PBUI) is a Good Thing

    What on earth is PBUI?

    1. strum

      Re: Wut

      >What on earth is PBUI?

      'Peace Be Upon Him' - a common follow-up to mention of the Prophet, by Muslims. It's about respect.

    2. Sparkypatrick

      Re: Wut

      Peace be upon it.

  25. clean_state

    Facts = illusion ?

    This article is trying to push the idea that facts are an illusion, or an opinion:

    "One fatal flaw is that it supposes the existence of a Brahmin caste, a Priesthood of dispassionate fact-checkers, who will deliver a verdict everybody will trust"

    Well, I know for a fact that a blatant lie is not illusion and should be fact-checked.

    Fact-checking is for objective pieces of information. When we enter the realm of debatable opinions we can have debates but at least they will be informed debates.

    Thanks also for pushing stupid examples of fact-checking figures of speech. They do prove that all fact-checking is stupid. They sure do, don't they ?

    Unsurprising piece, given the author...

  26. strum

    What Orlowski ignores is that fact-checking sites need to set out their reasons for their judgment, making it fairly easy to check their bona fides. If the reasoning is weak (like the 'acid clean' example), then any bias becomes obvious and counter-effective.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about politically charged "facts"

    Climate change is the classic example. If fact checkers claim climate change is real, a third of the electorate will simply disregard everything they have to say.

    Or how about Trump's claim that the murder rate in NYC is "skyrocketing"? Well, in 2015 it went up a little from 2013/2014, but it had been dropping for over 20 years (starting with Dinkins, continuing with Guliani and Bloomberg, and the start of de Blasio's term) The rate in the first quarter of 2016 was the lowest ever recorded, if that continues 2015 will turn out to have just been a blip.

    So which of these three "facts" matters - that it was higher in 2015 than 2014, that 2015 was still a fraction of what it was in the late 80s/early 90s peak, that Q1 2016 was the lowest ever recorded? When you can't simply put a "true" or "false" label on something, it becomes more difficult.

  28. the Jim bloke Silver badge

    Biggest mistake people make during elections

    .. or all the time really, is assuming "the Media" is on their side.

    Same thing during the Australian elections (though smaller scale of course)

    The only thing the media love more than a circus

    is a train wreck.

    which is why they love elections so much.

    Promoting good government is not in the interests of our media moguls, any sane, honest, competent elected official - if such things exist - will fail to generate the spectacle that feeds the media frenzy.

    If the news feeds were interested in promoting responsible government, they would just walk away from the nutters and clowns.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What to say when you're being "fact checked"...

    "The fact-checker's response to this statement will be wrong".

  30. anonCoward24

    Great. Now I cannot have a job at the State Department

    There was Hillary Clinton rule, that during interview for working at the State Department you were to be asked if you had ever been to the w leeks website, and denied a job if you had (such people obviously were not loyal). I never had. Until now that I clicked on a link on this article.


  31. HAL-9000

    But who checks the fact-checkers?

    The people who check the fact-checkers. Who are in turn checked by the people who check the people who check the fact checkers. Who in turn are checked by the people who check the people who check the people .....

    Bit late now, but something is better than nothing, yes?

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Brawndo has what plants crave

    The corporation knows what's best for all of us. Just ask them.

    It's got electrolytes

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