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Sarasota Man Fact Checks The Fact Checkers, Politicians

Mark Devlin of Sarasota launched WeCheck.org for the public to fact check claims by politicians and columnists in a Wiki format.

Fact checking politicians and the fact checkers themselves are synonymous with campaigning this year as much as shaking hands and kissing babies. 

Mark Devlin of Sarasota is carving his part out of the Internet to provide a place to both fact check politicians and provide a non-partisan fact checking site called WeCheck.org

"You may get a beat reporter to run around and try to fact check all over, but there are a lot of people that will jump online and do it," Devlin told Patch. 

Devlin is the owner of Kroaky's Karaoke, and the favorite song he croons is one about truth, having his background in journalism and Internet publications.

The native Scot is a former Wikipedia editor, ran a top English-language Japanese news site, JapanToday.com and started a magazine in Japan, too, during his time there before wanting to move to raise his two kids in an English speaking environment, landing him in Sarasota about five years ago. 

Devlin found himself reading a syndicated Nicholas Kristof opinion piece that recently appeared in The Herald-Tribune about President Barack Obama's statement of "You didn't build that" about small business owners that was taken out of context.

By the time he finished the piece, it was filled with annotations by Devlin like an old school editor, wondering whether certain statements were true or not.  

"At first I wasn't thinking 'fact checking,' I just wanted to find out whether it was true or not," Devlin said.

Once Devlin finished vetting Kristof's column, he posted online and thought this could be a larger service for the public. 

Sure, there are other well established fact checking sites, some by prominent news organizations, but Devlin feels that the bias of the fact checkers can show in sites like the Tampa Bay Times' Politifact, or the Washington Post, Associated Press and FactChecker.org.

"Who checks the fact checkers?" Devlin posed. Well, WeCheck.org can, and news agencies should focus on straight, balanced reporting in his eyes. 

Developing a fact checking site has almost became a fad in the new age of politics and information online, and it can become tricky. Just Google "Fact Check" and 536 million results return.

"What we do have is a very competitive environment for trying to earn trust and vet facts for better or worse, it's not as if there's a place to fact check the fact checkers," said Frank Alcock, associate professor of political science at New College Of Florida.

"The answer is there really is nobody," Alcock continued. "It's not an entitlement, there's no set of credentials out there. It's a matter of trust."

When visitng a fact checking site, it's not about just seeing if the facts are being checked, but biases can be developed when certain facts are checked and others are not, Alcock pointed out.

"That's why it's so easy to manipulate, depending on which claims you highlight or which claims you repudiate," he said.

And that's where fact checking fact checkers can create a trap, he said, if not handled the right way, but the thing is, there is no formula for doing this.

"There's no political referees so there's a wave of folks trying to assume that role," Alcock said.

Devlin believes organizations like The Associated Press should be such a referee.

"I don't think any news agency should be doing fact checking," as a standalone service, Devlin said. "… They should do pure reporting, throwing the facts out there as they happen." 

On WeCheck.org, users can sign up for an account, even connect their Facebook account without using their real name as a screen name, and annotate speeches and quotes from news sources and flesh out the facts.

Anyone can create a Fact Check Page and the facts are posed as questions and labeled True or False. 

As with Wikipedia, the truth comes in verified sources and citations, Devlin explained. 

First, comes trusted news sources, then the fact checking drills down to more thorough sources like voting records, Think Tanks, government records, papers and reports and more. 

"You get deeper, and deeper and deeper," Devlin said.

As he researched, he found that the truth in many ways is murky, so tags are incorporated for speeches. 

Some statements are exaggerations, others are ad-hominem attacks, then there are circular statements and even tags for someone using the Nazi comparison or playing the race card.

As users scroll down the homepage, they'll find a list of new questions that either are unchecked or needs input and then recent fact checks.

Right now, the focus is whatever the users want the fact checking to be about, and at the time it's the presidential campaign race, but there is room for local and regional fact checking if users see fit, he said. 

As the site grows and hosting costs increase, Devlin is unsure how or if he would want to monetize the site either via donations like Wikipedia or have ads on the site, but one type of ad could pose an issue.

"I definitely think there wouldn't be any political ads," Devlin said.  

The key is making all of this is work is an active community that will engage in healthy debates and keeping sources accountable, Devlin said. 

"I have good faith in the people," he said, smiling. "There's enough people out there that are out to find the truth than for the political aspect."

Gary Price September 27, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Robert, Are you saying Obama had Presidential authority prior to taking office? And are you addressing me, the group or someone else?
Gary Price September 27, 2012 at 02:25 PM
http://www.ustr.gov/trade-agreements <-- Great site to learn details about trade agreements. Yes, President Obama has signed and negotiated trade agreements, major in scope. Trade agreements often span administrations, not uncommon at all. Most of this is strictly just a distraction to make people think otherwise.
Robert Elder September 27, 2012 at 05:59 PM
This was a comment put forth for discussion. The fact is that the Bush-Chainy administration marches onward to this day.
Gary Price September 27, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Robert, Make sure you read the OCE report priot to voting for Buchanan. The OCE is the Office Of Congressional Ethics. Check out page 12, you can see copies of the checks. http://oce.house.gov/disclosures/Review_No_11-7565_Referral_to_Committee.pdf Gary
Robert Elder September 28, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Yes, I have followed Buchanan for long before he decided to take up politics as a hobby. Always in court for this or that. I am sure he is his lawyers' favorite client. Not the kind of person in which one would place trust. He had no knowledge of civics and had sort of an uncivil outlook.


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