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Pro-Truth Pledge Volunteers of the Month – April 2018

The Pro-Truth Pledge project is a grassroots effort made possible by the efforts of volunteers around the world.

Some of the volunteers focus their efforts on external activities, such as gathering signatures, giving presentations, running local PTP chapters, and otherwise promoting the Pro-Truth Pledge. Other volunteers work behind the scenes assisting with website maintenance, research, data entry, content creation, and a variety of other tasks.

This month we are pleased to acknowledge two volunteers for their contribution to the success of the Pro-Truth Pledge project: Carl Baker and Nora Koci. They are great examples of reliability, consistency, flexibility, and teamwork that fuels the Pro-Truth Pledge.

 

PTP Volunteers of the Month - April 2018

External Volunteer

Carl Baker, Washington State Organizer

I’m the Washington State group lead and I am part of the PTP Political Cultivation Committee. I’ve also to mentored a couple of folks in other locations.

I’m hopeful that the Pro-Truth Pledge project will help return our nation to a less divisive state and allow some form of political and social progress to be made.

Internal Volunteer

Nora Koci, Video and Audio Editor

I edit audio and video for Intentional Insights social media, our YouTube channel, and for promoting the Pro-Truth Pledge. I’m also currently working on a new radio show that Intentional Insights is coming out with – the “Think Better, Live Better Show”.

I’m excited about the Pro-Truth Pledge because it is important that people tell the truth and advocate truthfulness in politics, social media, and in constructing their arguments. I’m glad that the Pro-Truth Pledge is gaining ground because there is so much misinformation out there, people need to be aware and push for the truth!

PS: If you are interested in joining the Pro-Truth Pledge volunteer team, fill out this form and we’ll be in touch with you soon.

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!

Why Do People Take the Pro-Truth Pledge?

Photo: group of pledge signers writing letters encouraging public figures to take the pledge

 

What prompted people to take the Pro Truth Pledge?

There were a variety of reasons that people took the pledge and these are listed below in no particular order of merit or importance:

  • Politics
  • Personal
  • Media

One thing seems clear. People take the pledge because they want to be part of something important and to be able to take some action that could alter what they perceive as the current public discourse of media, politics, and other information characterized by bias and misinformation. Pledge-takers are concerned with statements whose intention is simply to promote one viewpoint over another, or misinformation which is designed to sway our view and understanding of a topic so that if benefits either some political cause or some economic venture.

That ability to take action seems central to much of what is happening today in various movements worldwide where people seek to take more control over their lives and how they are governed. They are seeking democracy in its purest form.

Media

 

Starting with media, we can make a distinction here between the “mainstream” press, namely newspapers, magazines, television and radio controlled by the major media corporations, and what might be called the media of the people. The latter includes blogs, podcasts, and various social media platforms that are easily accessible to most people and provide a forum for them to express their views. It also provides an opportunity for things that matter to gain traction if people identify, agree and begin to share common ideas. The role of social media in bringing about the sweeping changes of the Arab Spring was profound, and demonstrates the reason why it is subject to strict control in some countries.

The Pro-Truth Pledge can be seen as one such opportunity to share common ground and principles which will guide how we relate to each other and in pursuit of a democratic freedom to have our voice heard and try to influence those in power to adopt the same values and behaviours

Michael DeCandia “I feel that science and critical thought are the life blood of society. These methods carry us through difficult times and help us progress as a society. The spread of fake news threatens this in my mind, so I felt it was necessary to do something. I was looking for a cause to combat misinformation when I saw an advertisement for the PTP.”

Nora Naurava “I didn’t want any biases. I may have to grab at unworthy reporting of events.

Ishi CrewI took it for the same kind of reasons I vote and even pick up trash around here if it’s easy (sometimes as part of group that does an annual Clean the Park Day, though I mostly do it by myself because I don’t like seeing pollution—I would hope one day people can just pick up their own trash.)

 

A lot of media around here is a kind of air pollution—and to an extent, I blame the FCC for that as well as those who wrote the legislation for how FCC regulates the airwaves.

 

I could see the Pro-Truth Pledge eventually having some effect on that process–because it could influence what politicians do, and also who votes for them. (As Gleb has said, this is not too different from efforts like “Silent Spring” or the 60s March on Washington. Just a statement.) They say ‘The price of democracy is eternal vigilance.’ For most people, it seems that’s too expensive. I guess things like voting by computer as is done in Oregon, and having easy tools to ‘fact-check’ may lower the price.”

 

 

Politics

 

There would appear to be a growing level of discontent with the state of politics around the world. Increasingly, people are becoming more vocal about this as various protest movements and marches demonstrate frustration at how out of touch politicians are with the people they are elected to represent. Social media has played its part here as well with the development of electronic petitions, which seek to galvanize public opinion into pressuring politicians or other groups to acquiesce to demands. At times, this has been effective. It is clear, however, from many exposé and news articles that politicians rarely say what they will do or do what they say.

Jim Lentz “I was motivated by the current political environment and my need to do something other than complain about it. The pledge seemed like a small, no risk act to demonstrate my support of principles that I believe in.”

Karen Wiley “I was motivated because of the inundation of ‘alternative facts’ coming out of Washington and all over Facebook during the campaigning.”

Joe JB Shaver “Having been exposed to our very partisan and dysfunctional political arena that is filled with hyperbole and falsehoods, it was extremely motivating to pursue an alternative course.”

 

Eric Evans “Shortly after I joined the Facebook group, “Indivisible Wisconsin,” I began to post comments on political events and actions at the local and national levels. One of my first comments was about the violent and deadly demonstration, by a group of white supremacists and white nationalists, in Charlottesville, Virginia. A member of Indivisible Wisconsin, who disagreed with my comment, questioned whether I knew what I was talking about. In my defense, I posted links to several reputable newspapers that reported the factual information on which I based my comment. The person, who had questioned whether I knew what I was talking about, did not respond. Since that initial experience on Facebook, I continue to include references to legitimate news sources, to support comments that I post on social media. In addition, I fact-check posts that other people place on Facebook, before I comment on them. I have and will warn and then “Unfriend” people on Facebook, who repeatedly post comments and/or information to my timeline which my fact-checking reveals is false.

Personal

When I was growing up it seemed like knowing the difference between right and wrong or good and bad was important, it was something of a moral compass, a sign of a good upbringing. Now society has grown to adopt an attitude of “if it’s alright for you then that’s fine” as a means of combating what some experienced as a judgemental society. Some would say this freedom has enabled us to be more truthful about who we are and what we believe. However, this perspective has potentially created some difficulties for us in how we relate to each other and find common ground on things that we can agree as fact and truth.

Valuing each other as well as ourselves has of course gained traction as tolerance has developed and groups like Hope not Hate strive to support a culture of inclusiveness, and this is to a large extent based on the evidence of truth or fact in combating false views of others. The pledge is seen by some as a statement of their intent to follow a path that seeks facts and evidence and does not rely on ill informed and preconceived notions. They seek values which will support their personal relationships whether with self or others that is first and foremost about the truth.

Jami Miller “I have severe mental illness. Most of the time, I am stable. My medication helps, but doesn’t cure it and doesn’t prevent episodes. If I’m having a very bad episode, I can’t count on my own brain to tell me the truth of what is really happening. Truth, reality, the difference between possible and not possible; that line can be very blurry for me. During these times, I have no choice but to rely on trusted people around me, to help me bridge that gap.

 

So, basically, I’ve been fighting my own brain for truth all my life. Sometimes, I win. Sometimes, I think lizard people might actually exist, but then I come back and win again. Fighting for truth has been a lifelong struggle for me.”

Russell Frizzell “No surprise here, Stephanie is the visionary in our family. I took the pledge to please her. This is no trivial point; popular characters will lead way more people down a good path than unpopular leaders could.”

 

Ishi Crew “For me, scientists and musicians have been more influential than politicians in shaping my views—my social and political views follow directly from the sciences I read, music I listen to, and places I hike. It’s a different path to the ‘truth’ as I see it. A lot of people don’t see that—they think if you don’t show up at a meeting you won’t learn the truth. That is similar to saying if you don’t vote or sign a petition you can’t complain, are a-political, and part of the problem rather than the solution. I’m agnostic, so I sometimes vote and sign petitions.

Diane Wilkinson Trefethen “I joined because ever since I was 6 years old I’ve tried to be a truth teller. Now almost 70 years later, I’m more convinced than ever that even when telling the truth up front hurts, it surely beats eating cold crow later.

 

Linda L. Allen “I have always hated when anyone lied to me: parents, preachers, lovers, politicians. Second, I was trained as a scientist, a MS in biology focused on experimentation. I find truth and reality fascinating. Why pollute them?”

Cory Frost “Fear that as campaigns of misinformation become the norm we may see a Fourth Reich in America.”

Mark and Suzanne EastburnWithout truth there is no meaning.”

 

Ashley RooneyTelling the truth is the most important thing. It’s the only way to determine what works and what doesn’t.”

 

What led you to take the Pro-Truth Pledge? Let us know in your comments!

Want Your Political Representatives to Take the Pro-Truth Pledge?

Caption: Woman speaking in political context (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

So you took the Pro-Truth Pledge yourself and are excited to get your political representatives to take it? Great: let’s talk about how you can do so!

Figure Out Who They Are

The first step to getting your political representatives (whether elected or appointed) to take the pledge is figuring out who they are. It’s not hard to do. Just put into your preferred search engine “contact your political representatives in [country]” without quotation marks and you get a list of websites that help you contact your representatives. If your country’s primary language is not English, use the appropriate language.

For example, this is the link to the search result in Google for contacting representatives in Australia. The first site at the top is this one, giving Australians clear ways of contacting their elected representatives.

It’s even easier if you are in the US. Thanks to the Google Civic Information API, our website developers put together an automatic way for you to learn who are your elected representatives. Just enter your address into the top bar on this page. You will get a menu with (almost) all of your elected representatives, from local to national, and the number of pledge-takers per elected representative.

Once you figure out your elected representatives, use your preferred search engine to figure out if there are any candidates running for the office. Then, you can pitch both the incumbent and all the candidates.

Pitching Your Elected Representatives

After you find your elected representatives, figure out their emails, website contact form, Twitter profile, Facebook page, and other social media, along with phone numbers. They usually have these readily available, with the possible exception of email for more high-profile politicians. You can use this guide on finding emails if their emails are not readily available. Next, follow the directions here, which have a variety of templates for you to pitch politicians and candidates for office.

For the US, it’s even easier once you enter your address on this page. You will see the websites and social media of most of your elected representatives. Do some additional research to figure out their emails and any social media that may not be present there (remember, the Google Civic Information API does not provide complete information). Also, don’t forget to figure out candidates for office.

The best thing about entering your address into this page is that those who have easily-available Twitter accounts will have a blue “Twitter” button above and to the right of their picture. When you click on that button, you will send to each one this message: “I took the #ProTruthPledge at https://ProTruthPledge.org/ because I value #truth and #facts and I ask my representative @ [twitter handle] join me in taking @ProTruthPledge and showing that #TruthMatters and #FactsMatter to them.” Here’s an example of how it looks, and below is a video showing you how to do so.

It takes 5 seconds (literally, not figuratively) to send a tweet to each. So take 5 minutes to tweet to all of them, and repeat the same 5 minute tweeting per week. You can easily set up a Twitter account if you don’t have one. Make your voice heard and make a difference – Tweet for Truth now!

Don’t forget to then go through all the other social media channels, website contact form, email, and phone, using the directions here. Also, don’t forget to contact candidates for office: we find that they – not being career politicians – have a much higher likelihood of taking the pledge.

We know these strategies work: a number of public figures have been convinced to take the pledge through reaching out to them on social media. For example, one of our volunteers has described how whenever anyone invites him to “like” a Facebook page from a politician, he asks whether that individual have taken the pledge. After a couple of exchanges back and forth, where he explains the pledge and follows up, about a quarter end up taking the pledge. Imagine what would happen if a quarter of all the politicians whose Facebook pages you were invited to like end up taking the pledge!

Now, you can also meet and pitch public figures in person. Use the script informed by the email templates, along with this blog on how politicians can get maximum benefit from taking the pledge. We also recommend bringing along the information of all the people who have signed the Pro-Truth Pledge in that politician’s region if it’s a regional politician, or country if it’s a national-level politician, since part of signing the pledge involves calling on one’s elected representatives to sign the pledge. We can make that information available to you if you email info [at] protruthpledge [dot] org outside the US, or you can put in the relevant address into this page to get US data.

Ideally, you would also bring along a PTP sign-up binder with some sample signatures, or at least photos of signatures. The binder provides demonstrable proof that signatures were gathered, while the spreadsheet provides the total number of actual signatures.

Note that politicians – or their staff, who you will likely be talking to if it’s a high-level political figure – will likely want you to leave them with some physical presence of the number of people who signed the PTP. What you can do is print out a photograph of one page of a sign-up sheet, as physical proof of signature-gathering, along with printing out the spreadsheet with all the names of the people who signed the PTP in that region or country. You can then leave it with the politician or their staff, along with a flyer with the text of the PTP.

It’s especially good to approach politicians during a candidate’s forum or listening session, as these are specifically designated times for politicians to meet constituents. There, you can ask them publicly in the Q&A about whether they would be willing to take the pledge, and mention that you contacted them before. If you can get someone to videotape you, it’s especially helpful, as in this video that you can use as a guide.

Then for each public figure you contact, fill out this form, and in the “Any relevant notes,” note that you have contacted this person. That way, we can keep a clear track record of the politicians who are contacted, and circle back around to them later, referencing the first contact. It’s really important and helpful to do so in order to ensure successful pitches, so please do help us out on this one!

Conclusion

These are the strategies that got over 100 politicians to take the pledge, including Member of US Congress Beto O’Rourke, as you can see from this video of him taking the pledge. There’s no magic, just people like you reaching out to their political representatives and making the request. So join us in doing so, and let us know any questions or comments you have about this process below!

Pro-Truth Pledge Volunteers of the Month – March 2018

The Pro-Truth Pledge project is a grassroots effort made possible by the efforts of volunteers around the world.

Some of the volunteers focus their efforts on external activities, such as gathering signatures, giving presentations, running local PTP chapters, and otherwise promoting the Pro-Truth Pledge. Other volunteers work behind the scenes assisting with website maintenance, research, data entry, content creation, and a variety of other tasks.

This month we are pleased to acknowledge two volunteers for their contribution to the success of the Pro-Truth Pledge project: Ken Whitaker and Kevin Bavaro. They are great examples of reliability, consistency, flexibility, and teamwork that fuels the Pro-Truth Pledge.

External Volunteer

Ken Whitaker, Utah State Organizer

I volunteer with the Pro-Truth Pledge as the Utah state organizer, concentrating on the Salt Lake City area. I’m mentoring four other, new volunteers from different areas of the world. I’m also part of the PTP Political Cultivation Committee, which is just getting up and running.

What excites me about the Pro-Truth Pledge project is the thought of being able to turn the tide on all the “fake news” and “alternative facts” that seem so rampant these days. I’m excited to be able to get people to sign the pledge and have successfully gotten several candidates to sign it. I’m now very excited to start presenting it to our currently elected officials and really start reversing the impact of lies in our politics.

Internal Volunteer

Kevin Bavaro, Newsletter Coordinator

My volunteer role with the Pro-Truth Pledge is to coordinate the editing and publication of the Pro-Truth Pledge newsletter. It has been exciting to watch the mail list grow from the original few hundred to now well over 5,000 people who have taken the pledge, and I enjoy being able to help communicate the latest news and happenings.

I am excited about the project, and got involved, because I saw an opportunity to support reversing the emphasis on loudness and volume of news, and to return the focus to quality and truth. I used to do both news writing and public relations (mainly in sports) and have not enjoyed seeing the communication of information focus on ratings and income. The project’s engagement of both consumers and sources of information is key to me, and this greater engagement the Pro-Truth Pledge is fostering should help create an improved quality of debate and discussion – both in the US and in my home country, Canada.

PS: If you are interested in joining the Pro-Truth Pledge volunteer team, fill out this form and we’ll be in touch with you soon.

Why Member of US Congress Beto O’Rourke Took the Pro-Truth Pledge

Caption: Photo of Member of US Congress Beto O’Rourke (Wikimedia commons)

Member of US Congress Beto O’Rourke takes the Pro-Truth Pledge, and declares his campaign Pro-Truth in this video.

Why an Iraq War Veteran Took the Pro-Truth Pledge

Caption: Photo of John Kirbow in Northern Afghanistan (Courtesy of John Kirbow)

John Kirbow, a US veteran who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, decided to take the Pro-Truth Pledge, and calls on everyone else to do so. Find out how the pledge impacted him in this blog, and find out why he took the pledge in this video.

Why a Stock Investor Took the Pro-Truth Pledge

Caption: Chart showing growth (geralt/Pixabay)

I’m a self-employed investor. My job involves technically analyzing the price history of a given stock, deciding if I should buy it, and when I should buy it. Once I have made a purchase I must already have planned the entire investment. At this point in my process, I have made a prediction on where the price of this stock is likely to go based on mathematics. If I predict a rise in the price 2 months from now, I can’t abandon my plan if the price goes lower tomorrow. Day-to-day changes alone mean practically nothing in the vast majority of long-term predictions.

Making trades based on mathematics means ignoring emotions. If I have made an investment plan that is mathematically and therefore logically likely to work, then making any changes to it based on fear or greed will result in lowering my chances of being successful. I once lost $700 dollars on a small short-term trade because I sold an ETF too early out of fear. My prediction ended up being correct and I would have made money had I not succumbed to my primal fears. In contrast I’ve made money countless times while following a mathematical prediction, and many of these times I felt certain that the math was wrong once fear set in. It always amazed me that even though I know facts and logic are more important than how I feel when it comes to financial decisions, my emotions still seem to invade my decision making.

In many instances in life the objective truth of a situation can be very counterintuitive. People unknowingly use logical fallacies to make decisions everyday and investing will teach you this the hard way. However, there are easier ways to understand these fallacies we all commit. One very important fallacy to avoid making when investing is the conjunction fallacy. My favorite example of this is a thought experiment created by Tversky and Kahneman in 1983. Here it is:

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. Which is more probable?
• Linda is a bank teller.
• Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

The correct answer is option 1. Statistically speaking, it is more likely that Linda falls into one category (bank teller) than two categories at once (being a bank teller and a feminist). Regardless of this solid logic, 80 percent of participants chose option 2. Even expert statisticians committed this fallacy and chose option 2. Even if we know that option 1 is more probable statistically, we are tempted to pick option 2 because we feel that Linda is a feminist based on her college experience. Instead of going with the safe and logically sound answer that Linda is a bank teller, we are tempted to gamble on the fact that she is both a bank teller and feminist at the same time.

The conjunction fallacy is very dangerous when investing because people will see a stock price move up or down over a week and make long term predictions on where the price will go in the future. Let’s pretend a stock drops a percent or two over the course of a week, they’ll say, “looks like it’s doing bad, I’m not going to invest.” In reality, a week of stock price data is not a large enough sample size to predict what a stock will do over the course of a year or even just a few months. There are too many examples that could be put into this blog for me to list them all. What is important to know is that this fallacy can take hold of your financial decision making based on any correlations you see.

Beyond the monetary value of checking facts, I know how information is crucial to our democracy and that being a part of this society means staying informed. Many dictatorships have started with one or more groups spreading misinformation to insufficiently educated citizens who failed to use rational thinking to determine that these ideas were false.

Like the foolish investors who went with their gut reactions instead of reason, these citizens “bought” worthless falsehoods that appealed to their fear or greed, and “sold” their political support to manipulative politicians. In stock trading, when investors make mistakes about financial facts and go with their gut instead of their reason, only they suffer. Unfortunately, when citizens make mistakes about the political facts and go with their guts, we all suffer.

I don’t want that fate for my society, and neither should any businessman who knows the importance of going with their head over their gut. Because of my professional background, when I heard about the Pro-Truth Pledge project, I took the pledge. Taking the pledge is commiting to fact-check information before you share it, defend others when they share true information (even if you disagree with them), and challenge information that is false. Taking it is sending a signal to all that you care about the facts and don’t want our society to be ruled by manipulative politicians who sell falsehoods.

Now, I call on all who understand the value of believing the facts and not going with your gut even when tempted to do so to go to ProTruthPledge.org, take the pledge, and implement it in all areas of life. Losing money based on illogical thinking is bad enough, losing our entire society to it is even worse.

Bio: Michael DeCandia is the founder, CEO, and CFO of TFIC (The Future Investment Company). He has been an investor and a skeptic for over a decade and volunteers his time to spread rational thinking.

Why Wouldn’t a Business Professional Want to Sign the Pro-Truth Pledge?

Caption: Question mark over picture of money (geralt/Pixabay)

Before ill health forced me into an early retirement, I had spent my professional career (25+ years) working in various sales and marketing roles within the graphic arts and publishing services industry. As in any industry, sales and marketing are the ‘sharp end’ directly facing and communicating with customers, both external and internal. Truth and integrity was essential in all aspects of any transaction. To be otherwise had bad personal and corporate consequences. Making a promise you knew you couldn’t deliver on simply to “get the order” earned both you and your company a loud industry-wide Caveat Emptor and end both careers and companies rapidly.

Now we find ourselves in more of a “post-truth” environment within our society. To address this problem, I took the Pro-Truth Pledge and volunteered to help manage the Pro-Truth Pledge Linkedin Business Group. I have been asked to write a short blog/essay to invite/convince/cajole business professionals into joining us in signing the Pro-Truth Pledge to help get truth back into its rightful place in all business and public discourse. When I agreed to do this I thought “No problem, I’ll knock this out in a couple of hours and post it immediately.” But then I sat down with my laptop and the trouble began.

You see, in order to write a convincing argument in favor of any proposal, you have to have a clear idea of all the negative opposing views to it. Am I right? That’s my dilemma, I’m unable to find a compelling, logical business argument against signing.

Surely to publicly acknowledge and assert support and respect for truth, to ask current and retired members of the business community to recognize this and hold the signer accountable for this assertion, and their truthful future behaviors, has to have tremendous benefit. Doesn’t it? Even in our current “post-truth” environment.

Do you know any business where clients, customers or business associates expect, and are happy with, having the truth withheld from them or distorted in some fashion to give them a disadvantage?

There are excellent studies to confirm the obvious fact no business or business wants “Caveat Emptor” attached to their name. But we all know this to be true.

So as to not beat a dead horse I go back to my dilemma and ask a simple question. Why wouldn’t a business professional want to sign the Pro-Truth Pledge once they become aware of it and then tell all their clients and business associates they’ve done so?

You can sign the Pro-Truth Pledge by using this link www.pro-truthpledge.org

Starting a Pro-Truth Pledge Chapter

Caption: Image of red figure as leader of group (nistdh/Flickr)

Are you excited about the Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP) and interested in starting your own chapter? Awesome! Let’s talk about how to be an area organizer for the PTP.

Goals

All the chapters start from a single seed of a passionate person dedicated to fighting misinformation and post-truth politics. You will be recruiting and coordinating others to ensure the outcomes of the Pro-Truth Pledge are met, namely that:

  • The PTP is effectively promoted to the public, getting more and more people to sign
  • There is effective lobbying of public figures, especially politicians, to get them to sign
  • There is effective evaluation of local-level public figures who signed the pledge
  • There are effective behind-the-scenes activities needed to support activities on the local level, such as management of communication processes and collaboration venues, and community support for PTP activities
  • There is sufficient financial support to address the needs of the local group for things like printing, travel, tabling, and marketing, and also donations to the global Pro-Truth movement run by the educational nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit Intentional Insights to run the central operations of the PTP
  • There is effective coordination of all the areas of PTP activity listed above

Sounds like a lot, right? Don’t worry, it takes a lot of time – many months and even years – to build up to the level of a full-fledged chapter that accomplishes all these goals! However, it’s good to know the eventual destination, so that you know where you’re going. It’s also helpful to know that others have already gotten there – for example the Central Ohio chapter – so you have a clear roadmap to follow.

There are clear guidelines for all aspects of PTP activism at this link, so you don’t have to worry about lacking directions. You should also read through and be comfortable with the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to address any concerns. Of course, the central PTP organizers – the PTP Central Coordination Committee (CCC) – will be there to help you every step of the way. If you do decide to take on this role, you will be assigned both a mentor from among more experienced PTP area organizers, and a contact at the PTP CCC who will help you out.

Role and Timing

The role of an area organizer is to empower and support other PTP Advocates – which is the name we use for PTP volunteers – in effective collaboration to advance all aspects of the PTP project. You as an area organizer are accountable for the outcomes of the 6 areas of PTP activities listed above. To do so, we find that seeing yourself as a leader enacting the following behaviors is really helpful:

  • Inspiring people to volunteer and donate by communicating first about the problems that the PTP is solving, sharing successes, and then letting them know about the needs of the group
  • Finding a good fit for the ones who start to get involved in the various activities available
  • Helping those who get involved work together well by setting up clear communication processes and collaborative venues
  • Encouraging shared expectations and sticking to commitments, and renegotiation of commitments and expectations when life stuff comes up
  • Modeling the behaviors of the Pro-Truth Pledge both in-person and on social media (for the latter, follow all the guidelines in this blog)
  • Modeling direct and transparent communication, erring on the side of an overabundance of communication rather than insufficient communication
  • Exhibiting emotional and social intelligence to read people and channel their enthusiasm and other emotions into healthy channels
  • Addressing conflicts that will arise in an effective and healthy manner
  • Providing an engaging community setting: doing fun things together, in-person and online; getting to know each other socially; building a truth-oriented community where people can find a home
  • Being a cheerleader for accomplishments, and giving due praise

Remember that you will be organizing people who have very different values than you do. Whether you are religious or secular, left-leaning or right-leaning, or any other ideological perspective, you will be bringing together people to work on a shared project of advocating for truth-oriented behaviors in addressing value differences. That means that you yourself need to model an inclusive and welcoming attitude for people with different values, and be especially welcoming and inclusive toward people with values different from your own and also those whose values are in the minority in your group. Doing so will be key to helping these people both be engaged in the Pro-Truth movement and as a result reach out to their social networks and communicate the Pro-Truth message to people who hold similar values and change the culture in our society.

It takes a minimal commitment of 2 hours a week for 12 months to build up a chapter, with more on some weeks depending on what’s going on, so keep that in mind as you decide whether to go on this journey.

Caption: Image saying “not sure if I’m ready to make that sort of commitment” (Meme created by blog author)

Fortunately, you don’t have to make a solid commitment to starting up a chapter. You can just start by canvassing to gather signatures or doing public speaking, which are the two main methods of recruiting other participants. This takes a much lower commitment of time and effort, and if you are not ready to make a 2-hour commitment for 12 months, just work on canvassing and/or doing public speaking.

Financial Support

Let’s talk about giving you money! If you or any of the people you are coordinating have financial difficulties for any PTP-related needs, we can reimburse the large majority of them. See this link. For area organizers like yourself, we will consider additional requests for funding for your needs above and beyond the ones listed above, just email finance [at] intentionalinsights [dot] org with your needs and depending on our financial capacity, we will see what can be done.

This is one of the reasons for why eventually – when the group is well-established and self-supporting – there’s an expectation of members making donations to the central PTP organization. We finance any PTP Advocates – whether area organizers or not – who need financial support for PTP activism. We also spend money on marketing, website management, and other costs. So as you do area organizing, encourage members to donate both to local group needs and to the central PTP organization.

Plan of Action

Here’s the plan of action for starting up your area group.

  • As an area organizer, you’d want to do activities that are most impactful, which means moving as quickly as possible in coordinating other people and doing strategic planning, rather than doing ground-level activities (however much fun those might be for you).
  • You’ll start off by first getting signatures: in our experience, at least 20 percent of the people who sign up indicate they want to help, and about 20 percent of those turn out to be reliable and consistent volunteers. Here is a blog with thorough directions for gathering signatures at events through canvassing or tabling. Another way to gather signatures is to do public speaking, and gather signatures from audience members: this blog gives extensive directions on doing so.
  • You can also do local-level social media, and go to various local Facebook groups and other relevant social media to promote the PTP there. You can write blogs in local venues or letters-to-the-editor in local newspapers about the pledge. This will help spread the word in the local area, but not contribute much to building up a chapter. Face-to-face interactions are crucial for doing so.
  • A super-easy way to promote the pledge in daily life is to purchase and wear PTP-themed merchandise, especially when you do PTP-themed activities, but also just out and about – it’s a great conversation starter.
  • Once you gather enough signatures, you would want to focus on coordinating people in their volunteer activities, decreasing your own time doing ground-level activities. Once you have about 5 people in the area interested in the PTP, start organizing meetings: here’s one typical videotaped meeting with an agenda attached in the video description that comes from the early stage of setting up an area group.
  • We suggest you focus these volunteers first on gathering more signatures, enough to form a solid core team in your area of about 20-30 consistent volunteers. At the same time, you’ll want to form a coordinating committee, of about 3-5 people, who can each take charge of different areas of PTP activities and work together to coordinate other volunteers. As you start having increased numbers of people participating, check out these guidelines to help you lead effectively.
  • Once you gather at least 250 signatures, and get a person who is able to take charge of lobbying, you will be ready to start lobbying local-level elected or appointed officials and other public figures in your locale to take the pledge, using the guidelines here. Of course, you can do virtual lobbying earlier, through sending them emails and tweeting them and sending Facebook messages and calling them, but do not take the time to meet them in-person until you have gathered 250 signatures as they will be unlikely to listen to you.
  • In lobbying public officials, we advise you to start with candidates for office rather than office-holders, as the candidates will be more likely to take the pledge, since they have less to lose by doing so. Once a candidate for office takes the pledge, you can then go to incumbents and tell them that the candidate for office took it, and you also have a lot of signatures from their constituents asking them to take it, and see if they take it. After you get a dozen or so public figures signed up, you will want to establish a monitoring system, following the directions at this link.
  • Try to set up collaborations with local groups interested in the PTP, which would usually be various kinds of grassroots political or civic education or science-themed activism groups. Ask leaders in those groups to take the PTP, and get the whole group committed to the PTP, and they will then help you advance the PTP message. Also coordinate with local branches of national organizations.
  • Please make sure that, within any ordinary situation, you will respond to emails or Facebook messages about the PTP within 48 hours, and to texts or voicemails within 24 hours. It’s fine to respond saying “I got your message and will respond by ____,” so that the other person knows that you are accountable to get back to them in that time. As we are trying to promote truth and accountability, it is really important to be accountable as area organizers. Of course, emergencies come up, and that’s totally understandable. Still, if it is not an emergency and you are traveling or on vacation, please indicate that through email vacation auto-responders or something of that style. Be as professional and accountable in your activism as you can be, both to internal stakeholders such as members of the pro-truth movement, and external stakeholders who want to learn more about the movement.

Communication and Coordination

Let’s talk a bit about communication and coordination.

  • If you want to be an area organizer, please email info [at] protruthpledge [dot] org, and you will be connected both to an experienced area organizer as a mentor and an Area Organizers Coordinator on the PTP CCC.
  • Make sure to meet with your mentor once every 2 weeks for 6 months by videoconference or phone to help you get launched on your own.
  • Please join the PTP Area Organizers Google Group, our email list for area organizers like yourself. Just click on the link in the previous sentence and request to join the group if you haven’t been added to it already by one of the core organizers. Add the email pro-truth-pledge-area-organizers@googlegroups.com to your safe senders/contact list.
  • You will be added to the secret Facebook group for PTP Area Organizers. Since it is secret, you can’t join yourself, but let the person who recruited you know if they forget to add you in a timely manner. You will also get an invitation to the Pro-Truth Pledge Slack for core PTP participants like yourself.
  • You should use the Slack and secret Facebook group for things that you only want core participants to comment on and know. For example, if you’re planning out things that might be perceived as controversial, such as how to put pressure on public figures to take the PTP, these are good venues to do so. So are things that require more privacy, such as discussing how to push someone to retract a statement, or how to address problems with other PTP Advocates in your group, and so on. Another good use of these groups is to troubleshoot or run ideas by a small core group rather than the bigger and less in-the-know people in the PTP Global Advocates FB group. For asking questions on PTP strategy and tactics that are of a more general nature, as well to share accomplishments, the PTP Advocates FB group is your best bet. If you want to share relevant articles that are not about the pledge but about politics in general, use the InIn Insiders group. In general, anything that has to do with the pledge is best for the Pro-Truth Pledge Advocates FB group, so make sure that anything you post there is explicitly related to the pledge. The other group is for broader content related to truth and rational thinking, in politics and other life areas.
  • Each month at the end of the month, please fill out this brief update form (5-10 minutes) about your activities for the past month fighting lies and promoting truth via advancing the PTP to ensure shared expectations and clear communication. It will be sent to you in the Google Group for PTP area organizers (pro-truth-pledge-area-organizers@googlegroups.com) and also via FB. That form allows you to share what you are doing, what challenges you might be facing, and how the PTP CCC can help, whether providing you with existing resources you might not know about or develop new resources to address your needs. Please fill it out within 3 days of receipt (might want to just put a calendar reminder for yourself with a link to that form if that works well for you). After you fill it out, the PTP CCC Area Organizers Coordinator will send you names of people who signed up to help with the PTP in your area over the past month, and provide you with helpful resources, both based on your self-description of your activities and plans, and on your specific request for resources (sometimes, area organizers may be unfamiliar with all the resources available, which is why your description of your past activities and future plans is relevant for the resources section). If you due to some life events have not had an opportunity to work much on the PTP in the last month, or anticipate not being able to work on it much in the upcoming month, simply state so in the form.
  • After you get the list of names of people who signed up to help with the PTP in your area over the past month, reach out to them using following this draft template, adapting it to your own needs. Make a reminder to yourself to follow up with them in a week after you sent the original email, using FollowUpThen (simply add 1w@fut.io in your BCC field).
  • Likewise, try to find them on Facebook. We know that some people don’t like Facebook, but we strongly recommend you use Facebook as an organizing tool, so if you currently do not have a Facebook account, please set one up for this explicit purpose, as it’s very effective for that purpose, and encourage PTP Advocates in your locale to do so as well. You can find them on FB (if they have an account) relatively easily: just go to the Facebook search box, and put in their first and last name and state. If you find more than one person with that name in the state, then you can search by city. We recommend not searching by city right away, because some people’s actual city may not match their city on Facebook: for example, people may live in a small suburb of a large city, but indicate on Facebook that they live in the large city for clarity. If you’re relatively confident you found the right person, then send them a message saying “Thanks for taking the Pro-Truth Pledge at https://www.protruthpledge.org/ I’m an area organizer for [area], and wanted to connect on Facebook to facilitate communication and collaboration. Please extend me a Facebook friend request.” If you’re not sure that you found the right person, send a message saying “Did you take the Pro-Truth Pledge at https://www.protruthpledge.org/ ? I’m an area organizer for [area], and wanted to connect on Facebook to facilitate communication and collaboration. Please extend me a Facebook friend request if you did take the pledge.”
  • If you know the person and are connected with them on Facebook or elsewhere, send the email just using their first name instead of first name and last name: the point of this email is to welcome them and give them the background knowledge about the movement. If they don’t respond in a week, check in with a message like, “Dear [first name, last name], wanted to confirm you received my previous email about the Pro-Truth Pledge, and that it did not fall into your spam filter. Thanks!”
  • For folks who you connected with by FB, check with them additionally by FB messenger whether they received your email. If they don’t respond in a week after that, try contacting them from another email address, in case the spam filter blocked your original one. After that, contact them by phone if you have it, texting “Hi [first name, last name], checking whether you got my email about the Pro-Truth Pledge,” and if they don’t respond, then calling and leaving a voicemail. At that stage, if you don’t get a response, let it go.
  • One of your roles as area organizer will be to manage the area Facebook group: please act as the group moderator (role described here). If there is no Facebook group for your area, get in touch with your PTP Area Organizers Coordinator to have one created. We usually make groups for states within the US and countries outside the US: once there are enough people in a country outside the US, we make regional-level groups. One of the things you’ll want to do eventually is delegate some moderator activities to others: you’ll still be accountable for making sure they’re done, so check up to make sure the person is doing them well. We find people tend to have an unfortunate tendency of forgetting to do the tasks described there. To see how a more established FB group works, join the Ohio PTP Advocates FB group – click on the link and request to join the group, and in the answer to question 3, say that you are an area organizer, and want to see how a more established group works. After the group is set up, then add all participants in your locale to it following the directions at this link.
  • After you have enough people in your area (over 100), we recommend that you use these directions to set up a Google Group, which is essentially a simplified email list, for your area dedicated to PTP-oriented activities. This is for when you have a few people actively involved, so that you don’t just keep emailing each other. Name it [area] Pro-Truth Pledge Advocates, which will help people standardize things well across the country. For the group description and welcome message, we advise something like “Thanks for helping fight lies and promote the truth through joining this email list, which is focused on the Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP) and other Pro-Truth movement activities in [area]. You are welcome to send any emails relevant to PTP organizing in this list, but please avoid overwhelming folks with an overabundance of emails, so send no more than one every three days unless there’s an emergency or great opportunity. Thanks!” When adding people, use “direct add” rather than invitations, as sometimes invitations go to spam. For settings, allow everyone to send emails to the list at first, until you have too many people sending emails, and at that time, put in moderation so that people don’t become overwhelmed: a good benchmark is a maximum of 1 email every 2 days, but check with your email list members by having them fill out a poll occasionally on their experience with the list. Also, make it so users choose where to send replies, to the list as a whole or to the individual who sent the original email. Please also join the Ohio PTP Advocates Google Group – click on the link and request to join the group – to see how an established group works.
  • Also, we recommend that you create a Google Docs folder with various documents relevant to your group, such as lists of volunteers, various events where you want to gather signatures, various public figures in your local area you want to target, and so on – here is an example of one such Google Docs folder for the Central Ohio PTP group. This allows group members to collaborate together effectively.
  • One of the early tasks to do for your group is to get people to find local events to get PTP signatures. An easy way to do so is to create a Google Form like this one, provide it to your group members, and have them find events. Then, you can coordinate people in attending these events. Remember, try to do everything you can to lower barriers for them and make organizing as easy as possible
  • Once your group gets large enough to have a coordinating group of organizers, consider creating a FB message thread or separate Google Group specifically for the organizers in your locale.
  • Once your Facebook Group and Google Group is going, it’s time to create an Area Facebook Page (guidelines here) and Area Twitter Account (guidelines here). Doing so is important for providing you with credibility and public visibility. Do not feel obliged to take on doing this task yourself if you have more important priorities or lack time, instead find volunteers who are excited about doing these. Focus first on large areas, to encompass states or countries, and only later moving down to cities as support builds up.
  • For guidance on creating a Facebook Group, Google Group, Google Folder, Google Form, Facebook Page, Twitter Account, or anything like that, talk to your mentor or PTP CCC coordinator.

We strongly recommend that you offer to meet with people individually to help get them oriented, either in-person or online, and once you have more than a couple of people actively involved, set up a regular meeting once a month dedicated to advancing the PTP in your locale. While not all will become actively involved in meetings and signature-gathering, those who do will spread the PTP through their social networks, do research, lobby politicians, donate, and so on. It’s really important to try to do at least one face-to-face meeting – virtual or videoconference – to get them involved with this project. Also, don’t worry about being overwhelmed with meetings as a result of sending out emails. Our experience is that only about a third of the people you email will end up meeting with you, and it will take many weeks for some to do so, so you have plenty of time to space it out.

Conclusion

Being an area organizer of a local chapter is perhaps the most important thing you can do with your time to advance the fight against misinformation and post-truth politics. We will gladly support your efforts. Please let us know how we can help!