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Learning from Tiverton FakeCheck

Probably everybody agrees that the main thing that makes politics objectionable is the dishonesty of it all. We’re supposed to be coming to agreement or compromising, and that’s near impossible when it seems as if everybody on all sides of an issue is doing their best to distort the facts to their benefit.  Ultimately, we wind up with division and apathy.

For this reason, it’s critical that people learn to judge sources of information based on their presentation. Take, as an example, the Web site, tivertonfactcheck.com, which I’ll call FakeCheck from now on.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the creators of the site copied our online address, just changing our dot-org to be their dot-com.  Similarly, the designer did his best to mimic our site.  The colors are similar.  Some of the design elements are similar, and the layout is similar.

As you dig more deeply, you’ll see that the Web site is completely anonymous.  There is no name under “Contact Us.”  The posts don’t have any authors’ names.  In fact, the only names on the site at all are those of people in our community at whom the anonymous authors want to throw dirt, even on their “About” page.

In contrast, our site has a general P.O. Box, email address, and phone number, and the “About” page lays out explicitly who is behind the site.  As the only author, so far, all of my posts have my name, email, and cell phone number right on them, along with a picture (one that needs to be changed, I know).

When people refuse to put their names on things they’re writing — especially mean things about people in their community — there’s a reason.  It’s the same reason that politicians’ attack ads can have a negative effect.  The things they’re saying are obviously unfair and largely untrue, and they prove their authors to be small and petty.

Read a bit, and you’ll see that the content of FakeCheck is mostly about direct personal attacks.  On the very first post, we’re told that “the outcome of Justin Katz’s residency in the town of Tiverton is a net negative.”  Clicking over to the associated Facebook page (which is equally anonymous), we’re enlightened with such mature handling of information as: “Fact: Justin is an ass.”

What a fine example the folks at FakeCheck are setting for our children.

On the actual Tiverton Fact Check site (the dot-org), we’re not shy about naming names and pointing out when things look interesting, suspicious, or outright wrong.  That’s what transparency is all about.  But we’re doing all this work to present facts, not to call people names.

Look, this is politics; we’re going to disagree with people.  However, the difference in standards of behavior is obvious.  On Fact Check, when explaining information leads us to point out something admirable about somebody on the other side, we’ll do so, as we did regarding Carol Herrmann’s decision not to take her stipend as a school committee member.

Back to FakeCheck: When they do make an argument, they don’t provide links.  Look through all of the posts, and you’ll find almost no links to sources, and absolutely no links to any of the content that they’re disputing.

By contrast, Fact Check has provided and will continue to provide readers with as much information as available for them to make up their own minds.  Indeed, FakeCheck has made use of the data that we’re providing in order to attack us.

The bottom line is that FakeCheck is not how people act when they’re trying to clarify the public debate.  It’s how they act when they want to create fog and get people to vote based on hatred, fear, and some of our other more-base emotions.

Although the site is completely anonymous, it’s registered to Michael Silvia, of Medford, Massachusetts.  Silvia was also behind the Yes on 1 Web site during the latest budget campaign, as well as the Celebrate Tiverton site.  If we wanted to play the FakeCheck game, we might note that the 146 Forest St. address in Medford at which Silvia has registered all of these sites is currently valued at a healthy $503,800.  That’s in addition to his Tiverton home, at 263 Indian Point Rd., which is assessed at $418,500.

But this sort of tit for tat is silly and doesn’t enlighten anybody.  Instead, we’ll focus on addressing FakeCheck’s substantive arguments (such as they are) as we have time… even if it brings them attention we don’t think they deserve.  Unlike those anonymous supporters of the status quo, we want a better-informed community, not a more divided one.

For now just keep an eye on how they argue.  It’s the same old Tiverton 1st tactic of insult and manipulation for political benefit.  Residents of Tiverton should judge both sides for how we act, and use every resource available to you to make up your own mind about what the truth is.

UPDATE (9/19/14 1:24 p.m.): See this follow-up post for more.

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Justin Katz

Justin Katz, Vice President of the Tiverton Town Council, is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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