A Radical Turn: From Post-Truth to Pro-Truth

Caption: Turn sign (Wikimedia Commons)

What would our society be like if we made a radical turn to the truth? What if we moved away from our current post-truth environment, where appeals to emotions and personal beliefs triumph over facts and reason, and instead relied on evidence and logic to determine what we believe and what we do in our public policy?

Sounds impossible, right? A pleasant dream, and nothing but? Let’s stay grounded, you might say, and work with what we got.

Well, the only ways that major change occurred in the past were through dreams about a better future. What kind of things might we expect in this pro-truth future?

Here are three examples of what we can expect.

1) We would see media figures identifying publicly their own biases, examining all aspects of an issue before commenting, and avoiding demonizing those with whom they disagree.

2) We would see ordinary people getting their friends to change their behaviors to fact-check posts before they share them.

3) We would see politicians retracting statements shown to be incorrect.

Dream on, you might say! That’ll never happen.

Sorry to disappoint you, but that’s already happening through the Pro-Truth Pledge, a research-based intervention shown to be effective by a peer-reviewed study in promoting truth and facts.

For an example of #1 above, consider Brent Hatley, a media professional as senior producer of “The Howard Stern Show” with a verified Twitter account and over 45K followers. He tweeted that the “ProTruthPledge has helped me with my own confirmation bias & it’s really caused me to examine all aspects of an issue before commenting. Last, it’s helped me not demonize those with whom I disagree.”

Caption: Screenshot of Brent Hartley’s tweet

What about #2? Blogger Brian Charles Fleming writes about how he has a friend who posted a falsehood, which he pointed out and asked her to take down. She did, but then she posted it again later, and he reminded her that it was false, and she took it down again. He found the Pro-Truth Pledge, and got her to take it. According to Fleming, “now she makes sure what she posts is true and it has become a discussion topic between us.” Here’s the actual exchange:

Caption: Screenshot of Brian Fleming’s blog post

Let’s round it out with #3, and with two examples this time. 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. As he is a congressional candidate, it got a number of shares. However, after being called out on it, he could not find the original tweet in Trump’s feed, 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:

Caption: Screenshot of Michael Smith’s Facebook post with retraction.

A candidate running for the state house in Arizona, Johny Martin, also took the pledge. He made a misstatement during a public rally, and later posted on Facebook about the misstatement, retracting it and citing the pledge:

Caption: Screenshot of Johny Martin’s Facebook post with retraction.

The pro-truth future is here and now, at least among those making effective use of the Pro-Truth Pledge. While far from all pledge-takers are perfect – witness mistakes made by Smith and Martin – they made a public commitment and are being held accountable.

Clearly, the pledge is helping bring about a pro-truth future and steering us away from our post-truth present. As both research and real life experience shows, it’s an effective intervention, and if we can get many more people to make a true commitment to it, imagine what the future might hold.

Imagine what our public discourse would be like if media professionals admitted their biases, considered all sides, and avoided demonizing their opponents. Imagine what our political system would be like if politicians dedicated themselves to following the 12 behaviors of the pledge and quickly retracted any false statements. Imagine what your life would be like if you could get those friends who keep sharing falsehoods to make a strong promise to avoid such behaviors, and actually carry out their oath.

You can make these dreams a reality by joining the movement to spread the Pro-Truth Pledge far and wide!

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