Why are conservatives more likely to attack fact-checking?


It's a fact. This thoughtful article, by Alexios Mantzarlis, director of the International Fact-Checking Network, shows how "Conservative websites are far more likely to attack fact-checkers than their liberal counterparts." But the article only delves into the fact (pun intended) this is happening. But WHY? What are the analytical reasons behind this behavior? That's what our own article attempts to explain.

August 25, 2017 ~ Jack Harich


It's a fine article. But why does this behavior occur. WHY are conservatives more likely to attack fact-checking? What's the root cause? If we knew the answer to that question then we could more correctly develop solutions to solve the problem.

Answering the Question

Causal loop diagram of the process of classic activismFirst, please see this Thwink paper on Change Resistance as the Crux of the Environmental Sustainability Problem, 2010. The paper covers a much broader topic than the question of WHY are conservatives more likely to attack fact-checking? However, the paper addresses the question directly.

Next, who are conservatives? They are those favoring the status quo. Conservatives will naturally resist anything that threatens the status quo, which is change resistance, as explained on page 38. In the US, conservatives are working for business and the rich, the most powerful special interests in the country.

Activists normally don't use root cause analysis or think of change resistance as a separate problem to solve, so they have a blind spot as shown on figure 2 (page 43 and shown above) and figure 3 (page 45). This forces them to rely on the steps of Classic Activism. Step 3 is Promote the Truth. This is what fact-checking does. Note how Promote the Truth is a low leverage solution strategy, because it does little to resolve the root cause of change resistance, which is high deception effectiveness. This is an important insight.

Now let's answer the question, beginning with quotes from the paper.

"In a common good problem, altruistic activists stand on the side of the truth of what will benefit the common good, while selfish special interests resisting change cannot. Special interests must instead depend on deception (defined below) to influence voters, politicians, and other decision makers." (page 51)

"Deception is a technique for enhancing resistance. Without it those resisting change would have to rely on the truth. However, earlier we defined the common good as that which optimizes quality of life for all, and implied there exists a class of problems whose solution would clearly benefit the common good, though when these problems are young this is less clear due to low certainty about symptom cause and effect. Therefore opposition to solving common good problems with high certainty (a component of high Symptoms Understanding) cannot be based on the truth, because solving these problems is desirable to society as a whole. Therefore selfish special interests must depend on deception. This is used to attack the argument that a particular solution would increase the common good, [etc]." (page 52)

WHY are conservatives more likely to attack fact-checking?

Because conservatives are a special interest and fact-checking is a form of more of the truth. Special interests attack the truth because it threatens their goal, which is maximize their own interests.

Meanwhile, liberals are in general working for the common good by spreading the truth about what would optimize the common good for all. Liberals have no need to attack fact-checking. It doesn't threaten them at all because they tell the truth about what's the best way to achieve the common good.

Given the feedback loop structure of the system and the root causes as described in the paper, this behavior is exactly what one would expect.

This structure and the dependence of special interests on deception also explains why liberals rate higher on the truth than conservatives. For example, see the Falsehood Face-Off graphic in this article. As modified by Thwink.org, the pattern is crystal clear.

How can we resolve the root cause?

Now then, how can activists switch to pushing on a high leverage point in order to resolve the root cause? Start reading on page 61, "Resolving the root cause of change resistance."

The root cause is high deception effectiveness. Page 63 says: "But history could move forward again if we could push on the related high leverage point of general ability to detect manipulative deception (not shown). This can be done many ways, such as: universal education on how to detect common fallacies by something as simple as the Truth Test, which would lead to truth literacy and is just as vital to the health of democracy as reading literacy (see Table 3); independent political truth rating organizations like FactCheck.org, except they would rate politicians over their entire careers to arrive at average truth ratings; ...."

"Average truth ratings" refers to Thwink.org research on Politician Truth Ratings. This sample solution element is described in the chapter on Politician Truth Ratings. (PTR)

PTR works differently from fact checking. PTR gives citizens one easy number to use, as opposed to hundreds of fact-checks ratings and long articles. The larger difference is PTR educates the public on the critical need to think in terms of a politician's Truth Rating, just as they already think in terms of credit ratings, restaurant ratings, and product ratings. If a politician has a low rating, then they are untrustworthy and should be avoided. This significantly raises general ability to detect political deception.

The dynamic structure of politician truth ratings

I don't know for sure, but PTR looks like the next logical step in accountability journalism. Journalists by nature think in terms of stories, so they rate facts. But voters think in terms of which politicians to support, so they need politician ratings. This transition, if it occurs, will radically change the nature of both political journalism and politics, and will strengthen democracy by making it harder to sabotage the Voter Feedback Loop.

Given the present situation in the US, this transition can't come fast enough.