True false remote
Credit: By pheaber on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Politicians are a slippery sort, or at least that's what most of the UK believes.

A recent Ipsos MORI poll showed that public trust in MPs and government ministers is even lower than it is in journalists. And to make matters worse, it has been so for the last two years – the first time politics has sunk lower than the press for consecutive years since the poll began.

But as the nation approaches the next general election, fact-checking organisation Full Fact is planning to keep tabs on any political or media claims and yesterday succeeded in reaching its crowdfunding target for the project.

In the six weeks building up to election day the Full Fact team will run an 18-hour monitoring operation of national and social media every day.

"We'll have five specialist researchers," said Phoebe Arnold, communications officer at Full Fact, "on health, the economy, immigration crime, and education," who will work with relevant organisations, volunteers from the Office for National Statistics and "experts with experience in monitoring, PR and analysis" to debunk false claims.

Starting with the early morning broadcast each day, fact-checkers will monitor the news up until the press go to print.

"If we find anything in the newspapers we'll be calling the broadcasters and intervening before it hits the headlines the next day," she said.

A lot of infographics go round [on Facebook] that aren't really correct or need more contextPhoebe Arnold, Full Fact
Full Fact will draw on its previous experiments and lessons in fact-checking political events since launching in 2010 , including live-blogging debates around the EU, running a video fact-check of the debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage and regularly keeping tabs on public events like Prime Minister's Question or Question Time.

As well as speeches, debates, public events and the national media, Full Fact will be looking to online publications and political blogs to keep an eye on.

Social media has grown in importance for how people find new information since the last UK general election in 2010, but the danger of false information disseminating through the same channels has also increased.

"We'd like to keep an eye on what's trending," continued Arnold. "Lots of big claims come up and end up trending on Twitter," but she added that Facebook may need more scrutiny as it is both more popular and more private.

"A lot of infographics go round [on Facebook] that aren't really correct or need more context," she said, "but that's a bit harder for us. That's the kind of thing we'll be asking for help from the public for monitoring.

"So all the people who supported the crowdfunding campaign, we'll be asking them to send us stuff that they've seen on Facebook as it's not as public as Twitter."

But crowdsourcing claims and counter claims can bring its own trouble, and when covering "a big welfare project" in recent years Arnold said Full Fact had to bear in mind the political leanings of their supporters and whether that may be guiding coverage.

What we offer is a route out of that choice between blind cynicism and blind trustPhoebe Arnold, Full Fact
"When you're trying to fact-check something as big as an election there are so many claims flying around that you need the public's help and you need help from journalists," Arnold said.

"You've got to manage the risk of whether a lot of those people are left wing or right wing, so if you want to be politically balanced you need to expect that you might get a certain crowd sending you a lot of stuff."

Ultimately the pay off in fact-checking political and public discourse is worthwhile though, as it can help to engage the electorate and help them make better decisions.

"When we fact check things like Question Time we get a lot of people who are extremely frustrated," said Arnold. "They say things like 'I don't believe anything these people are saying', 'why should I believe you, it's all damn lies and statistics' and so on.

"An understandable reaction to being faced with a lot of conflicting claims is that you just switch off... So what we offer is a route out of that choice between blind cynicism and blind trust."

Full Fact launched in 2010 as an independent, non-partisan fact-checking organisation and is a registered charity. The crowdfunding campaign for Full Fact to fact-check the election campaign will end on Friday 27 February.

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