Can We Make Fact as Convenient as Fiction?

About the Author:

Matt Stempeck

Matt Stempeck

Matt Stempeck is a researcher at the Center for Civic Media at MIT Media Lab. He's building LazyTruth with the help of two friends (and all-around geniuses), Justin Nowell and Stefan Fox.

tl;dr: We’re building an inbox widget that surfaces vetted information when you receive an email forward full of political myths, urban rumors, or security threats. It’s called LazyTruth.

Trust in traditional news outlets has declined precipitously, to the lowest point in two decades of polling (Pew Research Center for the People and the Press). Trust in word of mouth from friends, family, and even strangers remains the most trusted form of media (Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey). And in recent years, there’s been a sharp uptick in the amount of political information spread in forwarded emails, some of it wildly inaccurate. Over 40% of all polled age groups of Americans share and forward political information online, and older online political users are the most likely to forward political content and commentary (Pew Internet & American Life Project).

So, we get a lot of information informally, from friends and family. And we’ve all received crazy emails forwarded by well-meaning-but-misinformed friends and family. Some factcheckers have even posited that these viral forwards may actually be used as a political tool, circulated by campaign operatives to spread incendiary misinformation as widely as possible.

Making Fact as Convenient as Fiction

We no longer suffer from a dearth of information, but from frequent exposure to high volumes of low quality information, and high quality information is never conveniently available when we need it most. The misinformation spread rapidly through email and other online channels is a failure on the part of the individual to consult unbiased sources before further amplifying the message. But even those citizens who are unconvinced, or who completely disagree with its content, are burdened with the responsibility to respond. They may not know where to begin in rebuking the misinformation, or may simply not have the time it takes to write a compelling reply. This is a failure of information accessibility.

Enter LazyTruth

The LazyTruth inbox widget surfaces pre-existing nonpartisan information to debunk viral rumors when the information is needed most: in our inboxes. The gadget is triggered by the truly specific unique phrases used in the most common viral emails tracked by factchecking and urban rumor websites.

When you receive a viral email full of fallacies, LazyTruth retrieves and displays a verified rebuttal, and provides you with the original sources. It all happens right in your inbox, without requiring you to search anywhere. Thanks to this contextual gadget, we can intervene directly at the moment when misinformation is delivered. The result is that it becomes much more convenient for citizens to combat misinformation, rather than acquiesce to its volume.

We’re currently working on a Gmail prototype, which we hope to make available in the very near future. Find out more at http://lazytruth.com.

 

 

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