Pro-Truth Pledge Translated to Polish

Przysięgam dołożyć wszelkich starań, aby:

Głosić prawdę

  • Weryfikować: Weryfikować czy informacje są zgodne z prawdą, przed ich zaakceptowaniem i udostępnianiem.
  • Równoważyć: Dzielić się całością prawdy, nawet jeśli nie wspiera moich poglądów
  • Cytować: Dzielić się źródłami informacji, aby inni mogli zweryfikować podane przeze mnie informacje
  • Wyjaśniać: Rozróżniać fakty od moich osobistych opinii

Szanować prawdę

  • Uznawać: uznawać prawdziwe informacje udostępnianie przez innych, nawet jeśli nie zgadzam się z nimi w innych obszarach.
  • Ponownie oceniać: sprawdzać ponownie moje informacje jeśli są przedmiotem dyskusji, wycofywać je w momencie kiedy nie mogę ich zweryfikować.
  • Bronić: bronić ludzi którzy są przedmiotem ataku za dzielenie się zweryfikowanymi informacjami, nawet jeśli się z nimi nie zgadzam.
  • Dostosowywać: dostosować moje opinie i działania, zgodnie ze zweryfikowanymi informacjami.

Wspierać prawdę

  • Naprawiać: prosić o wycofanie informacji zweryfikowanych negatywnie przez sprawdzone źródła. Nawet jeśli osoby, które o to proszę to moi znajomi.
  • Edukować: prosić otaczających mnie ludzi o zaprzestanie korzystania z nierzetelnych źródeł informacji, nawet jeśli te źródła wspierają moje opinie.
  • Ustępować: Zauważać, że w momencie dyskusji, eksperci w danej dziedzinie mają najpewniej dokładniejsze informacje.
  • Honorować: Honorować tych ludzi, którzy wycofali nieprawdziwe informacje i dostosowali swoje poglądy do prawdy.

Did Any Particularly Influential People Take the Pro-Truth Pledge?

Caption: Meme saying “So you mean to tell me influential people signed the pledge?” (Created by blog author)

Did any particularly influential people sign the Pro-Truth Pledge? You bet!

Just go to the webpage for “Public Figures and Organizations” who signed the pledge, and click on the “particularly influential” checkbox. If you want to see only particularly influential officials, you can select “Elected/Appointed Officials and Candidates” in the drop-down menu; if you want other public figures who are particularly influential, select “Public Figures” in the same menu; if you want organizations, well – I’m guessing you know what to do by now.

I know what you’re thinking: what’s our criteria for “particularly influential” public figures and organizations? Included in that category are all elected or appointed officials at the state (regional) level or above, and other public figures and organizations with at least 100,000 combined followers on social media profiles and email lists, or other demonstrable ways of easily influencing 100,000 people.

Since the ability to influence easily 100,000 people is not always obvious, we welcome you to let us know if you think any existing public figure or organization should be in that category. Simply use the contact form to provide clear evidence of how that public figure or organization can easily influence 100,000 people – for example, as the head of an organization with over 100,000 followers – and we will either update the information or ask you for further evidence if needed.

Questions and comments welcomed!

Why Conservatives Should Sign the Pro-Truth Pledge

Caption: Image saying “Unfakery,” from the organization founded by the author (Courtesy of the author)

Have you encountered fast food chains where they promise that if you don’t get a receipt for your order that your food is free? Or noticed those signs on the back of company vehicles asking “How’s My Driving? Call 888-DRIVERY To Report”? Why do they do those things? Accountability.

In the case of the restaurant, the completed receipt is a part of procedures that prevent employees from pretending to perform a transaction, but actually pocketing the money. And that sign on the truck provides a mechanism for other drivers to report reckless driving by company drivers. These procedures broadcast to the public (and to the employees) that management holds its people accountable for honesty and safety. It reminds them that someone is monitoring their behavior, and also provides the mechanism for doing so.

As a conservative, I’m very interested in accountability. I want my elected leaders to be accountable; I have elections to help with that. I want corporations and businesses to be accountable; the market and (some) government regulations perform that function. I want government programs to be accountable; oversight and elections help make that possible.

And I also want individuals to be accountable, especially for the information they pass around. The only mechanism we really have to do that is social pressure, and that’s difficult to employ these days.

I deal with fighting fakery online every day, fakery that specifically targets conservatives, and sometimes it really does feel that we’re in a post-truth society.There is plenty of outright fakery for political and financial gain, and that’s bad enough. But there also seems to be an increasing number of people who are willing to interpret information only in the light most favorable to their causes. They spin and deflect and move the goalposts in discussions, with the goal of scoring points against the other side. They frequently and aggressively hold out opinion and supposition as fact. And yet if you asked them, most would probably declare themselves to be honest people.

Part of the problem is that a lot of people are more interested in “winning” than in promoting the truth. You probably recognize this in some of the people you encounter online; it’s a hazard of an increasingly partisan culture. Some of the symptoms might be:

  • Labeling opinions as facts
  • Sharing unverified information as true
  • Only telling the part of a story that’s most favorable to their view
  • Refusing to retract or correct false information they’ve shared
  • Using excuses like “it’s true enough” or “it’s real even if it isn’t exactly true”
  • Failing to challenge the slander of someone with opposing views

Just about everyone has done one of these things, or done something like them. It’s easy to hit the share button on a headline that resonates with us, without reading the article. It’s a pain to get into a fight with an ally over a slanderous story about a political opponent. It’s hard to be fair to the other side of an argument when you’re trying to win that argument.

We can all agree, though, that those behaviors are not at all truth-oriented, and we probably feel a little dirty when we employ them. We might appreciate the short-cut in the short term, but we still know we aren’t upholding truth in those moments.

But what if we could hack our brains towards more accountability? What if we could do what those business owners did? What if we broadcast to the world that we want to hold ourselves accountable, that we’re enlisting the help of others to do it, and providing them a mechanism to do so?

We can. That’s exactly what the Pro-Truth Pledge is – a social hack to hold ourselves more accountable. It’s a public promise that we intend to share, honor, and encourage truth, and that we expect the people we interact with to help us uphold that pledge. And so far, the research says that it works.

And there’s an added benefit for conservatives like me who appreciate accountability: it provides the solid platform from which to hold others accountable. It says to the world “I’m trying to live up to these values myself – I’m not asking you to do anything more than I’m willing to do myself.” There’s a moral authority there that elevates the discussion above the partisan hypocrisy that’s running rampant these days.

I’m absolutely a passionate conservative, eager to advocate for my beliefs and views, and hoping to persuade more people to hear those views and agree with them. I also deal in debunking fakery of all kinds, and my reputation depends on accurately seeking out and defending truth. I’m working to be an even more effective advocate by recommitting myself to an orientation to the truth with the Pro-Truth Pledge. I’m aiming for a reputation as:

  • An honest information broker
  • A credible and dependable source
  • An accountable conservative
  • A truth-seeker
  • A person who puts the truth over any agenda
  • A source people can trust

I believe that people who build accountability into their lives have a better chance of staying on the path they’ve set for themselves. Dieters do better when they are monitored with regular progress checks. Kids do homework when it’s checked, or clean their rooms when they are inspected. We know this, and we behave this way in other aspects of our lives. So read over the behaviors underlined in the pledge, and ask yourself whether you’re willing to put that kind of accountability in writing, whether you’re ready to put that sticker on your social media vehicle. Invite the world to be your accountability partner, and invite others to take the pledge with you.

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!

Pro-Truth Pledge Revocation: Journalism Reclamation Project

Caption: Red cross indicating removal (OpenClipart-Vectors / 27440 images)

The Pro-Truth Pledge Central Coordination Committee (PTP CCC) has revoked the Journalism Reclamation Project’s membership in the Pro-Truth Pledge.

Here’s the scoop. We got a complaint that the Journalism Reclamation Project misled their employees and other organizations in public statements about both JRP’s financial stability and plans in promoting public trust in journalism. We sent an an email to the JRP leader and general address, and the email bounced. We investigated, and found that their website no longer works. Their last LinkedIn update was 4 months ago.

It appears that the organization folded. Thus, the PTP CCC decided to avoid the usual accountability mechanism of an action alert and media release, because the organization is no longer around, and thus the reputational pressure is not relevant. We simply removed it from the public figures page.

Questions and comments welcomed!

A Biblical Perspective on the Pro-Truth Pledge

Caption: Image of Bible (Nick Youngson / Alpha Stock Images)


So, you’re a Christian, possibly an evangelical Christian, and you’ve heard about the Pro-Truth Pledge. You may be wondering, “Why should I sign this pledge? Is it really what it claims to be?” or, more importantly, “What would the Bible say?”

Firstly, what about the Bible? What does it have to say? Well, the Bible was written before humanity knew about electricity, let alone the internet, so the Pro-Truth Pledge was not mentioned, but the Bible does have a strong message about truth and lies.

Bearing false witness is against the ten commandments as recorded in Exodus 20:16 “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” And in the new testament, Jesus says, “Ye are of [your] father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” – John 8:44. Revelations chapter 21 repeatedly states that liars are to be sent to hell.

Additionally, Matthew 12:36 states, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” This verse makes it pretty clear that even accidentally spreading misinformation without taking due care to make sure it isn’t fake news or otherwise mistaken would have theological consequences.

Clearly, the Bible states that telling the truth is good and that lying is wrong. It is also pretty clear that merely repeating what you have heard without making sure it’s correct first does not fulfill the spirit of truth-telling.

However, these arguments alone aren’t good enough justification for signing this pledge. Why bother signing the pledge when you are already telling the truth? Accountability.

According to Galatians 6:1 which reads, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”

Christians ought to be holding each other accountable and trying to help each other be righteous. We know this, but sometimes it’s hard. People generally don’t like being told that they are doing something wrong and it is even sometimes considered impolite to call someone out in a lie.

But accountability to fellow Christians is an important part of how a righteous man stays on the straight and narrow. The Pro-Truth Pledge has the benefit of helping you inform others that you are making a concerted effort to be more honest. It also can tell your fellow Christians that you are open to gentle reminders to remain honest.

The Bible doesn’t have anything to say about the Pro-Truth Pledge directly. However, it seems to be a useful tool to help you keep yourself honest and careful with your words, as it is intended to do.

Is the Pro-Truth Pledge what it claims to be, however? Well, this study indicates that it does accomplish its goal of causing signers to be more truthful. I know of no better argument for a course of action than the evidence of its effectiveness.

In conclusion, should you sign the pledge? Christian Pastor Lorenzo Neal describes in this blog why he signed it, and encourages others to sign; Bishop Pierre Whalon also signed the pledge. It is your decision, but I have a question, why wouldn’t you sign?

Attack on Pro-Truth Pledge Means We Are Winning

Caption: Image with “Truth” on top and “Lie” crossed out on bottom (Geralt/Pixabay)

A recent editorial in the Amarillo Globe-News, a newspaper serving a Texas town of about 200,000, attacked the Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP), and the Texas politicians who took it. Surprisingly, it was written without a byline, thus representing the official opinion of the editorial board of the newspaper itself. Shortly afterward, another Texas newspaper republished it (serving a city of 250,000) and then another one (city of 130,000), all without bylines and representing the official position of the newspapers.

A close reading of the editorial shows that it is poorly written, incoherent, self-contradictory, and hypocritical, twisting itself into knots trying to slam the pledge and Texas politicians who took it. Consider this quote from the editorial:

  • There is an old joke that is relevant to today’s editorial – how can you tell if a politician is lying? His lips are moving… People should not make a show of doing something they should be doing anyway. In this case, shouldn’t politicians tell the the truth without having to sign some silly document stating they are pledging to tell the truth? Yes, we know it is completely unrealistic to expect our elected officials to be truthful. We are not living in a fantasy land. However, it just seems a tad absurd for elected officials – and those who want to be elected officials – to sign a document stating they will be truthful. Shouldn’t this be assumed?

This quote claims that: 1) we can’t expect politicians to be truthful; 2) we should assume that politicians are truthful; 3) politicians should not sign a document claiming they will be truthful.

In other words, the editorial argues against all codes of ethics, ranging from the Ten Commandments, to the Better Business Bureau Code of Business Practices, to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics (which the editorial writer – being a journalist – presumably signed). If we follow the logic of the editorial, we should assume that people, journalists, and businesses – though they should be ethical – are inherently unethical. Thus, we should disregard any code of ethics to which they commit, and criticize them for committing to it.

In fact, as commenter Dan Bessire points out at the bottom of this editorial, one of the newspapers that published this editorial, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal pledged “to the goals of The Local Media Consortium in preventing fake news.” Given that the newspaper itself made this pledge, it seems pretty hypocritical to condemn the PTP as “some meaningless online form pledging to tell the truth,” as the editorial does.

Notably, the editorial specifically fails to describe the substantial accountability mechanism that underpins the pledge. Unlike some other codes of conduct, the PTP has a clear and specific way of ensuring that politicians and other public figures who take the pledge stick to it. In failing to discuss the accountability mechanism, the editorial writer clearly lies by omission.

Since the editorial contradicts the apparent actions both of the writer, who presumably committed to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, and the newspaper, which definitely committed to The Local Media Consortium, as well as lies by omission, we have to assume a different motivation for the editorial than an honest criticism of the PTP and the politicians who took the pledge.

Note that all the editorials published attacked Beto O’Rourke, whose campaign spans across all of Texas. However, they also attacked politicians in their area who took the pledge: for example, the Amarillo Globe-News editorial attacked Greg Sagan of Amarillo, a candidate for Congress; the Denton Record-Chronicle attacked Texas House of Representatives District 64 candidate Andrew Morris.

These attacks, combined with the hypocrisy of the editorial, can only point to the fact that the PTP is having a real impact in the political sphere. We have already found out that according to studies, after taking the PTP signers tend to behave more truthfully. This editorial shows that the PTP is actually getting the truth-oriented politicians who signed it positive reputational rewards, whether the Republican member of the Texas State Legislature James Earl White, or the Democrat member of US Congress from Texas Beto O’Rourke, and the other 500 other politicians who signed the pledge.

Those who don’t want the truth – and truth-oriented politicians – to get ahead are now waking up and seeing this impact. Thus, they are taking steps to destroy the reputation of the Pro-Truth Pledge in the eyes of the general public.

The fact that they are trying to fight back means we are winning! It’s especially good to see that the editorial is doing a ridiculously poor job of trying to criticize the PTP, because it’s hard to really say bad things about people committing to the truthful behaviors of the pledge.

Still, they are hoping that their readers will not notice the hack nature of this attack. They are hoping that the readers will skim the editorial – without reading deeply – and come away with the impression that the PTP is bad, and politicians who took the PTP are bad.

Fortunately, you can make a difference by getting positive media attention for the PTP using these guidelines, asking your elected representatives to take the PTP using these guidelines, getting signatures for the PTP using these guidelines, starting a local PTP chapter using these guidelines, indicate a general interest in volunteering using this form, and/or making a generous monthly (or at least one-time) tax-deductible gift today to the nonpartisan educational 501(c)3 organization that runs the PTP, Intentional Insights, at this link.

Together, we can continue winning for the truth!

Changing Fact-Checking Standards

Caption: Meme saying “One Does Not Simply Trust Any Fact-Checker” (Created by blog author)

When we launched the Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP), we looked for a credible set of fact-checkers that we could use to hold accountable the public figures and organizations that took the PTP. After a thorough evaluation process, we decided to use the Facebook fact-checking program as our reference point for the credible fact-checkers that we would count for the purpose of defining violations of the PTP. After all, Facebook had an enormous financial capacity to evaluate the credibility of various fact-checkers, and a strong financial incentive to ensure that its chosen fact-checkers were balanced, favoring neither conservatives nor liberals.

Unfortunately, since that time, some developments convinced us that the Facebook fact-checking program suffers from a series of problems, related here and here, mainly due to Facebook’s lack of willingness to collaborate effectively with fact-checkers. Moreover, Facebook’s credibility in the arena of fighting misinformation took a serious hit with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. All these revelations convinced us that Facebook is no longer a worthwhile reference point for credible fact-checkers. Furthermore, Facebook’s fact-checkers mostly focus on the US, whereas the Pro-Truth Pledge is a global project, and we wanted more of a global reach.

We launched another search, and decided to use as our standard of reference the Poynter Institute International Fact-Checking Network of credible fact-checkers. Any fact-checker around the world that wishes to join this network needs to commit to a code of ethics that include non-partisanship, transparency, and public and visible corrections. All who apply need to pass a vetting process, and their application and assessment are listed on the website. After public discussion of the cons and pros of making this change, we have decided it’s a wise idea.

We welcome any and all questions and comments!

Why the Founder of the Houston Tea Party Society Took the Pro-Truth Pledge

Caption: Logo of Unfakery Facebook page created by Felicia Winfree Cravens (courtesy of Unfakery)

In politics, it’s often difficult to know what’s true, what’s spin, and what’s an outright lie. With governments expanding at every level, and increasing the number of issues they have control over, the stakes for elections, bond initiatives, and public referenda get higher every election cycle. That means the incentives to spread misinformation about issues and candidates get higher as well.

It’s profitable to lie and cheat, and we have even come to expect it to be the norm with politicians, activists, and advocacy media. Too often the focus is on doing whatever it takes to win an election or a debate, rather than searching for truth to find a solution to a problem. We complain about the lies and the spin, but we view them as a permanent feature of the political process. It’s baked into the cake, we tell ourselves; what can we do?

As the founder in 2009 of the Houston Tea Party Society, I spent a lot of time thinking about that very question, especially in light of the plague of fake news infecting the political sphere. My fellow conservatives have been relentlessly targeted by people wanting to manipulate their emotions in order to make a profit. If there’s anything I learned in twenty years of conservative political activism, it’s that people react and respond to misinformation all the time, in ways that have serious consequences. And when I saw some friends and allies from my days in politics sharing those fake articles and images over the past few years, I decided I couldn’t just hide them from my feed and ignore the problem. There HAD to be something I could do to push back against fakery and misinformation. The truth deserved a defense.

I read a lot of scholarly articles and studies and white papers about fake news. There was no shortage of paragraphs about how bad it was, who created it, why they created it, how it worked, who fell for it. But nobody seemed to be talking seriously about what to do about fake news, how we should respond to it. Debunking sites were well established, but were frequently dismissed as biased by those sharing fakery. And debunker sites only answer the question of “Is this specific thing true or false?” instead of teaching better habits and strategies to people to avoid future fakes.

That led me to create Unfakery, a Facebook page chiefly geared towards conservatives, devoted to countering misinformation, holding all media outlets accountable, and helping people learn how to become better information consumers. And once I found the Pro-Truth Pledge, I knew this belonged in our toolbox.

Unfakery could debunk articles and images all day long, and build dozens of tools to teach better information habits. But unless our target audience values truth more highly than serving an agenda or winning political points, we won’t be able to make a real impact on the problem of fakery. Nor will we be able to affect the large number of people whose opinions and voting are shaped by it. I believe the keys to establishing a more truth-centered culture are contained in the principles of the Pro-Truth Pledge: sharing, honoring, and encouraging truth.

If we want people to value a commitment to truth, we have to model it. We have to publicly discuss it, and do so often. We have to uphold it as a prominent value again. We have to permeate our social spheres with references to the search for truth, and orient our conversations around it. We can’t brush aside a truth because it disagrees with us or doesn’t serve our agenda. We can’t lie about things other people said or did in order to achieve our purpose, and still call ourselves honest.

For instance, too often these days I see people defending their share of a fake quote with “It sounds like something he would say!” or “She may not have said it, but it’s what she believes!” These are dishonest defenses for sharing made-up quotes by famous people. This kind of fakery is NOT acceptable. It should be obvious to everyone that you do not get to put words in other people’s mouths, and yet some people are thoroughly convinced this IS acceptable. There should be no room for “fake but accurate” excuses for misinformation.

When you take the pledge, you let people know that truth matters to you, and you are willing to be held accountable for promoting it. That’s important for people in politics and business; we can all agree with that, and encourage and promote them taking the Pro-Truth Pledge.

But it’s even MORE important for the rest of us to consider taking the pledge and living by it. We shape the culture ourselves by what we collectively approve and what we reject. When we give political lies a pass because they agree with us, or dismiss them because “that’s just politics,” then we perpetuate a culture in which truth is an afterthought. That will only serve to spiral us further down into the current truth crisis, and prevent us from having meaningful, productive conversations with people who have the same goals as we do, but differ in how to achieve them.

People generally don’t want to be seen as dishonest on social platforms where their reputations constitute their greatest social capital. So let’s take advantage of that. Promoting truth, especially in online arenas, can be contagious. Broadcast that you are willing to be held accountable by taking the Pro-Truth Pledge, and then encourage others to do it as well. Start building networks of accountability partners and truth defenders.

We can keep complaining about the lies and fakery we encounter every day, and continue to write it off as ‘how politics works.’ Or we can take the pledge, stand for truth, and start changing the culture now.

How Journalists Can Communicate Truth Effectively and Credibly

Caption: Image of various types of news media (Wikimedia Commons)

As a journalist, you are committed to seeking and reporting the truth, following the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists. Unfortunately, recent behavioral science research shows that some standard practices of how journalists communicate the news both fail to convey the actual facts and fail to create an impression of credibility among audiences.

Consider a typical journalistic trope: the 10 myths, followed by a rebuttal of these myth. A classical example is this Time article on 10 science myths, or the weekly “5 myths” column in The Washington Post. In our era of fake news and alternative facts, many journalists use this style to counter such misinformation.

However, much research, such as a 2005 study in the Journal of Consumer Research or a 2016 study in Science Communication show that this style of writing usually backfires. The studies demonstrate that when journalists present a myth first, followed by corrective factual information, news consumers will tend to remember the myth as opposed to the correction. This backfire effect becomes stronger over time, with more study participants forgetting the corrective information and instead remembering the myth as true.

The backfire effect is one of over a hundred mental failures that behavioral scientists call cognitive biases. Behavioral science researchers believe there might be several reasons for the backfire effect.

First, the backfire effect ties in with another cognitive bias called the illusory truth effect, our tendency to ascribe more credibility to a statement the more often we hear it, regardless of whether the statement is true. We know from recent research that misinformation spreads faster and further than true information, so news consumers are likely to hear fake news more often than corrections. Thus, they are more likely to encounter misinformation before the correction, and encounter it more often: as a result, they would tend to believe the myth than the correction.

Second, the way we form our memories exacerbates the backfire effect. We have much stronger memories about what we perceive as salient information, as opposed to the context around that information. If the myth is presented by a journalist as salient information, then we tend to remember the myth, and forget the contextual information of the correction of the myth. Consider the Time article as a classic example: each myth is presented as a bolded statement, with our attention drawn to it, while the corrective is presented as commentary about it. No wonder that the backfire effect intensifies over time, with people remembering the key information – the myth – as opposed to the corrective information.

The typical style of writing headlines exacerbates the challenges of communicating truth to news consumers. We know that people get most of their news from skimming the headlines; in fact, most people share articles based on the headline alone. Unfortunately, most headlines concerned with misinformation convey the actual misinformation in the title, leading people to have the wrong impression.

Consider this BBC article, entitled “£350m Brexit claim was ‘too low’, says Boris Johnson.” You probably know that the original claim of £350m for the UK National Health Service if the UK leaves the EU is false, and may well suspect that this one is false too. However, you as a journalist are a sophisticated news consumer, and most people are not.

Knowing that most people will only read the headline, and share it on social media afterward, what do you think readers will take away from the headline? They will take away the impression that Brexit was even better than they thought. Now, the rest of the readers who choose to delve more deeply into the piece will learn that critics strongly pushed back against Boris Johnson’s false claim. Still, plenty of those who read this piece – and similar pieces like this one from Reuters – will fail to remember the pushback, and only retain the myth.

Fortunately, adjusting the style of reporting addresses this problem. The BBC and Reuters pieces could have had a headline such as “Critics bash Boris Johnson’s claims about post-Brexit savings.” Instead of starting the piece with Johnson’s claim, the article can start with criticism of these claims. Another approach might be to use the headline “Boris Johnson doubles down on previously-disproved Brexit claims.” Then, you can start your story with the disproved claims about £350m, and get to new claims by Johnson, and then criticism of these claims. This change in the traditional journalistic approach to conveying information is aligned with how our brain intakes information and addresses many cognitive biases, which are described in more details here.

Besides communicating truth effectively, journalists need to convey credibility. Yet, trust in the media has been decreasing, including in media fact-checking, around the globe. So how do you communicate credibility to news consumers?

Consider their perspective. You might alway abide by the SPJ code, but how do news consumers know that? The Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP), a civic initiative to fight misinformation and incivility, provides a way to do so. The pledge asks signers – which includes private citizens, public figures, and organizations – to commit to 12 behaviors that research in behavioral science shows correlate with an orientation toward truthfulness, which align well with the SPJ code.

The pledge provides external credibility by permitting anyone to file complaints about any false statements made by a public figure, and PTP volunteers evaluate these statements to ensure accountability. Thus, the PTP functions as the equivalent of the Better Business Bureau for public figures: the BBB provides credibility for ethical business practices and the PTP provides credibility for truthfulness for public figures and organizations.

After signing the pledge, individual journalists can include the pledge logo it on their website, in their personal bio on articles, and on their social media profiles. Media venues that take the pledge as an organization can list it on their website and in print. Likewise, their information is listed on the PTP public figures and organizations page, and shared with all private citizens who signed the pledge, who are then substantially more likely to follow journalists and media venues who committed to the PTP. Through both publicly signaling your commitment to the truth and through opening yourself up to being held accountable, you as a journalist – and any media organizations to which you belong – convey credibility to their audiences.

Behavioral science research can help you as a journalist to communicate truth both more effectively and credibly. Please take advantage of them!