Frustrated by misinformation and incivility in public discourse?
Take the Pro-Truth Pledge to encourage politicians – and everyone else – to commit to truth-oriented behaviors and protect facts and civility. Join 6069 signers, 60 organizations, 118 government officials, and 412 public figures and take the pledge, demand that your elected representatives do so, and encourage your friends to take it!
Can Be Seen In:
I Pledge My Earnest Efforts 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 my opinion
- Cite: share my sources so that others can verify my information
- Clarify: distinguish between my opinion and the facts
- Acknowledge: acknowledge when others share true information, even when we disagree otherwise
- Reevaluate: reevaluate if my information is challenged, retract it if I cannot verify it
- Defend: defend others when they come under attack for sharing true information, even when we disagree otherwise
- Align: align my opinions and my actions with true information
- Fix: ask people to retract information that reliable sources have disproved even if they are my allies
- Educate: compassionately inform those around me to stop using unreliable sources even if these sources support my opinion
- Defer: recognize the opinions of experts as more likely to be accurate when the facts are disputed
- Celebrate: celebrate those who retract incorrect statements and update their beliefs toward the truth
Download a copy of the pledge (PDF)
The Pro-Truth Pledge has also been translated into Spanish; Hungarian; Russian; Ukrainian; Portugese; German; French
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Frequently Asked Questions
Unfortunately, we cannot trust politicians and other public figures to tell the truth. The pledge changes the incentive structure for public figures to promote truth-telling instead of lying. Through taking the pledge, and encouraging public figures to take it, you take the lead in fighting deception.
While plenty of people have lied to get ahead in the past, this problem has gotten particularly bad lately. Recent political events in the United States, United Kingdom, and many other democratic countries have caused Oxford Dictionary to choose post-truth politics, “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” as its 2016 word of the year. Fewer and fewer people trust the media, in part due to the rise of alternative media, in part due to the growth of opinion-driven reporting, and in part due to criticism of the media by prominent politicians. The replication crisis in a number of scientific fields is eroding the credibility of scientists. The most popular sport in the world is mired in scandals based on deception. Leaders of organizations are lying more and more frequently, and usually do not get punished. It’s not only a problem with public figures: fake news, more recently termed “viral deception,” is sweeping social media, shared by ordinary people.
Sharing such misinformation is not necessarily intended to harm others or even deliberately deceive, as our minds are not intuitively set on seeking the truth. Research suggests our emotions and intuitions instead focus on protecting our worldview and personal identity rather than updating our beliefs based on the most accurate information. We are thus not naturally inclined to live by the maxim of “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Being truthful thus requires the same kind of effort as any other sort of civilized, not-instinctive behavior.
Our society as a whole loses out by these lies, while individual liars often gain by their deception, a situation known as a “tragedy of the commons.” A well-known tragedy of the commons is pollution: we all gain from clean air and water, but some individual polluters gain more, at least in the short term, by polluting the environment, harming all of us. Similarly, we all benefit from a society where we can trust each other to tell the truth, but some individuals gain more, in the short term, by abusing this trust and polluting the truth. Fortunately, the environmental movement of the 1970s has now resulted in a situation where many people started recycling and our society passed environmental legislation. In the same way, we can change individual behavior and public policy alike to be more oriented toward the truth through the Pro-Truth Movement, and the PTP is one aspect of this movement to help fight deception.
How does the pledge solve these problems?
Behavioral science research suggests that addressing such tragedies of the commons involves a combination of strategies. One is changing incentives, namely increasing rewards for behavior that is cooperative and helps society (in this case, telling the truth), and also increasing punishments for behavior that defects from the common good and harms society (in this case, lying). Another strategy involves reputation management, clearly showing who is being cooperative, and who is harming the common good. A third strategy centers around managing the choices available to participants, what is known as nudging. The PTP takes advantage of a fourth behavioral science strategy of precommitment – if you publicly commit to a certain course, you will be much more likely to follow it.
The PTP, created by a group of behavioral scientists, combines all of these strategies. By doing so, it provides a tool that motivates all who take it to share accurate information and avoid sharing misinformation.
Besides providing the motivation, the PTP spells out what it means to orient toward the truth. After all, it is very easy to say you share the truth, regardless of whether you do so. It is even easy to say you “verified” a source before sharing the information. However, if you verified it through checking a source known to be systematically unreliable, whether Occupy Democrats for liberals or Breitbart for conservatives, you have violated the standard of avoiding unreliable websites, and thus violated the pledge. As you will see below, if you retract your statement, you will not suffer any penalties from PTP advocates. The clear standard about truth-oriented behavior not only offers guidance to those who take the pledge, but also a basis for evaluating whether pledge-takers abide by their commitment. For more information, watch this Q&A video about the Pro-Truth Pledge.
Misinformation is anything that goes against reality. It can mean directly lying, lying by omission, or misrepresenting the truth to suit one’s own purposes. Sometimes misinformation is blatant and sometimes it’s harder to tell. For those tough calls we rely on credible fact-checking sites and the scientific consensus.
Misinformation is anything that goes against the truth of reality. It can mean directly lying about the situation at hand, for instance when an athlete denies taking steroids that she was actually taking. It can mean lying by omission, as when a scholar publishes a study with a successful experiment, while hiding that he conducted 50 of the same experiments that failed, until by random chance one finally worked, a phenomenon known as publication bias. Another example is when politicians cherry-pick numbers or stories that are not representative of actual reality to support their candidacy, for instance saying that violent crime is rising and giving an example of a gruesome murder when in reality police statistics show a decrease in violent crime. Misinformation can mean using obviously inflated statistics to support one’s argument, such as an economic commentator saying that people are better off right now because they earn more money while failing to adjust current earnings for inflation. It can mean misrepresenting someone else’s position in such a way that a neutral observer would have a completely twisted perspective of that position. Misinformation can mean representing an opinion as a fact, such as referencing an editorial or expert analysis (both opinions) and treating them as facts. It can mean insisting something is true despite lacking clear evidence that it is in fact true, especially after being challenged about the claim. It can mean sharing an article whose headline is at odds with the conclusions reached in the article. In general, misinformation is anything that conveys information in an obviously deceptive way that leads audiences to have a fundamentally wrong impression of the truth in any given matter.
In some cases, such misinformation is obvious, so that any reasonable external observer – in this case, fellow pledge-takers who evaluate each other – can see it. In other cases, it is less so. For those cases, the PTP calls on pledge signers to rely on credible fact-checking websites and/or on the scientific consensus. Rather than going through the process of vetting fact-checking websites, we have decided to outsource that work to Facebook, which is partnering with websites it has vetted and evaluated as credible. As of the initial unveiling, the websites include Snopes, Politifact, ABC News, and FactCheck.org, and more will be added over time. All these are members of a common coalition, the Poynter International Fact Checking Network, and have committed to a common set of principles. Any other websites that Facebook uses will be considered credible for PTP purposes. Someone who takes the pledge will be considered in violation of the pledge if they make a claim that is similar to those rated as “mostly false” or “completely false” by one of these websites (they use different language, but you get the idea). In a case where credible websites disagree, for instance one calls a claim “mostly false” and another calls it “mostly true,” we will not consider the claim a violation of the PTP.
In some cases, fact-checking websites have not evaluated certain claims, but the claim will be opposed by scientific research. Since science is the best of all methods we as human beings have found to determine the reality about the world and predict the outcomes of our actions, someone will be evaluated as in violation of the pledge if they make a claim that goes against the scientific consensus. We are comfortable with the Wikipedia definition of scientific consensus as follows:
- “the collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists in a particular field of study. Consensus implies general agreement, though not necessarily unanimity. Consensus is normally achieved through communication at conferences, the publication process, replication (reproducible results by others), and peer review. These lead to a situation in which those within the discipline can often recognize such a consensus where it exists, but communicating to outsiders that consensus has been reached can be difficult, because the ‘normal’ debates through which science progresses may seem to outsiders as contestation. On occasion, scientific institutes issue position statements intended to communicate a summary of the science from the ‘inside’ to the ‘outside’ of the scientific community.”
Thus, we can recognize scientific consensus by position statements by prestigious scientific organizations, such as this statement from 18 associations on climate change, or the result of meta-analysis studies (evaluations of a series of other prominent studies) that come to a clear determination, such as this study on the relationship of vaccines and autism. Since science gets ahead in part through individual scientists with expertise in a certain domain challenging the scientific consensus in that domain, those who are scientists do not have to abide by the scientific consensus in areas where they have scientific expertise; for all others, since it is very rare for the scientific consensus to be accurately judged as wrong by external observers, going against the scientific consensus is a violation of the pledge. Note that while we encourage deferring to experts in any specific domain, due to people’s intuitive tendency to have excessive confidence in their own opinions and underestimate the value of expert opinions, we consider going against expert opinion a violation of the pledge only in the case of a clear scientific consensus.
No one is perfect, and we do not assume anyone will be perfect in sticking to the truth-oriented behaviors described in the pledge. That is why the pledge asks for your “earnest efforts” to pursue these behaviors, as opposed to perfection. We encourage all pledge-takers to support and encourage each other in pursuing truth-oriented behaviors, by highlighting opportunities for improvement in doing so by other pledge-takers and praising those who pursue such behaviors even despite obstacles. At the same time, we cannot read anyone’s mind and see whether they dedicated “earnest efforts” to these behaviors or not. What may be easy to some people may be incredibly difficult to others, for all sorts of reasons; what may be glaring lapses in pursuing these behaviors may be invisible to others. Thus, we do not consider situations where pledge-takers failed to engage in these behaviors as violations of the pledge. Still, we do need at least some clear and externally-verifiable standards of when people violate the pledge, something that all pledge-takers can agree on and externally verify. The three points above offer that opportunity for clear external verification that all pledge-takers agree to avoid: statements deliberately meant to mislead, going against credible fact-checking sites, or going against the scientific consensus.
Violations of the pledge only apply to statements made in and about the public sphere. In other words, it does not apply to private interactions, such as when a wife tells her husband his new shirt makes him look really muscular, regardless of what she really thinks. It does not apply to semi-private contexts, such as when a fisherman tells tall tales about the size of the fish he caught. It does not apply to religious or other values-based contexts, except in cases where the statement is misinformation about public discourse. It does not apply to cases that cannot be reasonably verified by an outside party and/or have to do with personal beliefs and spiritual experiences, such as when a politician or a pastor says “I support this policy because of God’s personal revelations to me,” or an environmentalist says “I support protecting the environment because otherwise the spirit of Mother Earth would suffer.” It does not apply to internal communications within an organization, unless these communications are about public discourse: for instance, the pledge would not apply to conversations about hiring, unless there is a claim made that an organization is hiring people because of changes in public policy. The pledge matters only in verifiable statements relevant to broader public discourse, such as when a private citizen shares a piece of viral deception online, or a journalist misquotes a source, or a pastor makes false claims about miracle healing and encourages parishioners to avoid going to doctors, or a scientist hides unfavorable experimental results relevant to public policy, or a business owner makes false claims about the value of the product they are offering or how a policy impacts their business, or a politician spreads falsehoods about her opponent or denies clear evidence based on the scientific consensus on a topic.
While we can’t always see whether pledge-takers exert their “earnest efforts” to abide by the pledge, we can see when a pledge-taker shares misinformation, and the pledge is considered violated when a pledge-taker shares what the pledge defines as misinformation. From the perspective of the pledge, misinformation is anything that conveys information in an obviously deceptive way that leads audiences to have a fundamentally wrong impression of the truth in any given matter, and a thorough description with examples is at this link.
Violating the pledge in itself is not a problem for pledge-takers, as it does not mean you are going to be immediately punished for doing so, since the PTP is not intended to be primarily punitive. In putting facts first, we are not trying to play “gotcha” when someone makes an innocent mistake that causes a violation the pledge. After all, we aim to push ourselves and others who signed the pledge to be better than our natural inclinations – just like it is against the natural inclination of many of us to avoid a second piece of chocolate cake. Yet taking the second piece and thus violating our aspirations to eat well doesn’t mean we drop our goal of having healthy eating habits, but simply try to figure out what went wrong and aim to do better in the future.
Similarly, each of us may well eventually fail to be oriented toward the truth, and make a statement that goes against a fact-checking website or the scientific consensus or the clearly visible truth of reality. We rely on a community of truth-oriented individuals to support each other and provide compassionate correction when we fail, helping advance open-minded thinking among all of us and thus improving our society, as research shows. A key piece of the pledge is that all pledge-takers will hold all others who took the pledge accountable for upholding the truth. If someone is unwilling to correct themselves when provided clear information about their mistake, it is the responsibility of each of us who took the pledge to hold that person accountable by publicizing that person’s actions in appropriate channels, to penalize that person through harming that person’s reputation. In doing so, please make sure to provide both: 1) Clear evidence of the violation, and 2) Clear evidence of a good-faith, reasonable effort to get the alleged violator of the pledge to address the violation. If the individual is a private citizen, the matter ends there, as this sort of reputational blow provides a significant enough disincentive to cause the large majority of people who take the pledge to avoid lying.
While this crowd-based accountability mechanism is appropriate for the general public, we have a separate and more formalized mechanism for holding accountable those who identify as public figures. They get the reward of a positive reputation boost for taking the pledge, in exchange for agreeing to be held publicly accountable for their commitment to avoiding misinformation. While a public figure sharing misinformation by mistake suffers no penalty, one deliberately violating the pledge – as shown by a refusal to retract misinformation one shared – suffers substantial negative consequences.
How does this accountability work in practice? First of all, anyone – whether they took the pledge or not – can report a complaint about any public figure who signed the pledge through our “Violation Report” form. We are excited to get potential violations of the pledge brought to our attention, but unfortunately get many frivolous complaints by people who failed to read thoroughly and understand what actually constitutes a violation of the pledge. For example, it’s easy to complain that someone has not “shared the whole truth” if they did not write a three-tome book about a topic. Likewise, someone might complain about misinformation shared in private, while the pledge only applies to public speech. Similarly, someone might make complaints about a public speech act that is not visible, say a deleted tweet or an unrecorded speech: unless evidence is available, we simply are unable to investigate the matter. Overall, the burden of evidence is on the one bringing the complaint, as we have an “innocent until proven guilty” approach to public figures: otherwise, few would sign the pledge. However, we are very glad whenever a complaint proves viable, and if that is the case, then it is passed on to a PTP advocate who has some experience in evaluating complaints.
Another way a complaint can come forward is from a PTP advocate specifically assigned to monitor one or more public figures: this is one of the volunteer activities available as part of the pledge project. If a Pro-Truth advocate finds that a public figure has violated the pledge, the advocate would contact the person privately. As part of this process, the advocate would adopt “charity mode,” meaning being more charitable toward the alleged violator than is one’s intuition, together with the “innocent until proven guilty” perspective – perhaps the person misspoke, or the advocate misheard something. The advocate would use curiosity and questioning to determine whether there is clear evidence that the pledge has been violated. If there is clear evidence, provide this to the alleged violator, and if the person retracts her/his words, the matter is resolved. Let the organizers of the pledge know about this matter by emailing info [at] protruthpledge [dot] org.
If the alleged violator is a public figure, the advocate would escalate the matter to a PTP local, regional, or national mediating committee, depending on the status of the public figure. This committee includes a group of vetted volunteers who would evaluate the evidence provided by the advocate, contact the public figure for a chance for the person to offer an explanation, and make a ruling – either determining that there is a violation, that there is no violation, or that the evidence is insufficient to make a judgment. If there is a ruling of a violation, then this ruling is evaluated by a member of the PTP Central Coordination Committee, to ensure fairness and accuracy, and provide an external perspective. In the case that the PTP Central Coordination Committee member also determines that a violation has occurred, the committee then contacts the alleged violator, offering the person another chance to retract her/his words. By this time, the public figure had a number of opportunities to clarify the situation and correct it if a mistake has been made, rather than if the public figure aimed to make a deliberate deception to pollute the truth and hurt all of us. This process might sound a little convoluted, but it minimizes the possibility of the PTP being politicized or corrupted at a local level.
If the public figure still refuses to take her/his words back, the PTP mediating committee would issue a press advisory that the public figure is in contempt of the pledge to put reputational pressure on the thought leader, with clear evidence of the violation as well as the efforts it made to get the public figure to revise the violation. The PTP mediating committee would also contact relevant organizations with which the person who violated the pledge is affiliated, such as the radio station if it is a radio show host, or a university if it is a scientist. It would also issue a PTP Action Alert to those who indicated they want to receive such alerts – either at the local, regional, or national level, depending on the stature of the public figure – for them to email/Tweet and otherwise message the public figure encouraging her/him to revise the relevant statements, and writing letters-to-the-editor about the situation. Finally, the public figure will be listed on the PTP website as in contempt of the pledge. This provides considerable reputation pressure for a public figure to avoid being in contempt of the pledge – if the public figure envisions violating the pledge deliberately, s/he would be better off not signing it at all. To summarize, innocent violations of the pledge will not be penalized, only deliberate attempts to misrepresent the truth and thus undermine the public good of truth and trust.
Who will monitor the PTP mediating committees? Other pledge-takers, of course. The PTP mediating committees have strong incentives to ensure that their rulings are as fair and objective as is possible, because their whole reputation rests on such objectivity. The outcomes of their proceedings – if there is a ruling of a violation – will be provided as evidence for scrutiny by other pledge-takers, and the public at large. These outcomes will not be provided if the public figure retracts her/his words at any stage, to prevent reputation damage for the public figure, since the PTP is not meant to be punitive but corrective.
While the pledge is only violated when one shares misinformation, public figures who take the pledge can engage in more subtle forms of shading the truth, what is known as “spin.” Such shadings of the truth only rises to the level of violation of the pledge when it meets the bar of what we consider misinformation from the perspective of the pledge, namely conveying “information in an obviously deceptive way that leads audiences to have a fundamentally wrong impression of the truth in any given matter.” In more light cases of “spin” where this bar is not met, the pledge organizers will not be able to impose formal reputational sanctions on the public figure engaging in spin. We made this choice of avoiding punishing light cases of spin because there is too much potential for differences of opinion to prejudice evaluations of what constitutes spin, as well as our intent to follow Blackstone’s formulation as enshrined in the judicial system: “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” However, we encourage other pledge-takers informally to call out the public figure for engaging in spin. In almost all cases, spin will go against one of the truth-oriented behaviors outlined in the pledge. Please bring this matter to the attention of the public figure engaging in spin, and encourage that public figure to model the spirit of the pledge, even if their words do not technically violate the pledge.
All signers of the pledge benefit in building a more truth-driven public culture and cultivating socially beneficial habits of mind, word, and deed. The general public gains the privilege of being part of a nonpartisan community of people who support each other in abiding by the pledge in a compassionate, constructive manner. Public figures who take the pledge get the verifiable credibility of being constantly evaluated on how well they stick to the pledge by PTP advocates. An additional benefit for public figures who are competing with others, such as politicians, is that they can raise questions about why one’s opponent has not taken the PTP. We celebrate public figures who take the PTP in our newsletters and social media, offering them a reputational boost among an audience oriented toward the truth.
First, let us consider the individual rewards for different groups of pledge-takers:
If you are an elected or appointed public official, you need to be perceived as trustworthy by citizens. The PTP provides you with that credibility, due to the presence of the monitoring mechanism. Citizens can easily look you up in the PTP database, and see if you are in contempt of the pledge or not. If you have signed the pledge a while ago and are not in contempt, they can be pretty confident that you have a high degree of honesty. You get an additional benefit if you are an elected official and your opponent for elected office has not taken the PTP, since you can raise questions about why your opponent does not wish to do so and what your opponent is choosing to lie about rather than be found to be in contempt of the PTP. Finally, you get benefits because when you sign up, we include your information in the PTP Updates we send to those pledge-takers who subscribed to these. Likewise, you can submit additional content to the PTP Updates that demonstrates why you care about the truth, ways that you oriented toward the truth when it would have been politically expedient to lie, as well as instances where taking the PTP caused you to act differently than you would have otherwise. If the content is a good fit for our mission, we will include it in the emails we send to the PTP Updates subscribers (contact us to get more clarity on what we’re looking for in the PTP Updates content submissions). This provides you as a politician with positive recognition and reputation as being honest and credible to your constituents, and also offers you a base for furthering your political career since more people outside your locale find out about you and your pro-truth words and deeds.
If you are a media figure or thought leader (journalist, radio/podcast host, blogger, commentator/analyst, speaker/trainer, author, consultant, etc.), you need to be perceived as trustworthy by the audience to which you communicate. The PTP provides you with that benefit due to the monitoring mechanism, and similarly to the politician described above, the longer you are signed up without being in contempt, the more credibility you get. Moreover, if your competitors do not sign the pledge, you will get a bigger audience, since their audiences will start flocking to you as a more trustworthy source of news/analysis/thought leadership. You can also get a broader audience engaged with you since you will get mentioned in the PTP Updates when you first sign the pledge, and can get additional PTP-related content accepted into the PTP Updates, as well as further your career by getting more recognition outside of your locale.
If you are a scientist, you need to be trusted by your fellow scholars, science journalists, people in industries relevant to your research, and the broader public as a whole. They need to know that you perform your research honestly, in a way that can be replicated and avoids publication bias. For scientists in fields that have this option, we ask that pledge-signers by default engage in pre-registration of trials, and have a clear explanation of why they chose not to if they did not do so that would be found reasonable by fellow scholars in that field. Lacking such a clear explanation may – depending on the situation and the nature of findings – be cause for finding a scientist in violation of the pledge. In that case, if the scientist does not retract the experiment or published paper, the scientist may be found in contempt of the pledge. Likewise, if two attempts to replicate the findings fail – in ways evaluated by peer scholars in the same discipline as reasonably approximating the original experiment – the scientist would be asked to retract the experiment or published paper. Additionally, if credible data analysis methods such as the GRIM test and other ways to detect deception or insufficient rigor in studies find a significant likelihood of a deceptive outcome, we would ask the scholar for a retraction. Again, there would be no “gotcha” games, and the scientist would have plenty of opportunities to present a defense, from an “innocent until proven guilty” perspective. The PTP mediating committee would only issue a ruling of the scientist being in contempt if the scientist refuses to retract the paper, so it would be a last resort after other options failed. It would also make sure to consult with and get the input of peers in the scholar’s discipline, to ensure that each scholar is evaluated based on the standards in that field. This special application of the pledge to scientists results from it being often really hard to determine if a scholar lied, since they are not fact checked and since they may have a very legitimate reason to go against the scientific consensus if they are breaking new ground. Because of these provisions of the pledge, those impacted by your research can have much more trust that your findings are credible, compared to someone who did not sign the pledge.
If you are an organizational leader, you have a need to be trusted, both within and outside your organization, as leading with integrity. The monitoring and penalizing mechanisms of the PTP offer that benefit. Abiding by the PTP means being honest with employees about challenging topics such as potential job cuts, avoiding manipulation of financial statements and other forms of “cooking the books,” avoiding misleading consumers and government regulators about your products, and so on. The PTP mediating committees welcome PTP advocates from inside organizations providing information demonstrating evidence of deceptions by organizational leaders and will readily use such documentation in its evaluations of pledge violations. It also welcomes external stakeholders of organizations providing information about PTP violations. Due to such monitoring, by internal and external stakeholders alike, organizational leaders who take the PTP have greater credibility than those who choose to avoid taking it.
If you are a private citizen, you need to trust that you are getting accurate information from officials, media figures and thought leaders, scientists, and organizational leaders. You also need to have a way of monitoring and penalizing those thought leaders who share false information. You also benefit from clear standards about what it means to have truth-oriented behavior, which the pledge outlines in detail. You gain the privilege of being part of a nonpartisan community of people who help support each other in abiding by the pledge in a compassionate, constructive manner. An additional benefit is having other people trust you more when you share information with them, since they know that you are being supported and monitored by fellow pledge-takers, thus ensuring a much higher likelihood of you avoiding sharing misinformation.
Finally, there are a number of benefits that accrue to all who take the pledge. All pledge-takers gain the benefits of cultivating socially beneficial – what many would call more moral and ethical – habits of mind, word, and deed. All gain the pride and self-satisfaction of standing up for one’s ethical and moral convictions. All gain the benefits in building a more truth-driven public culture, and fighting the pollution of truth in politics. All gain the benefit of being role models for others, whether ordinary citizens or public figures. All gain the benefit of joining a network of and collaborating with other truth-oriented people.
A candidate for Congress, Michael Smith, took the Pro-Truth Pledge. He later 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 that tweet, the candidate edited his own Facebook post to say that “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.
A US Army veteran and member of the Special Operations community, John Kirbow, took the pledge. He then wrote a blog post about how it impacted him. He notes that “I’ve verbally or digitally passed on bad information numerous times, I am fairly sure, as a result of honest mistakes or lack of vigorous fact checking.” He describes how after taking the pledge, he felt “an open commitment to a certain attitude” to “think hard when I want to play an article or statistic which I’m not completely sold on.” Having taken the Pro-Truth Pledge, he found it “really does seem to change one’s habits,” helping push him both to correct his own mistakes with an “attitude of humility and skepticism, and of honesty and moral sincerity,” and also to encourage “friends and peers to do so as well.”
A Christian pastor and community leader, Lorenzo Neal, took the Pro-Truth Pledge. He related in an email how he “took the Pro-Truth Pledge because I expect our political leaders at every level of government to speak truth and not deliberately spread misinformation to the people they have been elected to serve. Having taken the pledge myself, I put forth the effort to continually gather information validating stories and headlines before sharing them on my social media outlets.”
A former US intelligence officer, who retired from service after four decades but prefers to remain anonymous due to his profession, took the Pro-Truth Pledge. He later described how soon after taking the pledge, a piece of news “that played right to my particular political biases hit cable TV and then the Internet and of course my first inclination was to share it as quickly and widely as possible. But then I remembered the pledge I’d signed and put the brakes on. I decided to wait a bit to see how it played out (and boy-howdy am I glad I did.)… As it turned out the story was a complete dud, ‘fake news’ as they say. That experience has led me to be much more vigilant in assessing, and sharing, stories that appeal to my political sensibilities. I now make a much bigger effort to fact-check before I post or share.”
Bill Cunnigham is a prominent conservative talk show host who had Trump on his show, and is ranked 27 among “Most Important Radio Show Talk Hosts” in America by Talkers Magazine. We were invited to talk with Cunningham about Trump’s allegations that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower in the 2016 presidential election. Using strategies informed by the Pro-Truth Pledge, we had a civil conversation and this strong supporter of Trump acknowledged that Trump behaved inappropriately in tweeting his allegations without providing any evidence.
We did an interview in October 2016 with the well-known Christian conservative radio show host Scott Sloan, who had previously had a friendly conversation with Trump during the election campaign. Using the tenets of the Pro-Truth Pledge, we discussed whether Trump or Clinton would make the US more secure. While others experienced great difficulties convincing Sloan to acknowledge facts, we provided evidence specifically targeted to prove convincing to Republicans. Namely, we showed that prominent Republicans who served in the national security apparatus thought Trump would make us less safe than Clinton. As part of doing so, we showed that Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is not contributing to our security, due to the infinitesimally small chance of any given Muslim committing a terrorist attack. As a result, Sloan updated his beliefs and confirmed that from the perspective of safety, Trump is a worse choice than he previously thought.
The tenets of the Pro-Truth Pledge are sticky: people tend to remember them over time. For instance, after we did an interview in October 2016 with Sloan, we did another interview with him about a month afterward in November 2016. Sloan specifically recollected the October 2016 conversation where we talked about the low likelihood of any Muslim being a terrorist. He spontaneously stated that he remembered and re-affirmed that any individual Muslim is very, very unlikely to be a terrorist.
In January 2017, we had another radio interview with Sloan on why Republicans like himself should care about post-truth politics. After all, Trump won the presidency in part by using post-truth tactics, making it politically advantageous for Republicans to avoid calling out post-truth political engagement. We focused our conversation on key tenets from the Pro-Truth Pledge, and highlighted how post-truth politics would highly likely lead to corruption and authoritarianism. Since these issues are of major concern to Republicans as well as Democrats, Sloan agreed that Republicans should be concerned about post-truth politics and criticize lies, even by their own side. He subsequently showed greater willingness to acknowledge lies by Republicans, for instance on February 15, 2017 airing a segment about a Republican judge suggesting Trump should be impeached.
The 12 behaviors of the Pro-Truth Pledge can prevail even over very politically charged topics. The well-known Christian conservative radio show host Scott Sloan had a friendly conversation with Trump during the election campaign. We had a radio interview with Sloan two days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, where we compared the evidence supporting Trump’s explanation for the firing and the explanation of leading Democrats. We talked with Sloan about how behavioral science findings result in those with certain partisan beliefs to prefer the explanations offered by those who share their perspective. However, we then discussed with Sloan how many mainstream Republican leaders expressed concerns over Trump firing Comey and aligned more with the Democratic explanation. Thus, we encouraged Sloan to update toward that explanation. At the end of the conversation, Sloan did indeed change his mind more to perceive the Democratic narrative as more closely aligned with reality, and affirmed his previous commitment to acknowledging and criticizing lies from Republicans.
Public figures want to know that they will get recognition and positive reputation if they sign the PTP. The PTP Updates provide them with that benefit. We plan to send one every couple of weeks, with new public figures who signed the pledge, and also ones who signed it earlier to share about how they behaved differently due to having signed the PTP. The PTP would have a significantly bigger positive impact if the public figures knew that many people were signed up to the these updates. It would be especially impactful if you read through the updates and then Tweeted/emailed and otherwise messages public figures whose messages you appreciated in the PTP Update, especially ones in your locale. Still, despite this benefit, we decided not to make PTP Updates obligatory, to enable people who have a strong distaste for additional emails to participate in the PTP.We need to put pressure on public figures who are in contempt of the pledge, and PTP Action Alerts are a vital way of doing so. Once a PTP mediating committee makes a determination that a public figure not simply made an innocent violation of the pledge, but engaged in an intentional deception and is unwilling to back away, it would issue an Action Alert to those who indicated they want to receive such alerts – either at the local, regional, or national level, depending on the stature of the public figure – for them to email/Tweet and otherwise message the public figure encouraging her/him to revise the relevant statements, and writing letters-to-the-editor about the situation. To have meaningful reputational pressure, we need as many people as possible signed up to receive PTP Action Alerts, and to take the steps necessary to mount this pressure. Still, despite this benefit, we decided not to make PTP Action Alerts obligatory, to enable people who have a strong distaste for additional emails to participate in the PTP.
Having your address enables PTP advocates to know how many in their locale signed up to the PTP, and use this as a data point to advocate for public figures to sign the PTP. This is especially salient for local and regional elected officials, who always want to see the specific addresses of constituents to know who in their district signed the PTP. Another benefit of giving the address is that it enables PTP advocates who have the function of local organizers to reach out to you and help you participate in various PTP-oriented activities, getting you plugged into both Pro-Truth activism and Pro-Truth community activities. Finally, it enables us to send you PTP-related marketing materials that you can use to promote the pledge. Again, this is not obligatory but highly beneficial.
Sharing that you took the pledge via your media channels enables others to have a greater confidence that they can trust you more and rely on you to keep your word. Moreover, it enables others who took the PTP help you abide by the pledge, and offer guidance and support when you might mistakenly go against the tenets of the pledge. Additionally, it can help motivate other people to take the pledge if they know that you took it.
PTP advocates are people who want to contribute to advancing the PTP and other truth-oriented activities. Being a PTP advocate involves any combination of the following six activities: organizing, public promotion, lobbying, evaluating, behind-the-scenes work, and financial support. PTP advocates get support and training from the PTP core organizers as they lead by example.
PTP advocates are people who want to contribute to advance the PTP and other truth-oriented activities. We estimate doing so might take a couple of hours a month at the lower level of activity. Regarding the PTP in particular, being a Pro-Truth advocate involves any combination of the following six activities: organizing, public promotion, lobbying, evaluating, behind-the-scenes work, and financial support. PTP Advocates should make sure to model all aspects of the PTP, in real life and social media: for guidelines on the latter, see here. In all cases involving contributing their time, Pro-Truth advocates get various support and training from the PTP core organizers in their efforts, as well as various resources. For an example of the latter, here is a Google Drive folder with template email and Facebook drafts you can use to pitch the PTP; here is a Google Drive folder with marketing resources, such as flyers, business cards, sign-up sheets, and graphics; here is a Google Drive folder with materials for those who want to make public presentations on the PTP. For those who have financial difficulties impeding their ability to engage in the activities listed below, we provide reimbursements for the vast majority of your financial needs, see this blog for directions.
- If you do organizing, you would help recruit and coordinate other people in engaging in PTP-oriented activities. Being an organizer for the Pro-Truth Pledge involves organizing other people to ensure that the outcomes of the Pro-Truth Pledge are met, namely that: 1) The PTP is promoted to the public, getting more and more people to sign it; 2) There is effective lobbying of public figures, especially politicians, to get them to sign it; 3) There is effective monitoring of public figures who signed the pledge, evaluation of any potential pledge violations, behind-the-scenes efforts to get public figures to revise problematic statements, and if not, then public pressure on them to revise problematic statements. See the three sections below on the specific steps you would be recruiting people to do, and especially the first step on public promotion on how to help yourself recruit other advocates who you would then organize. You should also be able to jump in and do any of the three activities described below, so that you know how they are done and can step in if a volunteer needs a brief break, as well as have the familiarity with the tasks necessary to be able to manage volunteers doing any of the three. You need to find other organizers to help you have life balance and be able to step away for brief periods as life stuff comes up. Finally, you need to be able to form a virtual or in-person community for volunteers to help them feel motivated and engaged and invested in the project. More details at this link.
- If you do public promotion, you engage in finding venues to tell the public about the PTP and encourage them to take it. This may involve solely focusing on people in your locale. For instance, you can gather signatures by canvassing or tabling, the details for doing so are in this blog. You can also do public speaking, which is described in this blog. A super-easy way to promote the pledge in daily life is to purchase and wear PTP-themed merchandise, especially when you do PTP-themed activities, but also just out and about – it’s a great conversation starter. Alternatively, you can focus on local-level social media, and go to various local Facebook groups and other relevant social media to promote the PTP there. You can write blogs in local venues or letters-to-the-editor in local newspapers about the pledge. If you do social media, you can also go broader than the local level, say in specific online discussion forums or social media venues that you believe would be interested in the PTP. You can do a combination of all of the above, and any other things involved in getting the PTP out there. Then, as people get involved, you can either help organize them to promote the pledge, or connect them to another PTP advocate who does organizing.
- If you do lobbying, you would work to get various public figures to sign the pledge. This may involve approaching the minister of your church or secular group leader, or local journalists and academics, or your boss in the company where you work, and convincing them to sign the pledge. This may involve traditional lobbying, such as going to the office of a politician to get her/him to sign the pledge. After you go to meet with a politician several times and the politician still refuses to sign the pledge, you can go to friendly media contacts – ideally ones you got to sign the pledge earlier – and tell the contact about the situation, as well as show them the signatures of ordinary people asking the politician to sign the pledge. This may result in a news story that would both spread word about the pledge and put some pressure on the politician to sign it, or be perceived as having something to hide. Details on pitching public figures and organizations on the PTP are in this blog.
- If you do evaluating, you would keep track of public figures who took the pledge, and make sure they abide by it. You would read through their social media feeds and speeches, observe their actions, and browse their press releases. If you find something that smells fishy to you, you would investigate whether it violates the PTP. If you think it does, you would follow the process outlined above on holding people accountable. Those who have served for a while and successfully in monitoring may apply to mediating committees of vetted volunteers who make rulings in evaluate compliance with the PTP. Those who want to be PTP evaluators are welcome to check out the directions at this link, and follow the guidelines there for getting involved. If you have research and analysis skills, you would be a good evaluator.
- If you do behind-the-scenes activities, you would do things like programming, editing and writing, video and audio editing, administrative tasks such as inputting people who signed the pledge in person into the website, doing various research related to the pledge, and so on. The kind of behind-the volunteer activities available as part of this project are all described in this survey, which we invite you to fill out. The survey is for the nonprofit organization Intentional Insights, which runs the PTP project – indicate your focus on the PTP in the “What makes you excited about Intentional Insights?” section.
- The last way to help out is financial support. Plenty of people have insufficient time to help out on a consistent basis, and become checkbook advocates instead; likewise, many who contribute their time also contribute money. We support many people across the country through reimbursing their PTP expenses, as described at this link, along with expenses related to social media management, website hosting, video creation, and other needs. A donation of $20 a month will enable a PTP volunteer to get a month’s worth of materials and printing costs, $50 a month will pay for both printing materials and travel and parking costs for gathering signatures at community events, and $100 a month will cover all of these costs, as well as the fees for getting a table or booth at a community event. You can donate through this link to the account of Intentional Insights, the financial sponsor of the Pro-Truth Pledge. For the monthly donation option – which we especially appreciate, as it helps us make our financial plans going forward into the future – click the checkbox “monthly recurring donation.” If you want to write a check, you can make it out to Intentional Insights, and mail it to 450 Wetmore Road, Columbus, OH, 43214. Let us know by emailing info [at] protruthpledge [dot] org if you would like to make an ACH transfer or any other more complex form of financial gift, such as stocks or putting Intentional Insights into your will. These donations are tax-deductible against any income that you earn in the US, whether you are a US citizen or not. Choose an amount that would make you happy and proud to support the fight against lies and the promotion of truth to save our democracy.
If you are a private citizen, just email us and we will list you as having taken the pledge and later renouncing it. If you are a public figure, do the same, but keep in mind that any investigations will keep going. If we find a violation of the pledge, and you refuse to retract your statements, you will be listed as both in contempt of the pledge and also as having renounced it. This last clause is intended to make sure that public figures do not simply renounce the pledge when they have deliberately lied and want to renounce their taking of the pledge to avoid the negative reputation consequences of a ruling against them.
The PTP was created by a group heavy on social scientists and its implementation is organized by a non-partisan group of volunteers. It is part of a broader Rational Politics (RAP) project, which gathers thoughtful people of all political stripes devoted to fighting post-truth politics, meaning politics focused on emotions and personal beliefs and rejecting objective facts. We see these political methods as one of the worst problems for our global society in terms of how important, neglected, and solvable it is. In addressing this issue, we aim to use best practices in communicating and marketing both to get people to care about truth in politics and to provide them with the tools and resources to use evidence and reason in making wise political decisions that will benefit our society as a whole. To do so, we are launching the Pro-Truth Movement to bring us from our post-truth present into a post-lies future. RAP is a subproject of Intentional Insights (InIn), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting rational thinking and wise decision-making in politics and other areas of life to bring about an altruistic and flourishing world. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, InIn does not engage in types of partisan political activity prohibited by the IRS, and the PTP is a form of citizen advocacy for the non-partisan value of truth in politics and other areas relevant to our public sphere.