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How We Fact-Check in an Age of Misinformation


Neither party has a claim on factual purity. But that’s not to say their sins against accuracy are equivalent in the era of Mr. Trump, who stands alone in his tendency to spin up his own reality and to do so in ways that go far beyond misstating a statistic or blurring an old policy position.

Given the power of the presidency and the platform he commands, Mr. Trump’s departures from the truth have substantial consequences for policy, politics and the nature of our democracy. In recent weeks alone, he has falsely characterized Representative Ilhan Omar’s position on Al Qaeda, made misleading claims about his environmental record, and kicked off his re-election campaign with factually incorrect, misleading and exaggerated statements about Russia, the southwestern border wall, the economy and health care.

“Of course, Democratic politicians and the 2020 candidates also bend the truth and mislead, but Mr. Trump is unlike any other politician I’ve ever fact-checked,” Ms. Qiu said.

“He is often unscripted, which lends itself to more mistakes,” she said. “He also just doesn’t seem to care if he’s wrong — sometimes I’ve been bewildered by his tendency to escalate true claims into false ones or marveled at the sheer brazenness of, say, his denials of something that happened despite video evidence.”

While there’s a value to highlighting our fact-checking in separate stories, we also incorporate it into more general news articles and use digital forms like video to document the gulf between claims and reality. Where possible, we provide a clear verdict — true or false — though we also recognize that in some cases there are legitimate disputes and subjective differences that require a more nuanced assessment or context to help readers reach their own conclusions.

Even as we grapple with how best to hold the president and others to account for what they say, The Times is also confronting a related and fast-evolving challenge: the proliferation of online disinformation (untruths that are deliberately disseminated to sway people) and misinformation (false or misleading content that spreads on its own).

It is one thing to keep track of statements made by a relatively finite number of high-profile political figures. It is quite another to identify and assess a torrent of made-up, distorted, malicious or mischievous tweets, Facebook posts, videos and other material that misleads or inflames.


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