Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?

The country has been gripped with the aftermath of the Presidential election, marred with accusations of massive voter fraud altering the outcome of the election. As contributing factors emerge to paint a clearer picture of what led up to the historic second impeachment of the 45th President, we should recognize that all of us as citizens have a responsibility to contribute to a truth-based culture in the United States.

As a public official responsible for conducting elections in Inyo County, California, I experienced firsthand how manipulated facts fueled a national crisis that culminated at the Capitol on January 6th. For many citizens, this was the first time experiencing the damage that false accusations can cause.

Having been directly exposed to a conspiracy prior to this election, I view misinformation and disinformation as much more menacing to our culture than this single tragic incident. A few years ago, I found myself at the heart of a small conspiracy when I agreed to help a local family in crisis after their child went missing. Many people who volunteered to help were doxxed, maliciously reported to law enforcement, had their private conversations shared publicly without permission, had false reports made to their jobs, all of which pales in comparison to the stalking and harassment the family continues to endure. It was very emotional and confusing since I had never experienced anything like it before.

I am not a mental health professional, but I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my own experiences. In my opinion, we need to invest much more research into how the Internet is contributing to a less stable society. In the meantime, as individuals, we should develop strategies to deal with harassing behaviors online, and to protect ourselves from unintentionally participating in it. I would encourage readers to do their own research and seek professional support if they find themselves involved in conspiratorial thinking.

According to medical hypotheses, delusions are mistaken and unfounded personal beliefs, when there is superior evidence to the contrary. Once in a delusion, depending on how convinced the person is of the fictitious reality, they will cling to their false beliefs even when presented with conflicting evidence. We see this in politics where officials blame each other for problems, ignoring their own actions leading to current events.

In the situations that I experienced, only parts of relevant information were widely shared. Other evidence was misrepresented, with attempts to set the record straight either ignored or further twisted to feed false narratives.

People often see patterns and connections that are simply not there. We have all likely experienced a form of this at some point in our life – whether it be an insecurity, a paranoia or leaps in logic that do not add up but play into our biases. In the digital world, these tendencies can increase if they are reinforced by others that have similar beliefs. If gone unchallenged, these delusions can feed into a mass hysteria. This is a circumstance where many people in a group believe in a delusion, reinforcing each other in their false convictions.

When I found myself mistreated because of rumors and lies, it sometimes felt like nothing that I could do or say could dispel the fabrications. In large part, this was true. Once someone has made up their mind, it can be difficult to convince them otherwise. In the case of elections, I can show public evidence, but people may still choose not to believe it. In the sensitive case of a missing person, there are many things unknown, so the truth is much harder to discern.

In both cases, I chose to approach the skeptics with compassion and empathy. It is easy to take false accusations personally. After all, most of us are not used to being lied about by strangers. In any case, the perceptions of the accusers are real, even if the facts do not support their conclusions. Learning to recognize that many abusive behaviors online are complex and could be the result of underlying mental health disorders might help you refrain from the impulse to participate in the collective trauma. I asked gentle, logical, and clarifying questions when I felt that someone was acting in good faith and tried to be non-confrontational with those who did not seem to be acting rationally. It is important to be able to recognize real threats and separate that from critical or hurtful comments.

Having people publicly accuse me of motives that I did not possess or thoughts I never considered is likely a result of the perplexing phenomenon known as psychological projection.

According to everydayhealth.com: “Psychological projection is a defense mechanism people subconsciously employ in order to cope with difficult feelings or emotions. Psychological projection involves projecting undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than admitting to or dealing with the unwanted feelings. Have you ever disliked someone only to become convinced that the person had a vendetta against you? This is a common example of psychological projection.”

No one can know what another person is thinking unless they explicitly tell you. Even then, it may only be what the person believes at that moment in time, if they are even being truthful in the first place. Just because someone said something in the past, we should not assume that they are incapable of changing their minds, especially if more information materializes. An example is the current health crisis, where it would be illogical to rely on reports from 11 months ago, prior to the emergence of more recent scientific studies.

All of us should make conscious efforts not to assign motives to others or share deceptive information. If you have, it is okay to seek forgiveness if the situation warrants it. We all make mistakes. However, if we fail to recognize our own responsibility to be honest, instead placing the blame at the feet of others, we lose our opportunity to promote a more genuine humanity. Simple things, like taking the ProTruth Pledge, can remind others that speaking the truth matters. It may seem like such a monumental problem that one person’s actions could never make a difference. But, like a pebble dropped into a pond, although the catalyst of dropping the pebble may seem like one small act, collectively the ripple effect can create powerful waves with significant impacts. If we all commit to this simple philosophy – to hold ourselves responsible for telling the truth – my hope is that we can collectively manifest a more positive and truthful world.

Photo Credit: ocean.flynn, licenced under Creative Commons

About the author: Kammi Foote is currently serving her third term as the elected Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters, responsible for overseeing elections in Inyo County, California. She is a frequent invited speaker regarding election integrity and has testified on measures to improve the administration of elections before the California Senate and the Little Hoover Commission. In addition, she is a board member of several nonprofits that focus on civil rights, sustainable water and environmental policies, and leadership development.

Never Be Afraid to Speak the Truth

When you hold public office, it is common for citizens to question your motives and actions. Having a healthy skepticism of government officials is an essential element of public oversight. Serving the last decade as the elected Registrar of Voters responsible for overseeing elections in a rural California county, I know what it feels like to be falsely accused of rigging election outcomes. In the past, I have not spent much time trying to challenge misconceptions; instead, I have allowed my actions to speak for themselves over time. However, this election cycle required election officials to aggressively combat misinformation and disinformation, while also adapting to the challenges of conducting an election during a global pandemic.

The nation is now trying to recover from the monumental consequences of losing its faith in the electoral system. For months, conspiracies – ranging from sabotaging the postal system to votes being counted overseas – were amplified by social and mainstream media, politicians, and thoughts leaders. Never was it so clearly obvious that widespread misinformation and disinformation campaigns can have devastating consequences to society. We should give the benefit of the doubt to the general population who merely believe election conspiracies, because they are simply misinformed. It is easy to dismiss people’s concerns when they do not seem rational, but it is important to understand the mechanisms manipulating the flow of information, leading to these views.

In the pre-Internet world, thought bubbles could form in our social circles, but we were less prone to fully immerse ourselves in one-sided thinking. This is because our neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends all have access to several sources of information that challenge our beliefs. Social media thought bubbles are much more dangerous because they use tools that manipulate opinions. These tools include blocking, muting members, bots, trolling, artificial intelligence microtargeting individuals, and deleting comments that do not support the viewpoint of the group moderators. Ever more common is complete de-platforming of users who hold unpopular opinions.

Over the past few years, it has become evident how dangerous thought bubbles can be in a culture based on debate and compromise. In the US, our society is structured to protect unpopular speech. However, it was never envisioned that we would have a digital world that silences all opposing viewpoints, creating manufactured appearances of popular consensus. We often think of mob rule in terms of political outcomes, but tyranny of the majority can affect all aspects of our personal lives, including losing jobs, declining mental health, and strained relationships with our loved ones.

The guiding principle of “groupthink” is that everyone is required to think and act the same as the group leaders. These leaders may be politicians, paid influencers, or even nation-states hiding behind false identities that intend to cause civil unrest. The goal is to squash any dissenting opinions quickly before they have a chance to contradict the narratives created for the group. Opinions on what is good or bad are often based on personal agendas, not on facts. When anyone dares to challenge the prevailing opinion, they can be alienated from the group as punishment. This creates a chilling effect on other people’s willingness to openly participate in conversations. This is dangerous because we can only discover the truth if people feel comfortable expressing their genuine opinions. When voices are silenced, it hurts everyone’s ability to understand reality and correct errors in judgments.

The importance of keeping an open mind in today’s society cannot be underestimated. Once a person or group has made up their mind about a situation, all new information is processed through a biased filter. All new evidence that supports the prevailing theory is given great weight, and all new data that contradicts the theory is dismissed. We should always pursue becoming more informed about a topic, especially when it challenges our own beliefs, rather than cling to our incorrect perceptions.

More nefarious is the intentional smear campaign. When a group or individual knowingly spreads disinformation with the intent to cause harm, it not only damages the targets of the smear campaign, but it can be damaging to everyone who believes the lies. Supporters may only want to keep up with the latest information, but having been denied access to the truth, they become unwitting pawns of leaders with malicious intentions. Anyone that displays closed-minded behaviors should cause others to be concerned that the individual is neither credible nor acting in good faith.

If you find yourself participating in social media groups that use silencing tactics, you may want to consider whether staying a part of the group is healthy. You should also ask yourself if the news that you are consuming is reliable. Seek out several sources of information to challenge what you have been led to believe about a set of circumstances. I would encourage you not to dismiss contradictory information, just because of who is reporting the facts. You might be surprised at what you learn when you venture out of your own thought bubble. If things do not make sense, or seem very unlikely, question whether they are truthful. If you are blocked, ridiculed, or silenced for questioning things in sincerity, then you may have been an unwitting pawn in someone else’s strategy of manipulation.

Remain skeptical, always question and never be afraid to speak the truth. Encourage a more truth-based society by taking the Pro-Truth Pledge, like I did last summer to re- affirm to my constituents that I would always tell them the truth. It is also important not to let online interactions affect your mental well-being. Assess whether you are letting online interaction harm your real-world relationships or causing you stress. If they are, turn off the computer or television, put down your phone and go for a walk outside.

The truth is that thought bubbles are only as influential as you let them be. If you turn off your devices, they have no power over you whatsoever.

Photo Credit: Diego Sideburns, licenced under Creative Commons

About the author: Kammi Foote is currently serving her third term as the elected Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters, responsible for overseeing elections in Inyo County, California. She is a frequent invited speaker regarding election integrity and has testified on measures to improve the administration of elections before the California Senate and the Little Hoover Commission. In addition, she is a board member of several nonprofits that focus on civil rights, sustainable water and environmental policies, and leadership development.

My Path to Disinformation Resistance

Credit: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/5627039f-f7f5-43d0-bfe7-a69f97d7cae8

Twenty years ago, after the 9/11 attacks revealed a paralysis in US information sharing, I left the private sector and joined the fight to help the Government. I was an expert in AI, information technology, and cognitive psychology, and I had been a DARPA-funded Principal Investigator for years. I had recently served as Chief Technology Officer for Software at Hewlett-Packard. I was alarmed that our FBI, CIA, NSA, and authorities could not synthesize intelligence data into a timely threat picture. If we were unable to connect giant dots that the 9/11 terrorists were leaving behind, how could anybody reasonably feel safe? Thus began my focus on the simple question: How should a society share information?

For years I focused on ways to reduce the glut of information flooding people working in defense. I spent ten years as a full Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. My classes focused on the strategic opportunities presented by advances in computing and AI, and how the US government should exploit these. Meanwhile, policy makers were redesigning major organizations and their rules for information sharing.

Meanwhile, by 2011, it had become obvious to me that the greatest threat to US security was no longer coming from foreign terrorist cells. By then we could see that malevolent actors were capable of causing havoc through widespread disinformation campaigns. The playbook for those actors was pretty simple: Adopt an identity with a reasonable back story, infiltrate social networks by a combination of sharing and fabricating click-bait, and gain influence by becoming a source for sensational misinformation. Disinformation campaigners adopted technologies I know extremely well, including AI for chat bots, image manipulation, and computer-leveraged farms of foreigners with excellent language skills to run coordinated, sometimes massive disinformation campaigns on-line. The Internet by 2011 had become a perfect breeding ground for manufactured lies that had a high social media appeal. The simultaneous rise of 24-hour news on cable and streaming increased the pressure on media companies to publish click-worthy content quickly. Fact-checking took orders of magnitude more time than rapid publication of titillating material, and the game was quickly lost.

My 2011 book, Truthiness Fever, described my understanding of the problem, the threats, and the best ideas at the time for countering disinformation. Since then, I have observed the continuing deterioration of civil society, and many others now agree with my dire predictions. What have I learned since 2011?

  • Disinformation is a primary tool of political power in the 21st century
  • 24/7 availability of infotainment encourages people to seek out reinforcing data
  • Laws in the US ignore information pollution
  • People who have consumed vast amounts of bogus media are effectively brainwashed
  • Civil society requires honest and nonthreatening communication
  • If people have to pay for lying, they will resist doing so

That last observation I believe is the key insight of the last few years. In my earlier companies, TruthSeal and TruthMarket, we tested the idea that people wouldn’t lie if they had to guarantee the truth of their claims with money. I literally could find no company that would agree to pay a bounty to anyone who could falsify that company’s claims. Moreover, when we experimented with crowd funding, we found:

  • Truth vs. Falsity proved an unsuitable basis for assessing routine business claims, because many claims couldn’t reasonably be scientifically assessed
  • Trustworthiness vs. Untrustworthiness provides a practical and implementable basis for social collaborators to attack disinformation

Scientists know that knowledge evolves with time. All hypotheses and theories are considered “conditionally true” after being confirmed by experimental evidence that doesn’t invalidate them. Knowledge progresses mostly through successive refinements to overly general beliefs illuminated by disconfirming data. There is no finish line after which we have found the truth. As one example, TruthMarket established a bounty for anyone who could show that ordinary use of smart phones was safe. The claim is not sufficiently specific to test, and no one is likely to run an experiment that could convincingly resolve the question.

This is not just a metaphysical musing. We really must move the society towards truth and away from falsehoods, so it’s vital that we get clear on what we are asking people to do. Thus, I was happy to sign the Pro-Truth Pledge, because it asks every individual and organization to commit to truth-telling and avoid lying. That is 100% good, from my perspective, and we want to make truth-telling rewarding, while punishing liars. We therefore focus on social discourse and civil interactions. In everyday contexts, we need to decide who to trust, because we cannot fact check everything we receive. So, for us the key question is how to achieve widespread Trustworthiness?

Two years ago, I realized that personal responsibility and the risk of losing valued privileges might be sufficient to regulate communications, at least among those who value the trust of others. Purveyors of disinformation experience no negative consequences for their behavior. Current social media have created a perfect environment for gestating, evolving, and weaponizing harmful memes.

These observations motivated me to launch a new company, Trusted Origins Corp. (TOC), aimed at reducing the harmful effects of information pollution. The key motive behind TOC was to change the incentives, establishing honesty and civility as a prerequisite for membership in a Community of Trust (COT). Members who violate those standards would be banished. If people want access to such communities, they won’t break the rules.

The Internet is rife with liars who want audiences. Most Internet platforms grant access to anyone with an email address. This leads to troll farms with single individuals controlling hundreds or thousands of accounts, each robotically following the disinformation scripts of its master. Moreover, until just recently none of the most popular websites or apps removed anyone for violating community standards.

In my opinion, the keys to significant further progress include:

  • Make participation in civil society a valued good
  • Block miscreants from access

Each COT adopts trustworthiness protocols appropriate to its mission. Members opt-in to the community and agree to its protocols. Members authenticate their identity and subsequently stake their own personal reputations when communicating. Every COT blocks bots, trolls, shills and bullies, the worst sources of information pollution. If COTs become socially important, the perceived personal cost of banishment also grows. To stop people from lying, you have to make them pay. The risk of losing audience should deter those who prize the size and reach of their influence.

In 2021 we launched our premier COT, the Disinformation Resistance Community (DRC), at https://resistdisinfo.com. We seek active members who will help find disinformation and help blacklist liars. We provide automated TrustedSearch™ that anyone can use to get fact-checked answers to queries, We provide a dozen features active members use to pool efforts to separate Trusted articles from Distrusted ones. The DRC is the first of what we hope will become many COTs, each with a distinct focus, but all implementing trustworthiness protocols that monitor and enforce honest and civil behavior.

— Rick Roth

Chairman & CEO, Trusted Origins Corp.

Acting Governor, Disinformation Resistance Community

rick@trustedorigins.com

How Can we Protect Ourselves Against Viral Deceptions

Adapted from Pro Truth: A Practical Plan for Putting Truth Back into Politics

With Trump out of office and suspended from Twitter, are we safe from online misinformation?

According to the Washington Post, online misinformation about election fraud dropped 73 percent a week after several social media sites suspended President Trump and key allies.

But even with Trump out of office and social media companies banning “alternative” sites such as Parler, we would be foolish to think the Internet is more trustworthy. Just as a week-long dip in new COVID-19 cases doesn’t mean we can stop protecting ourselves from the virus, so too we have to be vigilant against viral deception on line.

To protect ourselves, we need deliberate education in how to filter and process online information. Responding to the avalanche of misinformation in social media in the 2016 election, in 2017 several states passed laws promoting digital literacy. However, better schooling does not address the problem for adults.

Motivating adults to change their behavior requires two things:

1) Getting them emotionally invested into caring about the truth, and

2) Providing them with the tools to parse truth from falsehood.

Emotional investment needs to come before tools. We know that tools such as fact-checkers are available. But large majority of conservatives and a substantial portion of liberals do not engage in fact-checking, as evidenced both by polls and widespread sharing of viral deception.

So, what can you do to encourage others in your social media circles to adopt behaviors that can protect them from contracting and spreading viral deceptions? Changing social behavior is difficult, but not impossible. Think of the unfamiliar behaviors we have adopted to protect ourselves from the coronavirus even before the vaccine:

  • Wearing a mask
  • Social distancing
  • Frequent hand washing

How did we make these changes? First, people became emotionally invested in not contracting COVID-19. Signs everywhere, public service announcements, news articles and Internet memes all reinforced the message. Second, people became empathetically invested in not passing the disease on to others. Third, the new behaviors spread as others observed them in social situations and then learned about the reasons for the new behaviors. Fourth, governments, businesses and civil organizations made masks and social distancing mandatory, or at least strongly encouraged, and installed hand sanitizers everywhere inside their buildings.

How might these strategies translate into a campaign against viral deception – and how can you do your part?

  1. Become invested in not contracting viral deceptions. Develop a healthy skepticism of everything you encounter online. Acknowledge the online world is full of viruses. Basically, wear your skepticism online like an N-95 mask. Stay vigilant. Fact check new information. You can find a list of reliable fact checkers, and their code of principles at the Poynter Institute’s website. Make this part of your on-line health. Search out credible news sources with different perspectives. The best tool to help you develop safe practices is The Pro-Truth Pledge.
  2. Warn others about viral deception. Share your fact checking on social media. Correct misinformation with links to reliable sources. Of course, you have to be careful not to do this too aggressively, but rather encouragingly and respectfully. My 90-year-old father, for example, sometimes passes along viral deceptions with links in mass emails to his friends and family. I send gentle corrections, encouraging him to share the corrected info with his friends.
  3. Warn others about websites that are lax about viral deceptions. Social media providers are now more wary about promoting “fake news,” and platforms such as Facebook have easy ways you can report troublesome content. Use that option whenever you encounter viral deceptions. You can also send complaints to media sites that let viral deceptions fall through the cracks. When you discover such sites, warn your friends. Just like you would tell your friends not to frequent a restaurant where you got food poisoning, tell others to beware of sites that allow viral deception to thrive.

Of course, even in a pandemic, many people are going to resist safe practices, and will continue to be infected by viral deceptions. But so long as enough people practice these healthy behaviors, they will spread and thus create resistance to disinformation. And this is essential, as we have come to learn, for the preservation of democracy.

Please join the conversation. In the comments pane below, share what you practice in your personal online behavior to keep yourself and others safe from viral deceptions.

Tim Ward is a communications expert based in Washington DC. He is an executive board member of Intentional Insights (the organization that manages the Pro-Truth Pledge) and co-author, with Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, of Pro Truth: A Practical Plan for Putting Truth Back into Politics.

Why 43 politicians took the Pro-Truth Pledge in February 2020

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!

Image Credit: Pexels/Cytonn Photography

Press Release: Tim Ryan Takes Pro-Truth Pledge

Courtesy Tim Ryan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

                              Contact: Gleb Tsipursky, Pro-Truth Pledge Co-Founder

   
 

                              Email: gleb@intentionalinsights.org

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.

Pro-Truth Pledge and Global Elites

The President-Elect of the EU Commission Ursula van der Leyen, the Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein, the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Secretary Genera Elhadj As Syl, the CEO of Penguin Random House Markus Dohle, billionaire philanthropist and Chair of Bertelsmann Management Group Liz Mohn, and two dozen other high-profile  global elites joined me as participants at Trilogue Salzburg. This yearly event is described by its organizers as follows:

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

As the co-founder of the Pro-Truth Pledge project and President of the Board of Intentional Insights, which runs the pledge project, I’m also a prominent thought leader. I’m a social scientist who published substantial peer-reviewed research on how to effectively fight misinformation and post-truth politics, a public figure who wrote hundreds of articles and gave hundreds of interviews on this topic, and a best-selling author who wrote The Truth-Seeker’s Handbook: A Science-Based Guide.

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!

P.S. Don’t forget to pre-order the book now!

Image Credit: Bertelsmann Stiftung

How to Craft Strong Messages for Truth Using the Four Cs

By Tim Ward

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:

1. Concise

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.

2. Concrete

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?)

4. Catchy

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.

Exercise

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.

For more…

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.

Personal Message from Steve Monge

Why Invest in the Truth…

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.

Truthfully Yours,

Steve Monge

P.S. Your donation is tax deductible in the US, and I hope you join the pledge as a member by donating right now

Will Democratic Presidential Candidates Be Truthful?

(photo credit: Pixabay/PublicDomainPictures)

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.

They did so because readers like you approached them to encourage them to take the pledge. That includes in person at candidate forums in town halls, or virtually through phone calls, email, social media, website contact pages, and other means. We have clear guidelines for you to use on how to pitch politicians on the pledge, as well as public figures in general, and you can do so on your own anytime.

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!