Nobody in our corner of the internet could fail to notice the antics of those yapping bouncing frenetic chihuahuas who call themselves fact-checkers. Mostly they work in obscurity, misunderstanding internet jokes, recycling the vacuities of self-styled experts, debunking weird Twitter posts, and above all churning out prodigious walls of text filled with banalities that nobody reads. Occasionally, though, they manage to entertain us – as recently, when it emerged that BBC “disinformation specialist” and fact-checker-in-chief Marianna Spring had larded her very own CV with disinformation. Almost nothing is more amusing than finding oneself in the crosshairs of the fact-checkers, as has happened to me on at least one occasion.
My favourite checker of facts is the man-bun-sporting dimwit Pascal Siggelkow, who has been appointed top “fact finder” for the state media news service tagesschau. We last encountered Siggelkow when he mistook a noun for a verb in Seymour Hersh’s reporting, ultimately spending four amazing paragraphs debunking the thesis – unique to his own mind – that explosive seaweed destroyed Nord Stream. Before hunting facts at tagesschau, Siggelkow worked for Südwestrundfunk, another state media broadcaster, where he did daring undercover investigative reporting like snitching on “doctors who downplay Corona and issue unfounded mask exemptions”. This is really reporter-of-the-year material. In truth, we have before us here a whole genre of journalism conducted by an aggressively stupid tribe of Siggelkows, distinguished by their total lack of accomplishments, limited vision and minuscule persuasive capacities. That these small men should be entrusted with the project of policing our words is a strange thing indeed, and it suggests there is more going on in the world of fact-checking than we realise. Here, I propose to examine what is is that fact-checkers really do, and whether there is anything to say about them beyond the obvious fact that they are complete and utter idiots.
To explore fact-checking more concretely, I have ventured into the barren wastelands of the tagesschau ‘Fact Finder’ page, where Siggelkow plies his trade and few before me have ever set foot. I’ve selected, mostly at random, a limited corpus of 11 recent discourse-policing items for closer analysis. I offer links to each of them below, in chronological order, providing their headlines and teasers in translation, together with sample quotations to give you an idea. This is a tiresome read indeed, so please skip ahead unless you are of particularly strong constitution.
1. ‘Why is excess mortality so high?‘, by Pascal Siggelkow and Alexander Steininger
November 28th 2022
In 2022, an unusually high number of people have died so far in relation to previous years. October in particular was an outlier. According to experts, this cannot be explained by Corona alone.
“As a scientist, I want to be open to all possibilities, but I just don’t see the connection [to vaccination],” [said Jonas Schöley, Research Associate in the Department of Population Health at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock]. Additionally, he said, the scientific evidence evaluating vaccines is much stronger than that available in population research. “We don’t have to rely on the error-prone search for causes in population data because of the very good body of studies on the efficacy and risks of vaccination.” If the vaccines led to an increased number of deaths, this would have been proven long ago in medical and epidemiological research.
2. ‘A flood of fake videos and pictures‘, by Carla Reveland and Pascal Siggelkow
July 3rd 2023
In connection to the riots in France, numerous pictures and videos are being shared on social media. Many of them are not from the current protests, but are disinformation.
In right-wing extremist and conspiracy-theorist Telegram channels, posts containing the term “France” have seen marked increase since the end of June … The Austrian right-wing alternative channel AUF1, for example, speaks of “ethno-riots” and a “bloody multicultural illusion.”
“Whenever there are topics that lend themselves to populist or right-wing extremist instrumentalisation, they are used,” [Pia] Lamberty, [Social Psychologist and Executive Director of the Center for Monitoring, Analysis and Strategy] says … This could be current political debates such as the topic of heat pumps, crises such as climate, Corona, economic tensions, or even riots such as in France. “Such attempts at instrumentalisation are not always successful across society as a whole, but for supporters of right-wing extremist ideologies they are often an additional confirmation of their own world views.”