Realtime political fact-checking becomes a reality with WaPo’s ‘Truth Teller’

By Gregory Ferenstein

We are coming closer to a reality where no politician can ever spread well-known lies. Today, exclusively with TechCrunch, The Washington Post has announced a fully automated fact-checking program, Truth Teller, that displays “TRUE” or “FALSE” in real time next to video of politicians and pundits as they speak. Given the fact that almost one-fifth of registered voters still believe Obama is a Muslim, a tool to curb widespread myths could benefit our democracy. Check out a demo below:

The Knight Foundation-funded Truth Teller program automatically transcribes speeches and checks the statements against a database of well-known facts. For example, when House Speaker John Boehner claims that raising taxes on the top 2% would kill 700,000 jobs, Truth Teller pops a big red “FALSE” next to him, after cross-checking his statements against The Washington Post‘s own list of curated facts and other popular fact-checker databases.

For now, the early beta prototype has to be manually hand-fed some facts, and thus only works on topics it has been specifically designed to recognize. Since Congress has yet to pass a budget, and financial discussions are prone to widespread lies and misstatements, Truth Teller is being piloted on the issue of tax policy.

Eventually, The Washington Post‘s digital team hopes that Truth Teller can automatically draw from wisdom of the entire Internet and be available for citizens on their smartphones to fact-check politicians as they hold backyard BBQs during campaign season. Indeed, National Political Editor, Steven Ginsberg tells TechCrunch that he was inspired to pursue the project after witnessing Republican candidate Michele Bachmann spread lies to a small crowd of unsuspecting Iowans.

“You can imagine how that would change not just that scene but basically all of political discourse,” says Ginsberg, imagining if Iowans attending her talk were equipped with a smartphone version of Truth Teller. “If she’s lying to you and you say ‘Wait a second, you just lied to me,’ then you’ve got a whole different event than if she’s just talking.”




About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit