On Monday night, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off in what many expect to be the most-watched presidential debate of all time.
The debate will be broadcast on local ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and Univision stations, and also on cable channels MSNBC, C-SPAN, Fox News, and CNN. If you don't have cable, there are several other ways you can watch.
The debate comes at a crucial time in the 2016 election, with the race closening and voters facing a tough choice between two historically disliked candidates. But this debate is also a microcosm of the presidential race as a whole, which has shed light on the many divides across the United States and unleashed a new era of "fact-checking" that, at times, has hamstrung both candidates.
As we wrote last month, there have been several scary lies told during this election. Many of those lies have been repeated over and over despite little evidence to support them. On Monday night, you can expect more of the same. Unfortunately, though, the truth and lies of the debate won't be settled on television. This week, the Trump campaign expressed its belief that the media "shouldn't be fact-checkers," and to everyone's surprise, the head of the Commission on Presidential Debates agreed.
Putting aside the fact it is precisely the media and journalists' jobs to keep politicians honest, the benefit for Trump is obvious: without being fact-checked live, he can continue telling an unprecedented amount of lies on national television. For Clinton, you can expect the truth to be stretched when she discusses her email scandal. According to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact, 28 percent of Clinton's comments have been rated mostly false, false or pants on fire (the highest degree of a lie).
Donald Trump's record is quite a bit worse: 69 percent of his fact-checked comments were mostly false, false or pants on fire.
Here's how you can filter out the truth during the debate:
1. Follow Politifact on Twitter.
Throughout every debate, Politifact will fact-check bold claims in real time. You can follow it on Twitter here.
It is also sitting on a bank of comments that it has already investigated, and typically several of those comments are repeated during each debate. For instance, you can expect Trump to claim he opposed the Iraq War, though this has been disproven repeatedly. You can expect Clinton to claim that ISIS is using Trump as a recruiting tool, though little evidence for this claim has been presented.
2. Google anything you're unsure of.
Don't take the candidates or the moderator's words for it. If something sounds fishy, give it a Google. That doesn't mean the first result is going to be the truth, but you can pool from different resources in order to form a balanced and well-rounded opinion.
But be careful: a lot of websites out there are posing as enclaves of journalism. Trust the places you know, but also trust well-established outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and basically any outlet that comes in a print form as well.
Despite Donald Trump's hatred for what he calls "the mainstream media," these established news outlets abide by serious editorial standards and rigorous vetting that requires them to come as close to the absolute truth as possible.
They are also staffed by some of the most experienced and well-sourced journalists in the world, journalists that you can trust. Remember: it's not the media's fault so many lies are out there. It's our fault for consuming them without informing ourselves.
3. Talk to the people you're watching with.
Several polls have found that America today is as divided as it's ever been. While it's unlikely you'll be watching the debate with someone who does not share your political views, it's worth talking about what's happening with them during commercial breaks.
As we've reported, many of Americans biggest fears and misunderstandings come from not knowing the groups who have dominated headlines during this election. For example, Muslims and immigration from Arab nations has been a huge talking point this year, but very few Americans ever interact with Muslims. Perhaps the people you watch the debate with have firsthand experience they can share with you to add context when you hear Trump and Clinton discuss refugees or terrorism tonight.
4. Share your findings.
While millions are expected to watch the debate tonight, plenty won't. If you're just tuning into this election for the first time, or just starting to think about who you'll vote for, this debate is going to be a major catalyst of how you're informed.
If a candidate lies or stretches the truth, talk about it on Facebook. Share it on your Twitter. If even one voter becomes more informed because of something you talk about on social media, in the office, or at dinner, that's one more voter that has a better grasp on what their vote will mean. In a country where voter turnout trails other democracies, it's important that every vote is an informed one.
5. Have a lighthearted show to wash it down with.
Things are tough in America right now. There are riots in North Carolina, terrorism abroad and here at home, shootings in the news, and two presidential candidates not many people are fond of. On the other hand, there's plenty to celebrate about our country. America is not being destroyed, our economy is finally surging again, and we're not quite as divided as you probably think.
Keep that in mind as you watch. But also expect this debate to harp on a lot of the negative and fear-mongering. To be ready, I suggest washing the debate down with a short, lighthearted show before bed. When the debate ends around 10:30 p.m., you can find Star Trek on BBC, Family Guy on Cartoon Network, The Daily Show on Comedy Central, Star Wars on Disney, SportsCenter on ESPN, and The Simpsons on FX.
Any should suffice.
Cover photo: Wikicommons