How We Will Fact Check Presidential Debates in the Future

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presidential debate fact checkingThe technology that complements presidential debates has been changing since the first official one in 1960. The advents of mass media, television and now social media have allowed for greater interactions and reactions from the viewers, which is certainly a welcomed addition to a process that draws a meager 50% of eligible voters to the polls on Election Day. However, the record-setting 10.3 Million tweets shared during the first Obama-Romney Debate suggest that even more people are watching, paying attention and caring about this important process.

Not surprisingly, a lot of the chatter is focused on the truth and lies shared by the opposing parties. Because humans are fallible fact-checkers, it takes too much time to determine truth and it usually doesn’t come out until after-event, partisan commentary- And we’ve all seen the aftermath of rogue, real-time fact-checking.  Which raises the question- With so many eyes and ears tuned to the same event, how can we make sure that the truth readily know?

Debating comes down to three modes of persuasion: ethos, pathos and logos.  Ethos is the how well someone comes across as knowledgeable, pathos is someone’s ability to connect with emotion, and logos is the appeal to logic by using facts and figures, which aren’t necessarily true. While ethos and logos are more touchy-feely, logos is rooted in truth and should be held to a higher standard when introduced in a debated. Otherwise, we are relegated to a “he said she said” situation that gives merit to the better storyteller and not necessarily the better truth-teller. We as a people deserve better.

There’s technology around the world and at IBM that’s now being developed and aimed at solving such a problem. Questions that involve facts and semantics can now be broken down and understood by computers. The answers can then be found by leveraging the internet and reported back in a matter of seconds. This is no science fiction- IBM’s Watson computer made an impressive showing of this technology by defeating the Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings in 2011. When it comes to data mining and fact checking- computers do it better. I believe it’s only matter of time before this technology is incorporated into the political area.

So what exactly are we waiting for? Some of the current issues involved include deciphering the exact meaning of what was said and how to distill the facts out of misleading statements in order to refute them. There’s also a level of accuracy that needs to be achieved before debuting this technology, because a failure would be an immense setback. Perhaps it’s not ready just yet, but I predict that by 2020 this technology will be incorporated into the presidential debates. After all, there’s a dire need for it and it would be a wonderful PR opportunity for the creator, IBM or other. Though many of the human elements of debating will and ought to remain the same, facts are facts and they shouldn’t be abused as modes of persuasion. Don’t you agree?

Now all we need are microphones that cut-off when a candidate goes over his or her time and we’ll be golden.

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