October 30, 2014

Seattle Librarians Fact Checking Voter Guide

The University of Washington’s Living Voters Guide, presented in partnership with Seattle’s CityClub, is adding fact-checking by Seattle Public Library staff in its third year.

To use the guide, users create an account, read short arguments for or against Washington ballot questions by other users, or add their own. They can also choose their favorite points for and against each measure, save that list, and be notified by email when others comment on their selections. Over time, the more popular points are moved up.

In previous years, some users reported not knowing which points to trust, said Alan Borning, professor of computer science and engineering and doctoral adviser to Travis Kriplean, a postdoctoral researcher in computer science and engineering, who implemented the guide as part of his doctoral thesis.

In response, beginning this week, the Seattle Public Library will verify the content of flagged claims and post fact-checking results, with citations, within 48 hours. To flag a post, users click an “Ask A Librarian” button. Librarians will spend up to two hours per request and assign each claim a status of “accurate,” “questionable,” or “unverifiable.”

SPL Special Collections Librarian Bo Kinney, who is heading up the library’s efforts, told LJ, “most of the research and response to fact-checking requests is being carried out by librarians in our Business, Science, and Technology unit, which is a team of nine librarians. The librarians have absorbed the project into their regular workload… So far we have received a small number of requests, but we’re just getting started. Requests have tended to be fairly complex and do take quite a bit of time for us to research and respond carefully.”

“We want to do it in a way that’s not confrontational,” Kriplean said. “But at the same time we want to be able to provide people with signals as to what’s believable.”

Because of the political nature of the topic, said Kinney, “we are being very careful to write clear and balanced responses. We have a system in place to ensure that each response is viewed by at least two librarians before being posted publicly.”

SPL got involved because CityClub approached the library about performing a fact-checking service embedded within the site, according to Kinney. SPL “has had a long-term relationship with CityClub,” Kinney told LJ.

This year the Guide is also expanding to include a California edition, working with the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley. However, according to Kinney, so far there’s no fact-checking component for the California edition.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Senior Editor, News and Features of Library Journal.

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