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Take The Pro-Truth Pledge!

Take The Pro-Truth Pledge!

The Pro-Truth Pledge
An Effective Strategy for Skeptics to Fight Fake News and Post-Truth Politics

How do we get politicians to stop lying? How do we get private citizens to stop sharing fake news on social media? Deception proved such a successful strategy for political causes and individual candidates in the UK and US elections in 2016 that the Oxford English Dictionary named post-truth as its word of the year, with the definition of “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The extensive sharing of fake news by private citizens led Collins Dictionary to choose “fake news” as its word of the year for 2017, meaning “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.”

We are facing a nightmare scenario. For many years now, traditional gatekeepers for ensuring the veracity of public information—news media, civic leaders, authorities on various topics—have been trusted less and less. Social and digital media have only accelerated this trend, exemplifying the potential of technological disruption to undermine our democracy.

Fortunately, if we can create a mechanism that differentiates the liars from the truth-tellers, we have a hope of protecting our democracy. At the same time, tilting the scale toward truth requires addressing the psychological factors that cause people to tolerate untruths. Using research from behavioral science research about what causes people to lie and what motivates them to tell the truth, a number of behavioral scientists (including myself) and concerned citizens have launched the Pro-Truth Pledge at ProTruthPledge.org, which combines our knowledge of behavioral science with crowdsourcing to promote truth-oriented behavior.

The pledge is meant for both public figures and private citizens to sign. So far, thousands of private citizens across the globe and several hundred public figures and organizations signed it, including globally-known public intellectuals such as Jonathan Haidt, Steven Pinker, Peter Singer and Michael Shermer. You might be especially surprised that many dozens of politicians have signed it as well.

The Pro-Truth Pledge incorporates 12 countermeasures to the psychological factors that foster misinformation. Signers pledge their earnest efforts to make it a practice to:

  • Verify: Fact-check information to confirm it is true before accepting and sharing it.
  • Balance: Share the whole truth, even if some aspects do not support your opinion.
  • Cite: Share your sources so that others can verify the information.
  • Clarify: Distinguish between your opinion and the facts.
  • Acknowledge when others share true information, even when you disagree with their point of view.
  • Reevaluate if your information is challenged, and retract it if you cannot verify it.
  • Defend others when they come under attack for sharing true information, even when you disagree with their point of view.
  • Align your opinions and your actions with true information.
  • Fix: Ask people to retract information that reliable sources have disproved, even if they are your friends or allies.
  • Educate: Compassionately inform those around you to stop using unreliable sources, even if these sources support your point of view.
  • Defer: Recognize the opinions of experts as more likely to be accurate when the facts are disputed.
  • Celebrate those who retract incorrect statements and update their beliefs based on the truth.

As a skeptic, you may already be doing everything described here, and if so, the Pro-Truth Pledge allows you to make a clear public statement while also calling on public figures to take the pledge. If you are not, now is your chance to commit to the kind of behaviors you would want our public figures to follow, and then challenge them to make this commitment along with you.

Because the pledge is to “earnest efforts,” it doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect in following all of these; just make a good-faith effort to adhere to these behaviors. The pledge does not address private speech, spiritual speech, or personal experience—only public discourse.

The pledge has teeth: it’s an opt-in, libertarian-style mechanism for holding each other accountable. Private citizens who signed the pledge have an opportunity to be advocates for the pledge if they sign up to help. One role of advocates is to hold other pledge-takers accountable for avoiding sharing misinformation, especially public figures. We have a clear evaluation and accountability mechanism, in which anyone can participate. Thus, for public figures, signing the pledge provides a marker of credibility, since they are being held accountable, in the same way that the Better Business Bureau provides a marker of credibility for ethical businesses.

The accountability mechanism works. For example, Michael Smith, a candidate for Congress, took the pledge. Some time later, he posted on his Facebook wall a screenshot of a tweet by Donald Trump criticizing minority and disabled children. After being called out on it, he went and searched Trump’s feed. He could not find the original tweet, and while Trump may have deleted it, the candidate edited his post to say, “Due to a Truth Pledge I have taken, I have to say I have not been able to verify this post.” He indicated that he would be more careful with future postings.

This is not a partisan project: there are plenty of honest public figures on all sides of the political divide, and both conservative and liberal politicians, media figures, and public intellectuals have taken the pledge. Something bigger is at stake: preventing the inevitable consequence of growing corruption and authoritarianism that follows from post-truth politics. The more people take the pledge—ordinary citizens like you, as well as politicians and journalists and civic leaders—the more impact the pledge will have. We talked to a number of politicians and other public figures who indicated the pledge is too burdensome for them to take now, and to come back when we have more people who went to ProTruthPledge.org and signed it. So when you sign the Pro-Truth Pledge, you know you are making a real difference in fighting against the lies and protecting our democracy from the scourge of lies.

Research on network effects shows that you powerfully impact the people in your social network, and as skeptics committed to reason, it is our responsibility to show skeptics in the best light possible. Taking the pledge, and sharing publicly about our commitment to the truth, will be a crucial signal to our social network about the positive role in our society that skeptics—that you and I—can play. The fake news and post-truth politics are a systemic problem, and without an intervention by everyone who cares about the truth, they will continue. So be part of the solution: go to ProTruthPledge.org and sign the pledge to fight against the lies and protect our democracy.

Take the Pro-Truth Pledge!

About the Author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is Assistant Professor in the History Department along with the Decision Sciences Collaborative at Ohio State University. He is President and Co-Founder of Intentional Insights, a nonprofit advocating truth-seeking, rational thinking, and wise decision-making, and the co-founder of the Pro-Truth Pledge, an initiative to fight misinformation and advocate for truth.

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