The pledge is violated when you share misinformation. Violating the pledge does not mean you are going to be immediately punished for doing so, since the PTP is not intended to be primarily punitive. In putting facts first, we are not trying to play “gotcha” when someone makes an innocent mistake that causes a violation the pledge. After all, we aim to push ourselves and others who signed the pledge to be better than our natural inclinations – just like it is against the natural inclination of many of us to avoid a second piece of chocolate cake. Yet taking the second piece and thus violating our aspirations to eat well doesn’t mean we drop our goal of having healthy eating habits, but simply try to figure out what went wrong and aim to do better in the future.
Similarly, each of us may well eventually fail to be oriented toward the truth, and make a statement that goes against a fact-checking website or the scientific consensus or the clearly visible truth of reality. We rely on a community of truth-oriented individuals to support each other and provide compassionate correction when we fail, helping advance open-minded thinking among all of us and thus improving our society, as research shows. A key piece of the pledge is that all pledge-takers will hold all others who took the pledge accountable for upholding the truth. If someone is unwilling to correct themselves when provided clear information about their mistake, it is the responsibility of each of us who took the pledge to hold that person accountable by publicizing that person’s actions in appropriate channels, to penalize that person through harming that person’s reputation. This applies especially to holding public figures who took the pledge accountable, as they have a bigger impact on public opinion and the common good of trust and truth in our society.
How does this accountability work in practice? While a public figure sharing misinformation by mistake suffers no penalty, one deliberately violating the pledge – as shown by a refusal to retract misinformation one shared – suffers substantial negative consequences. All of those who take the pledge have the opportunity to sign up for action alerts, and can also sign up to be a Pro-Truth advocate. Pro-Truth advocates can focus on a number of activities, including monitoring others who have taken the pledge, particularly public figures. If a Pro-Truth advocate finds that someone has violated the pledge, especially a public figure, the advocate would contact the person privately. As part of this process, the advocate would adopt “charity mode,” meaning being more charitable toward the alleged violator than is one’s intuition, and assuming an “innocent until reasonably shown guilty” perspective – perhaps the person misspoke, or you misheard something. Use curiosity and questioning to determine whether there is clear evidence that the pledge has been violated. If there is clear evidence, provide this to the alleged violator, and if the person retracts her/his words, the matter is resolved.
If the alleged violator does not retract her/his statement, the advocate may publicize the matter via the advocate’s own channels, social media and otherwise. In doing so, the advocate must provide both: 1) Clear evidence of the violation, and 2) Clear evidence of a good-faith, reasonable effort to get the alleged violator of the pledge to address the violation. The advocate may also spread word to other PTP advocates with whom the advocate has contacts for them to publicize the information, as well as others whom the advocate considers salient to the deception at hand. If the individual is a private citizen, the matter ends there, as this sort of reputational blow provides a significant enough disincentive to cause the large majority private citizens who take the pledge to avoid lying.
If the alleged violator is a public figure, the advocate would escalate the matter to a PTP local, regional, or national mediating committee, depending on the status of the public figure. This committee includes a group of vetted volunteers who would evaluate the evidence provided by the advocate, contact the public figure for a chance for the person to offer an explanation, and make a ruling – either determining that there is a violation, that there is no violation, or that the evidence is insufficient to make a judgment. If there is a ruling of a violation, then this ruling is evaluated by a member of the PTP Central Coordinating Committee, to ensure fairness and accuracy, and provide an external perspective. In the case that the PTP Central Coordinating Committee member also determines that a violation has occurred, the committee then contacts the alleged violator, offering the person another chance to retract her/his words. By this time, the public figure had a number of opportunities to clarify the situation and correct it if a mistake has been made, rather than if the public figure aimed to make a deliberate deception to pollute the truth and hurt all of us. This process might sound a little convoluted, but it minimizes the possibility of the PTP being politicized or corrupted at a local level.
If the public figure still refuses to take her/his words back, the PTP mediating committee would issue a press advisory that the public figure is in contempt of the pledge to put reputational pressure on the thought leader, with clear evidence of the violation as well as the efforts it made to get the public figure to revise the violation. The PTP mediating committee would also contact relevant organizations with which the person who violated the pledge is affiliated, such as the radio station if it is a radio show host, or a university if it is a scientist. It would also issue a PTP Action Alert to those who indicated they want to receive such alerts – either at the local, regional, or national level, depending on the stature of the public figure – for them to email/Tweet and otherwise message the public figure encouraging her/him to revise the relevant statements, and writing letters-to-the-editor about the situation. Finally, the public figure will be listed on the PTP website as in contempt of the pledge. This provides considerable reputation pressure for a public figure to avoid being in contempt of the pledge – if the public figure envisions violating the pledge deliberately, s/he would be better off not signing it at all. To summarize, innocent violations of the pledge will not be penalized, only deliberate attempts to misrepresent the truth and thus undermine the public good of truth and trust.
Who will monitor the PTP mediating committees? Other pledge-takers, of course. The PTP mediating committees have strong incentives to ensure that their rulings are as fair and objective as is possible, because their whole reputation rests on such objectivity. The outcomes of their proceedings – if there is a ruling of a violation – will be provided as evidence for scrutiny by other pledge-takers, and the public at large. These outcomes will not be provided if the public figure retracts her/his words at any stage, to prevent reputation damage for the public figure, since the PTP is not meant to be punitive but corrective.
Violations of the pledge only apply to statements made in and about the public sphere. In other words, it does not apply to private interactions, such as when a wife tells her husband his new shirt makes him look really muscular, regardless of what she really thinks. It does not apply to semi-private contexts, such as when a fisherman tells tall tales about the size of the fish he caught. It also does not apply to religious or other values-based contexts, except in cases where the statement is a clear piece of misinformation about public policy. It also does not apply to cases that cannot be reasonably verified and/or have to do with personal beliefs and spiritual experiences, such as when a politician or a pastor says “I support this policy because of God’s personal revelations to me,” or an environmentalist says “I support protecting the environment because otherwise the spirit of Mother Earth would suffer” – it is not possible to verify whether God exists or made revelations to someone or whether the spirit of Mother Earth exists and experiences suffering if the environment is not protected. The pledge matters only in verifiable statements in the public sphere, such as when a private citizen shares a piece of viral deception online, or a journalist misquotes a source, or a pastor makes false claims about miracle healing and thus encourages parishioners to avoid going to doctors, or a scientist hides unfavorable experimental results relevant to public policy, or a politician spreads lies about her opponent.
While the pledge is only violated when you share misinformation, pledge-takers can choose to stick by the word of the pledge but go against its spirit through misleading if not explicitly false statements – what is known as “spin.” In these cases, we encourage other pledge-takers to call out fellow pledge-takers who fail to live by the spirit of the pledge. In almost all cases, spinning the information will go against one of the truth-oriented behaviors outlined in the pledge. Bring this to the attention of the pledge-taker who fails to engage in this behavior, and encourage that pledge-taker to model the values of the pledge.