Posted on August 24, 2018 by staff

Misinformation will be ‘death of democracy’


The rising tide of misinformation could signal the death of democracy unless something happens to change it says Pro-Truth Pledge co-founder Gleb Tsipursky.

The idea for the pledge came when Tsipursky and his co-founders Fabio Votta and James Mulick saw the extensive amount of misinformation spread during the Brexit referendum and 2016 US presidential election.

They realised existing efforts such as fact-checkers were no longer working, and decided to put their backgrounds in behavioural science to try and encourage people to be more truthful, so created something with clear guidelines that people could sign and be publicly accountable for.

“If something doesn’t change the future is much darker than simply the death of the media – it’s the death of democracy,” Tsipursky told BusinessCloud.

“As its basis are citizens being accurately informed about what’s going on in the real world. Right now we have clear evidence they are believing misinformation.”

Tsipursky says studies show misinformation spreads as much as 10 times faster than truth on social media and that people believe about 75 per cent of the misinformation they hear.

However, he has found that taking the pledge significantly reduces the sharing of misinformation in the 84 organisations, 628 government officials and 844 public figures that have signed so far.

So, how far do you need to go when it comes to fact checking? It all depends on the reliability of the source, says Tsipursky.

“Someone that has provided credible information for a long time – like the Guardian or the New York Times – doesn’t really need to be fact checked because you can expect they have good standards,” he said.

“If you’re working with a less established venue or blogger and they don’t have a long term reputation of being credible you’ll want to fact check it. If there’s something your friend shares online, that’s another thing to fact check.”

Tsipursky says one of the nice things about the pledge is that people who take it are held accountable by the public, as anyone can complain to the organisation if they feel a member isn’t upholding the pledge’s standards.

This raises the reputation of the signatory, immediately making them more credible sources themselves

So far the team has only had one organisation pulled up for violating the pledge, however a number of figures have retracted or amended statements after signing up.

“When a complaint is brought forward the person isn’t automatically kicked off, it’s about whether they can resolve it effectively,” said Tsipursky.

“First we investigate and sometimes complaints aren’t valid. If they are, we go to the public figures.”

Knowing no conversation around fake news couldn’t go on for long without the mention of a certain public figure, Tsipursky gives an example of Congress candidate for Idaho Michael Smith. Smith shared a tweet allegedly by Donald Trump saying disabled children don’t belong in the classroom.

“It was widely shared so we checked Trump’s Twitter but it wasn’t in his feed,” he said.

“Either Trump deleted it – which is possible – or it was photo-shopped to look like his feed, which is possible.”

In light of this, Smith edited his post to say that due to the pledge he’d taken he could no longer verify that it was a real tweet.

“That’s the kind of outcome we want – celebrating those who retract incorrect statements and update their beliefs toward the truth,” said Tsipursky.

The team now wants to see other interventions that also use behavioural science to help champion truth. In everyday life, people must watch the information they share, both online and in their personal conversations, says Tsipursky.

“People pass on rumours, conspiracy theories and things that aren’t true when they say ‘I’ve heard this’,” he said.

“They hear something from a friend and take it as credible and the same thing happens on social media. We forget the source.”