Tag Archives: accountability

PolitiFact – exposing lies in politics

One of the most wonderful internet projects I’ve ever seen is PolitiFact – just look at the depth of it; no wonder it is a winner of Pulitzer Prize!

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Its primary ambition: to remedy the false information spread by politicians. According to PolitiFact statement:

“Every day, reporters and researchers from PolitiFact and its partner news organization examine statements by members of Congress, state legislators, governors, mayors, the president, cabinet secretaries, lobbyists, people who testify before Congress and anyone else who speaks up in American politics. We research their statements and then rate the accuracy on our Truth-O-Meter – True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False and False. The most ridiculous falsehoods get our lowest rating, Pants on Fire.”

To my mind that is a truly great thing about the Truth-O-Meter – it allows more nuances in fact evaluations than just true/false. The truth, after all, should rather be imagined as a spectrum, a matter of degree. And as you can see in the screenshot above,  the nuanced evaluation does not make the evaluation unduly complicated – on the contrary, it allows more space not just for more subtle distinctions, but also humor.

Each fact gets thoroughly researched – I’ve seen many articles where sources number more than 20.  There is always the name of the person who has written that specific article. See below how a typical Truth-O-Metter looks like.

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Returning again to their self-description:

PolitiFact writers and editors spend considerable time researching and deliberating on our rulings. We always try to get the original statement in its full context rather than an edited form that appeared in news stories. We then divide the statement into individual claims that we check separately. When possible, we go to original sources to verify the claims. We look for original government reports rather than news stories. We interview impartial experts.

The thing that I particularly like about Politifact website: it is not just the politicians whose statement gets subjected to truth-check. The team also looks at other opinion makers that influence political attitudes, such as political chain-mails (their truth record is quite atrocious!) and  pundits (see, for example, how Nobel laureate Paul Krugman is doing truth-wise)!

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There are two more interesting parts in PolitiFact: 1) Flip-O-Meter; 2)  Pledge-O-Meter.

Flip-O-Metter has to do with a politician flipping on his/hers previous statements:

Like our Truth-O-Meter, the Flip-O-Meter begins with good journalism. When a candidate is accused of flipping, reporters and researchers examine the candidates’ statements and voting records. Have they hedged their words over time? Shifted their tone? Changed their voting patterns? Then, we rate whether the candidate has truly flipped: No Flip – No substantial change of position. The candidate has been consistent. Half Flip – A partial change of position or inconsistent statements. Full Flop – A major reversal of position; a complete flip-flop.

See in the screenshot below how two of leading US politicians have flipped on their previous statements about gay marriage or abortion: PolitiFact has the full story and analysis on those flip-flops.

FactCheck

Pledge-O-Metter is about tracking politician’s promises! See how Obameter looks like!

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So in all it an excellent public accountability tool – that allows voters and media to get a quality information on the truth and falsehood of various political statements, prevents politicians from getting away with spreading false information (that might get on their permanent record via PolitiFact!), and does all this in a considered, nuanced way that respects the complexities of social and political domain.

I only wish we had one in Latvia!

[Iveta]

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Parliamentary monitoring website deputatiuzdelnas.lv

The parliamentary monitoring web-platform deputatiuzdelnas.lv  was created by the Latvian branch of Transparency International, “Delna”, purpose of which is to fight corruption and ensure transparency on all levels of  interaction in Latvia-  in politics, business and personal encounters.  The specific  aim of the website is to supervise the parliament in fields of anti-corruption, transparency and democracy-building as well as to encourage public interest in the activities of the MPs. Just as gudrasgalvas.lv, it was initially created as a pre-election project with the purpose to warn voters about the black spots in the reputation of election candidates (the project had a thorough methodology that allowed  to screen and research all the main candidates).

The website right now contains profiles of all 100 MPs, representing five political parties. New information is added to the website on monthly basis, updating data on the income of members of the MPs, Saeima plenary sessions and committee meetings attendance as well as different issues having to do with their public character and actions. Here’s a snapshot of what the profile looks like:

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Whats more, the website also has an archive, which means the profiles of MPs from the previous governments are accessible for viewing – and all the information that has been gathered on the scandals and other shady issues they were involved previously …  if at all! Don’t get a wrong impression on Latvian politics! 🙂

In addition, Events’ Archive section is updated regularly by publishing brief investigative articles providing details of the events that are directly or indirectly related to corruption, ethical violations, questionable behavior, as well as events that have a direct or indirect impact on anti-corruption work, public participation and transparency.

See how it looks like in the next screenshot below – here you can see the general list of topics (for example, a) important corruption scandals; b) petty scandals; c) protests; d) bank crisis and other topics of importance to Latvian society in the areas of transparency) as well as the subsection on three of the scandals associated with misuses of EU funding!

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The website also allows the general public to directly follow some of the legislative process (dealing with topics of transparency, anti-corruption, institution building) in a straightforward, visually appealing and comprehensible way, highlighting who has proposed it, votes on the proposal, debates and commentaries by experts in the field. Like so:

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Similarly, the website provides profiles of parties and most significant happenings in relation to anti-corruptionand transparency-related issues. It also “ranks” MP’s according to various criteria – for example, who are the leaders in “abstention” (voting neither for, nor against a specific proposal – which might be characterized as a bit of a cowardly way of behaving in parliament), see below:

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In addition, the platform also offers viewers analysis (graphic or otherwise) of the overall politicians’ participation and activism, as well as legislative proposals:

deputatiuzdelnas_aktualitates_likumprojekti

Also, viewers are welcome to comment on any entry posted and engage actively, including asking a question to a MP which activates a widget that links this webpage to communication platform gudrasgalvas.lv! It looks like this:

DuSdeputats

However, should you actually visit the website’s News section, you will find that none of the posts have any comments on them. It might seem puzzling that a website providing such detailed and comprehensive overview of the legislative process and those responsible for its smooth running, would not enjoy interest and involvement on the behalf of the general public. From what we know – it is the same regarding all of the parliamentary monitoring websites! How do you think: why is that so? In the same way as gudrasgalvas.lv – deputatiuzdelnas.lv isvisited much more often shortly prior to elections (when it publishes information on the reputation of candidates!)

Compared to other parliamentary monitoring websites that we are aware of, deputatiuzdelna.lv invests  a tremendous amount of investigative work that has to be done by researchers – for instance, the information on scandals and new, important legislative initiatives cannot be gathered just by re-using information that is already available on the website of the parliament. Delna also has published a policy paper in December 2012 asking parliament to get more data online.

This is a great project that allows MP’s to be held accountable in a way that was impossible prior to the start of Internet era!

[Indra, with some additions from Iveta]

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What do they know?

WhatDoTheyKnow is  one of the most useful crowdsourcing websites that I’m aware of! It is run and maintained as part of mySociety project.

Its main idea, according to their statement:

You choose the public authority that you would like information from, then write a brief note describing what you want to know. We then send your request to the public authority. Any response received is automatically published on the website for you and anyone else to find and read.

What is so wonderful about this website?

See the underlined parts in the screenshot below! It gives citizens the possibilities they would never have without such a website.

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Its basic advantage: a large number of freedom of information requests are collected there.

Why is it important?

Well, I could think about several reasons! For example, you might not need to write a freedom of information request yourself and  then wait for response …  rather you could check whether such information has not already been sent to someone else! Maybe somebody already has this information and it is available on that website. Maybe that information has been shared by such an authority you didn’t even know existed – whatdotheyknow allows to conduct a search of all FoI requests relating to an issue that you are interested in. See, for example, some of the things that are now public thanks to the website.

What else? Imagine that you are a journalist (or a researcher) and you would like to know what people are interested about when they contact some public authority! This is a wonderful library very much suited for such a purpose. According to the website, around 15% to 20% of requests to UK Central Government are made through the site.

This is a very high number indeed!

In addition to that, you may opt to follow all the new requests to a specific authority, thus in this way the crowdsourced information might help you to learn something useful in a timely manner (for instance, somebody has read somewhere about some specific information that an authority has and then makes a FoI request – if not for this request, you might have never known that such an information even existed!)

What’s more – not just the freedom of information requests themselves appear on this website, but the responses from public authorities as well!  Sometimes there are reasons why a request has been unsuccessful – you could do an analysis on this (whether the institutions apply the law in a correct manner, whether there are institutions that are more willing to withhold information as compared to others).

Such a collection of requests also allows public institutions to learn about the patterns of information people are requesting and, maybe, share the often requested information on their website on their own initiative.

So, to sum up, this is a wonderful, unique website that helps to endure citizen oversight over public authorities. It is done by crowdsourcing  FoI requests and responses, and giving citizens plenty of options to work with this information.

[Iveta]

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