It’s just great that we’ve got fact-checkers now, right? People who tell us what is true, just like the journalists used to? Except one thing: What happens if the fact-checkers are biased? This comes up in a new piece from RumorGuard, a fact-checking site from the News Literacy Project, that has been around just five months.
In a recent article from RumorGuard, it fact-checks the idea of 15-minute cities. On one hand, there’s a thought that the planners, want to make sure that we can’t move around, and we’ll be confined to within 15 minutes of where we live. To make sure that we’re like those medieval peasants who thought the other side of the hill was some foreign country. That’s just laughable. Isn’t it?
On the other hand, it’s just the idea that maybe we should design cities so that everything we want is within 15 minutes. That would be nice — we can go to the doctor, the stores, school, the park, all within 15 minutes of home.
So, which of these two stories about the 15-minute city is true? Surely we can look to the fact-checkers to tell us. Unless, of course, the fact-checkers like RumorGuard, which is biased itself, declaring things true or false with a simple “YES” or “NO”:
The “15-minute city” is an urban planning concept that aims to place most essential services — such as grocery stores, workplaces, restaurants, entertainment, healthcare and public transportation — within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from residents’ homes.
There is no conspiracy to use 15-minute city design to limit people’s freedom of movement to a 15-minute zone around their home.
Residents in Ottawa, Canada, and Oxford, England, where 15-minute city planning principles have been adopted, are not restricted from traveling more than 15 minutes from their homes.
Well, phew. That’s a relief then.
Except that’s not true. Here is the actual Oxford City Council on its plans:
Residents in Oxford and some areas just outside the city will be able to apply for a permit allowing them to drive through the traffic filters for up to 100 days each year.
Other Oxfordshire residents will be able to apply for a permit allowing them to drive through the traffic filters for up to 25 days each year.
So there will be limits on movement between those 15-minute cities, then.
Again from Oxford itself:
Everyone can go through all the filters at any time by bus, bike, taxi, scooter or walking. Furthermore, residents will still be able to drive to every part of the city at any time – but in the future, during certain times of the day, you may need to take a different route (e.g. using the ring road) if you want to travel by car.
There will also be exemptions to the fines for carers, blue badge holders, businesses, and emergency services.
Sure, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. It’s just that unless you’re one of the privileged people you’ll have to pay a fine when you do.
Sure, it’s possible to have a different reading on these things. Maybe it’s true that being fined for going outside your 15-minute area isn’t quite the same as being restricted from going outside your 15-minute area. Maybe it’s true that “traffic filters” aren’t quite, wholly and exactly, the same as “15-minute cities.”
But if we’re going to have a fact checker maybe we’d like to have one that isn’t so clearly and obviously biased about these things. Of course, it’s entirely possible to also insist that if we’ve got to pay to travel outside our 15-minute city, then we’re being restricted from traveling outside our 15-minute city.
Or, perhaps and maybe, having people deciding what is truth means that we’ve got to pay a great deal of attention to those who are defining what is true. Like, maybe, not using those who can’t get jobs as journalists to do this truth-defining one stage further back. This is indeed what is happening – as we might argue happened over the lab leak theory.
Fact-checkers have – and it’s amazing how quickly this has happened – become just another layer of the special people telling us what to think. Simple free speech – as the Founding Fathers pointed out – is the only useful answer to this.