Since December 2016, when the Pro-Truth Pledge was launched, to the end of January 2020, 680 politicians took the pledge, so just under 20 per month on average. Yet this number more than doubled in February 2020. Why?
Well, the US primary elections are going on now, for the big election year of 2020. While the Democratic presidential primaries have been taking up nearly all the media bandwidth, elections for Congress, state legislatures, and local races are taking place, too.
So a few volunteers took the time to go to the websites of each state’s election offices using this method, and then sent this series of three emails to the candidates for office. Mind you, that was just three states – Ohio, North Carolina, and Texas. And look at this result!
We’ve consistently found that the primaries are the best time to approach politicians, especially long-shot candidates, who they have the least to lose and most to gain by taking the pledge. But after they take it, more mainstream candidates feel pressured to take the pledge, or look bad in comparison.
Want to get even more politicians to take the pledge? We need many more volunteers to do research and outreach alike. Sign up at this link!
Prefer to make a difference with your money rather than your time? Donate at this link!
Want to virtue signal that you support this effort, without donating or volunteering? Buy Pro-Truth Pledge merchandise at this link!
TIM RYAN MAKES PUBLIC COMMITMENT TO TRUTH BY TAKING THE PRO-TRUTH PLEDGE
Becomes second Democratic Presidential primary candidate to pledge publicly to truthfulness
OCTOBER 8, 2019, Columbus, Ohio:
Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) has signed the Pro-Truth Pledge. This marks a public commitment by the Democratic Party presidential primary candidate to 12 truth-promoting behaviors. The pledge was designed to help public figures and ordinary citizens fight misinformation, protect facts and restore civility. The twelve truth-promoting behaviors of the pledge are described here: www.protruthpledge.org.
On the Pro-Truth Pledge website, Congressman Ryan stated: “Absent transparency, democracy cannot survive. I wholeheartedly embrace the fact that honesty and clarity are essential for civil and progressive public discourse.” (https://www.protruthpledge.org/public-figures-signed-pledge/). Congressman Ryan has been serving as the U.S. Representative for Ohio’s 13th congressional district since 2003.
Congressman Ryan is the second Democratic candidate to sign the Pro-Truth Pledge to date. Congressman Beto O’Rouke signed the pledge during his Texas election campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2018. All of the other Democratic candidates were approached dozens of times through various channels, but refused to take the pledge.
“Congressman Tim Ryan’s public commitment to promoting the truth is extremely important in our current climate of polarization and incivility, where so many politicians put part and ideology above integrity. My hope is that all candidates for the Democratic and the Republican Party presidential primary who are committed to facts will make the public commitment of taking the pledge” says Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, founder of the Pro-Truth Pledge.
The mission of the Pro-Truth Pledge is “to encourage politicians – and everyone else – to commit to truth-oriented behaviors and protect facts and civility.” To date, over 10,000 people have signed the pledge, including 652 government officials. The Pro-Truth Pledge is a project of Intentional Insights, a volunteer-run, educational and nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit, devoted to promoting truth, rational thinking, and wise decision-making.
Surrounded by the stimulating atmosphere of the Salzburg Festival, the Trilogue Salzburg convenes leading thinkers, decision-makers and renowned personalities from the arts, civil society, business and politics to engage in cross-cutting, inter-cultural and future-oriented debate.
Each year, the organizers of the conference choose a different future-oriented topic. This year, the topic was “Fragmented Realities – Regaining a Common Understanding of Truth.”
Indeed, this year did not disappoint. Full of prominent leaders – ranging from politicians and business leaders to nonprofit leaders and thought leaders – the conference featured extensive discussions of how to address misinformation and post-truth politics.
I was invited to attend and participate in a roundtable panel there. You can see me second from left in the back in the photo above, and also at 3:17 in this video
What surprised me most at the event was the percentage of high-profile participants who lacked research-based perspectives on this topic. Conference attendees mostly advocated old-school approaches to addressing the lack of truth and trust in society, such as more education about misinformation and critical thinking. So I found myself at odds with most of the participants.
I pointed out that if such methods worked, we wouldn’t be in the bind that we are, and we wouldn’t need a conference on how to deal with this problem! Research has found that many forms of education about misinformation actually leads to the spread of misinformation. Even the typical ways that journalists try to counteract misinformation can often backfire, causing people to hold more strongly to these myths. So do the ways health experts teach about health misinformation.
That’s why simply saying “we need more education” is a very, very bad idea: the traditional and intuitive way we teach about misinformation is often exactly the wrong thing to do. We need the right education – the specific type of education that research has found to not spread misinformation – which is not what is usually taught! Global elites taking part in the conference can make a meaningful difference in improving education.
Several participants made the claim that the recent wave of misinformation resulted from economic inequality between the rich and poor. In their view, such inequality led to the poor being more willing to believe misinformation. Yet measures of inequality haven’t changed much between 2000 and today, while misinformation has become much more powerful and prevalent in the last few years.
Instead, the key difference is the astronomically quick growth of social media as the source from which people get their news, and the prevalence of misinformation on social media, since tech companies aren’t doing much to filter out fake news. The global elites who attended the conference have the power to address the inaction of tech companies, and indeed some conference attendees are already starting to do so.
Hopefully, some of the research-based perspectives shared by myself and a couple of other participants familiar with cutting-edge research in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics on promoting ethical and truthful behavior will make some impact. I shared some of the points about education and many other topics informed by my scholarship and writing.
Another example. One of the other attendees was Dhruv Ghulati, co-founder of Factmata, who personally signed the pledge and whose organization signed it as well. He discussed the need to reward – financially and otherwise – high-quality journalism, instead of the current financial incentives rewarding click-baity journalism. Providing financial incentives for such journalism is the essence of Factmata.
Most exciting of all, Pro-Truth Pledge donors gathered sufficient funding to make an early, pre-release run of my forthcoming book co-written with Tim Ward, called Pro Truth: A Practical Plan for Putting Truth Back Into Politics, available for pre-order here.
The book describes how we can turn back the tide of post-truth politics, fake news, and misinformation that is devastating our democracy through the Pro-Truth Movement: a movement which has already begun, and is making a tangible impact. I was able to make personal, signed gifts of copies of the book to 23 out of 30 conference attendees. My hope is that it will make a real difference to the fight against misinformation to have such high-profile people read this book. My gratitude to the donors who helped make it happen!
Remember that it’s your activism around the Pro-Truth Pledge – from the smallest and most easy-to-do things like spreading word on social media, to more in-depth volunteering, to your financial contributions which enabled me to make the trip – that make this sort of impact on top world leaders possible. So please keep supporting the pledge, by promoting it to your social network, by investing your time, and investing your money, to fight the wave of misinformation and post-truth politics that may drown democracies in the US and around the world without your help!
We believe in the power of the truth. Yet in the realm of politics and public debate, all too often, lies seem more powerful. This is because some politicians are very good at telling people the kinds of lies they want to hear. Gleb Tsipursky speaks of these as “comfortable lies” in the forthcoming book he and I have written own the subject,Pro Truth: A Practical Plan for Putting Truth Back into Politics (Changemakers Books, 2020). “Comfortable lies” easily fit the mental frames of the audience, affirming their worldview, reinforcing their biases. Truth is all to often uncomfortable. Reality challenges our expectations, our plans. And so when communicating the truth, it’s important to take extra care in using language that draws people’s attention, that is easy as possible to understand, and that is designed to stick.
This is especially important when it comes to communicating your key messages, whether in a speech, article, or even a tweet! Great communicators throughout history have intuitively grasped how to craft powerful messages. In fact, we can illustrate the Four Cs for crafting strong messages with just one passage from a master orator: Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill.
Here’s a paragraph from Churchill’s famous speech delivered on 4 June 1940 (found in the middle of the 1-minute video, here). At this time, many countries had been defeated by Germany, and Britain had suffered major military losses. Indeed, by some accounts, only half the British people expected their country to continue the war. The rest were resigned to defeat. Churchill’s speech rallied the nation:
…Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…
Even if you are reading these words for the first time, you can doubtless sense the power in them. The speech was turned into placards and posted in homes and offices throughout the nation. Now let’s examine how this one paragraph encapsulates four key characteristics of a powerful message:
Get to the core of your message using simple, easy-to-grasp words and short sentences.
Churchill’s message of resolve was conveyed perfectly in the short phrases that make up the key sentence of the speech. Delivered aloud, each phrase would sound like a separate sentence:
“We shall fight on the beaches,
We shall fight on the landing grounds,
We shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
We shall fight in the hills;
We shall never surrender… “
Although the speech as a whole has a reading comprehension level suitable for a university student, the core message has a reading level that a 10-year-old could easily understand.
One of our favorite examples of the effect of needlessly long sentences and words comes from the UK’s Plain English Campaign:
Before: “High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.”
After: “Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.”
This is not to say that ideas must be oversimplified. Simplicity eases comprehension. We get the meaning of short, familiar words quickly. Whereas extenuated anomalous verbiage necessitates additional assiduousness. You get the point: longer, less familiar words force our brains to shift gears, slow down and work harder to process the meaning of each combination of letters.
The same holds true with sentences. When we hear or read a sentence, we have to hold all the words in our head until the end in order to make meaning of the sentence.
Use strong, concrete words one can visualize. Avoid jargon, technical terms, acronyms and abstract language. A good communicator expresses ideas in concrete language, so the audience can literally “see” what the speaker is talking about.
We say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” When we speak in concrete language, the image of what we are describing springs to life in the listener’s mind. Why is this so? Most people are familiar with right-brain/left-brain theory (these days, this theory of localization itself is being questioned, but the idea of two different ways of mental processing still make sense). You doubtless know that the brain’s “left hemisphere” processes words, numbers and abstractions while the “right hemisphere” processes images, emotions, special relationships and a holistic sense of things. The “left bran” abstractions tend to fade quickly in our memory. But the vivid images created in the “right brain” tend to leave an imprint that lasts longer and is more easily recalled.
3. Connected (to what we care about)
Your listeners must be inspired to care. Relevance is crucial to getting an audience to pay attention, remember, and desire to spread an idea. Our example from Churchill seems like an easy one when it comes to relevance – of course his audience cared. The Nazis were bombing them and there was the very real possibility of Britain being invaded. Even so, historians have written that many people felt this was not their war, but a war of “the high-up people who use long words and have different feelings.” By describing fighting taking place in Britain’s beaches, fields, streets and hills, Churchill literally brought home to his audience what was at stake for them. It’s also important to note how powerfully Churchill uses “We shall” to create the sense of intention shared by all Britons.
To discern how to best connect with your audience, think about these questions:
• Why should the audience care about your message?
• How does it affect your audience’s lives?
• Does this message appeal to their interests, especially higher values such as: national identity, concern for their children, collective future?
• If your audience is not directly involved, are others affected? Why would your audience care about these others?
• What power does this audience have to affect the outcome? (Are we all in this together?)
A powerful message is made to stick, and our language is filled with lots of tricks that make words memorable. We also have sound-processing parts of the brain that respond to alliteration, repetition or rhyme. These turns of phrase add a special kind of “ring” to our language. Have you ever heard a short burst of a once-popular song, a song you hadn’t heard in decades, and suddenly you found yourself singing along with the lyrics? Simple literary devices like rhyming and rhythm help us tune in and retain the words. The ring makes them resonate, like a bell. This is evident in the power of Churchill’s speech, where he repeats the refrain “We shall fight” over and over again.
Churchill’s short speech gave the English the resolve they needed to resist the Nazis. With allied help, they won the war and changed the course of history.
What messages do we need to hear today that will give us the courage and the will to overcome humanity’s greatest challenges? To prevent a climate catastrophe? To preserve democracy in the face of rising authoritarianism? To protect the natural world from extinction? To end violence against women, racial prejudice, poverty, terrorism, and addiction?
Use the 4 Cs to give your words the ring of truth. Craft your messages to change the world.
Here’s a practical methodology using the 4Cs that you can use whenever you want to turn your idea into a powerful message:
1. Write down your idea.
2. Underline the jargon and abstract concepts;
3.Replace the jaron and concepts with concrete words that describe things your can see and touch.
4. Make it relevant to your target audience by evoking what they care about.
5. Delete whatever is not essential.
6. Break it into short sentences.
7. Make it memorable with catchy words and phrases.
In sum, you can use the Four Cs – Concise, Concrete, Connected and Catchy – to make your messages easy to grasp, easy to repeat, and make your listeners want to pass your ideas on to others; in short, to turn your ideas into powerful messages.
Please turn to my book, The Master Communicator’s Handbook, co-authored with my partner Teresa Erickson. In these pages, we share with you what we’ve learned over 30 years as professional communicators and advisors to leaders of global organizations. As authors, our goal is to give you the tools you need to become the most effective and powerful communicator you can be. You can read the first chapter for free, using the “Look inside” feature on Amazon.com.
Note: This article has been adapted from The Master Communicator’s Handbook, and recently appeared in my blog on Medium.com.
Do you want to 2020 US Presidential Election to be as filled with lies and deception as the 2016 one? If you’re reading this, you took the Pro-Truth Pledge, so I’m guessing you don’t.
And I don’t either. I’m the treasurer of Intentional Insights, the 501(c)(3) educational nonpartisan nonprofit that sponsors the Pro-Truth Pledge project, and I’m passionate about fighting lies and advocating for rational thinking and truth-seeking. That’s why I devote my time and money to supporting the pledge and the truthfulness that it promotes.
Do you believe, as I do, that as the 2020 election approaches in the US, it is vital to send politicians, journalists and public figures a clear message that truth matters to our democracy? I hope you’ll agree that wherever post-truth politicians win by lying, their victories pave the way for corruption and authoritarianism.
Peer-reviewed research shows as well as individual stories show that the pledge is effective in changing incentives for both private citizens and public figures – including politicians – to be more truthful. So I hope you’ll join me in supporting the pledge.
Your support helps by:
1. Bringing the Pro Truth Pledge to the attention of politicians, journalists and public figures, and giving them a meaningful incentive to sign it. We do this by coordinating outreach and training to volunteers, and crafting materials to make a compelling case for signing the pledge.
2. Motivating citizens to make truth an issue in the 2020 election (as well as upcoming elections in other countries). Aware citizens can raise truthfulness as an issue in town hall meetings, asking candidate if they took the pledge. We also intend to focus our efforts on creating and supporting student groups and building advocates for the pledge on campuses that will inspire the next generation to make truth a shared value. This will counteract the widespread cynical view that “post truth” politics as inescapable.
3. Promoting truthfulness and the pledge on social media. We do this through an active campaign of seeding and spreading memes, videos and articles on the value of truthfulness online. Motivating people to fact-check and avoid spreading “fake news” prevents the destructive effect of online disinformation campaigns.
Today, the Pro-Truth Pledge costs about $4,000 per month in operating costs. This is the minimum budget to maintain the websites, oversee outreach activities, coordinate volunteers, and provides the relevant administrative support.
Currently, the passion and financial commitment of the pledge founders, Gleb Tsipursky and Agnes Vishnevkin keep the organization afloat. They have been providing much of the required financial resources in recent months to keep the Pro-Truth Pledge going. However, this is not sustainable, as their budget is running low. We need your support
If you believe in the goals of the Pro-Truth Pledge, then it is time for you to join the Pro-Truth Movement with a monthly membership ($20), a one-time donation, or whatever you can afford to contribute. Are YOU willing to put truth back into politics and civic life? You have the power to do so by donating now.
Should the US President be able to lie with impunity to the American people?
If you say “NO!” the time to act is now! Help make sure the next US President is accountable to the standard of truthfulness described in the simple 12 truth-oriented behaviors of the Pro-Truth Pledge.
It’s not an impossible goal. After all, several members of the US Congress, dozens of state legislators, and hundreds of other politicians have committed publicly to being truthful by taking the Pro-Truth Pledge. This list includes many Republican and Democratic politicians in the US, as well as members of third parties in the US and other politicians around the globe.
All the politicians who took the pledge are now being held accountable to their commitment by the many private citizens who took the pledge. Their reputations will suffer significantly if they’re caught making false statements and aren’t willing to admit they’re wrong. Research shows that reputational penalties for lying are effective in making politicians more truthful. Indeed, we know that the
The key is to approach politicians about the pledge when it can make the biggest difference to their political career: during highly competitive election campaigns. After all, taking the pledge is valuable for a politician as a sign of a strong public commitment to truthfulness. Politicians get the most benefits from making this commitment when their potential constituents are paying attention during elections. It’s especially helpful for politicians to take the pledge when other candidates in the race haven’t taken it, since the pledge-taking candidate can then differentiate themselves as the one publicly committed to truthfulness.
That’s why it’s a particularly good time to approach the candidates for the Democratic Party nomination to run for US President. There are over 20 candidates as of the time of publication. Each is struggling to differentiate themselves from their opponents. Only one has taken the pledge so far, one of the front-runners – Beto O’Rourke. Wisely, he did so on video, as you can see below.
While you can approach Democratic candidates individually, you can also be part of a team effort to get them to take the pledge. If you’d like to be part of this team effort, fill out the volunteering survey below. We’ll also be contacting any Republican candidates, though because the primary campaign among Republicans is very unlikely to be competitive, we will be focusing the vast majority of our time on the competitive Democratic presidential primary.
By encouraging Democratic presidential candidates to take the Pro-Truth Pledge, you will maximize the chance that the next US President will speak the truth to the American people. Help roll back the “Post-Truth” era of lies and deception!
The media often stereotype conservatives as lacking integrity, and being unconcerned about facts. They’re wrong, though—conservatives have a great deal of integrity, and now it’s time for us to prove it together.
You can help by joining a project dedicated to getting all truth-oriented conservatives to take the pledge. Fill out the form for this project at this link.
You don’t have to wait for the project to get started, though! Reach out to your friends to tell them about the Pledge and how you feel about it. If you know someone who would tell all their other friends about the Pro-Truth Pledge, you can do a lot of good by letting them know.
When you took the Pledge, you showed that you have the courage and integrity to stand up for the truth. You joined a supportive community which shares that courage and integrity. There’s a lot more honest, hard-working folks out there who are looking for a community like this one. Let’s bring them on board!
Celebrating politicians who are bucking the post-truth trend and winning.
This year, many of us watched with pride as Beto O’Rourke, a Pro-Truth Pledge taker, nearly upset Ted Cruz in a race previously considered safe for Cruz. However, the Pro-Truth movement is much bigger than this one notable race. By our count, there are 78 Pledge takers who won elections in 2018!
Let’s take a moment to celebrate all of the successful politicians who are willing to go on record as supporting the Pro-Truth Pledge and commit themselves to the accountability that entails.
Has the Pro-Truth Pledge helped these candidates, or is it just that great candidates are the kind of people who don’t hesitate to embrace the truth? We’d all like to think that the Pro-Truth Pledge helps, but having taken the pledge ourselves, we’ve got to be careful about making unfounded claims, so let’s think about this together…
During the O’Rourke/Cruz race, several newspapers took the time to publish editorials mocking O’Rourke for taking the Pro-Truth Pledge. That alone demonstrates that people involved in the media and politics are beginning to notice the Pro-Truth Pledge and it creates added publicity for candidates.
There’s a marketing adage that all publicity is good publicity… However, is honoring truth actually a popular position with typical constituents? The mocking editorials indicate that several right-leaning Texas newspaper editors thought otherwise. Backing their opinion, an NBC news survey found that within the significant (22%) group of Republicans who think the President regularly lies, 56% still approve of him.
So within the GOP, acknowledged lying is not a barrier to political success. Among Democrats, it is clear that of the 94% who believe the president lies, none approve of him. However, there is no clear evidence that lying is the primary cause of the low approval in that group.
Bottom line: Truth isn’t a clear winner on the right, and we can’t legitimately claim to know it is important for the left. This may seem disappointing, but there is no need for our organization to exist if there is no need to change attitudes. This is our motivation.
The important takeaway from polls like this is that they underscore the need to reach out to our friends, particularly those on the right. Make connections, find common ground, and celebrate truth in the places where it matters most.
The pledge has already made a notable public impact, with a series of public figures, including high-profile ones such as members of US Congress and state legislatures as well as prominent organizations and globally-known intellectuals taking the plunge. However, to make a truly profound impact beyond the circle of initial supporters requires getting funding to promote the Pro-Truth Pledge to a broad audience, both from individual donors and from institutional donors.
The innovative nature of the Pro-Truth Pledge – an approach informed by combining extensive behavioral science research with crowdsourcing – means that traditional institutional donors who support initiatives to fight misinformation and protect democracy have chosen not to fund it. This decision is unfortunate, as we have research showing the effectiveness of the pledge in changing people’s behaviors to be more truthful.
Fortunately, SAGE Publishing – a global independent publisher committed to social science – was inspired by the pledge’s use of behavioral science to overcome problems of misinformation. SAGE is a non-traditional funder of such efforts, and its commitment to social science research, combined with its flexibility and dedication to choosing the most effective strategies, caused it to extend sponsorship to the pledge.