June 21, 2011

FactCheck.org founder spends week at SJU

Written by
Mark Sommerhauser

Like to follow politics through blogs, Facebook and Twitter?

Use of these and other social-networking platforms may encourage voters to type first and think later, a political expert with Central Minnesota ties said Tuesday.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson directs the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and helped found FactCheck.org, a pioneering website that scrutinizes statements made by politicians in ads and debates.
Jamieson this week is a scholar-in-residence at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement at St. John’s University. That puts Jamieson in familiar territory, as she’s a 1964 graduate of St. Benedict’s High School in St. Joseph.

Few dispute that social-networking platforms have had a growing influence on politics in recent years.

That’s not necessarily bad, Jamieson said in a Tuesday afternoon interview with the Times. Such platforms help people connect with each other, and help them aggregate political information.

But they also may foster a climate in which observers continually comment on political speeches or debates, without pausing to consider or digest what politicians are actually saying, Jamieson suggested. She questioned how this could affect “our capacity for thoughtful citizenship and reflective engagement.”
Politics also is being changed by the emergence of technology to individualize Internet advertising, Jamieson added. That could occur when advertisers use a person’s Internet-surfing history to tailor political emails or ads to that individual.

The result: Different voters hear different political messages — and perhaps, different promises. That’s not necessarily a problem if the claims are accurate — but could be if they’re not, Jamieson said.

“Nothing in the media structure is set to capture these messages, to provide a forum to debunk them,” Jamieson said.

Jamieson also stressed the importance of educating high school students on civics — and on how to distinguish when a politician is telling the truth or when they’re fibbing. Increasing emphasis on core subjects like math and reading mustn’t displace such education, Jamieson said.

“It’s also important,” she said, “that we haven’t crowded an understanding of civics out of our curriculum.”