Yes — facts matter — or at least they should. A “fact” implies certainty, it answers a specific question and should help us form our opinions. Unfortunately, in the age of fake news, bias, spin, anecdotes, and cherry-picking, the line between what is real, what is an opinion, and what is simply a lie is frustratingly blurred.
While working at Vote Smart, a nonpartisan political research nonprofit, I’ve discovered that facts are not always marketable. Facts, free of opinion, are not sensational and eye-catching. We as an audience often view the politicians we disagree with as TV characters that we love to hate.
Our desire for the dire and outlandish empowers fake news sites to publish clickbait manipulative garbage. Citizens with little education are not the problem — most of us want the scandal and the excitement and are susceptible to fake stories. When these publications get more clicks than the truth, it makes sensationalization more attractive for reputable sources.
Think of the media as chefs. They have the ingredients for a factual story but often overseason it with opinions and bias to make it palatable for their audience. We, as the audience, need to analyze facts to guide our opinions and allow us to discuss our perspectives with others. We blind ourselves when we only rely on others’ opinions and surround ourselves with our ideological clones. We need a source where we can step back, read the clear cut facts, and then continue the conversation. That source is votesmart.org.
I joined the team at Vote Smart because we arm citizens with a Voter Self Defense System based on the transparency that most politicians are unwilling to give. Our database at votesmart.org has biographies, public statements, issue positions, voting records, special interest group ratings, and campaign finance information for over 40,000 federal and state-level officials.
All you have to do is type in your Zip code to learn who represents you and hold them accountable to their words and actions. Vote Smart enables citizens to fact-check politicians and ensure that what they say and how they vote are consistent. These tools and resources bring our leaders out of their private meetings and into our mobile devices.
Vote Smart is funded by engaged voters rather than politicians and corporations. Our founders included political enemies like Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter who saw a need for transparency in the political arena.
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But we need Iowa’s help. Vote Smart moved to Des Moines to be at the starting-line each election cycle. As an Iowan, I have seen these communities speak up when they feel unheard and stand up when the time calls for it. Now, we need to do so again by defending facts and protecting the country from political manipulation.
If you are ready to stand up for political transparency by arming yourself with facts, visit our website and please join us on April 10 from 5-7p.m. at our Des Moines office for our Opening Celebration. You can learn how to use our tools to bring the facts back to Iowa.
• Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz of Sioux City, Iowa is the communications associate for Vote Smart in Des Moines. Comments: email@example.com; Twitter: @Alyhandr0