John Palfrey: I’m going to turn it over to my comod­er­a­tor of this ses­sion and our cohost from the Center for Civic Media, their Executive Director Ethan Zuckerman. As he’s set­ting up just one note of thanks to Urs in par­tic­u­lar, which is one thing I’ve learned a lot from you over the years has been the way of see­ing this ques­tion of infor­ma­tion qual­i­ty or cred­i­bil­i­ty or truth not so much as a sta­t­ic thing but as a mat­ter of process. A process not just also of eval­u­at­ing infor­ma­tion but the cre­at­ing of it and the cre­at­ing of the archi­tec­tures around it. And it seems to me you’ve real­ly pulled togeth­er a lot of the learn­ing from today into that frame­work and expand­ed it extreme­ly help­ful­ly. Over to you, Ethan.

Ethan Zuckerman: Sure. Well, I want­ed to take advan­tage of the fact that the time at the front of this room is so scarce. I was going to seize a cou­ple of min­utes of it and offer my reflec­tion on what’s going on and then do my best to open this up to get more peo­ple around the table.

It’s an inter­est­ing moment for me because this is one of the first events that I’m help­ing orga­nize with Berkman now from the MIT per­spec­tive. And I have to say since mov­ing over to MIT after eight years at the Berkman Center, every­body wants to know about cul­ture shock mov­ing between insti­tu­tions. Everybody I think is con­vinced that every­one at Harvard is wear­ing a suit 247. That we move into like rope san­dals and t‑shirts as soon as we take two sub­way stops fur­ther down—everybody wants to know the cul­tur­al difference. 

But I actu­al­ly am start­ing to fig­ure out what the cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences actu­al­ly are. And I think one of the cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences is that when we take on the sorts of ques­tions we’re deal­ing with here, the approach of an orga­ni­za­tion like the Berkman Center tends to be to try to fig­ure out can we find a sys­temic way to think about this prob­lem? And I think Urs has just put up a real­ly help­ful sys­tem that we can start using to think about the var­i­ous dif­fer­ent prob­lems that come up around this gen­er­al sense of truth and truthiness. 

What’s great about these large sys­tems is that they can inform the way that we end up design­ing tools. And we can try to get a very thor­ough view of an issue and then fig­ure out how to inter­vene. That, as I’m find­ing out, is not a very MIT way of doing things. 

The MIT way of doing things, near as I can tell, is to say the sys­tem will come to us even­tu­al­ly. What we real­ly need to start with are small exper­i­ments. And we should try an exper­i­ment that we can try over the course of a week, or a month, or cer­tain­ly with­in the con­text of a mas­ter’s the­sis. And we should see whether that gets us any­where. And if it gets us any­where we should keep ham­mer­ing on that and even­tu­al­ly we’ll get to the place that we want to be.

The trick with this method, as I’m find­ing, is that you have to fig­ure out which prob­lems are tractable. So when you’re look­ing at some­thing as big as these ques­tions of ver­i­fi­a­bil­i­ty, truth, truthi­ness, dis­in­for­ma­tion, so on and so forth, I find myself now try­ing to pick apart the ques­tions we talked about this morn­ing from the per­spec­tive of tractabil­i­ty. So let me use that to sort of frame a cou­ple of the con­ver­sa­tions we’ve had and then a cou­ple of things that haven’t come up, and then see if I can sort of push us for­ward a lit­tle bit into where we go this afternoon.

A few of the peo­ple who were around the table here today were at a gath­er­ing at the New America foun­da­tion a few months back. And it was a con­ver­sa­tion about fact-checking. It was a great con­fer­ence. It was real­ly a good deal of fun. And what was inter­est­ing— It’s under Chatham House Rule so I can’t actu­al­ly cred­it any of the bright peo­ple who said any­thing there, I can just tell you won­der­ful things were said by won­der­ful people. 

But one of the won­der­ful things that was said by a won­der­ful per­son was talk­ing about fact-checking using a par­tic­u­lar­ly gory metaphor. And the metaphor was that mis­in­for­ma­tion gets out there, it’s like being shot. And so far what we know how to do is come in three or four days after the fact and try to ban­dage up some­one’s wounds, right. 

So we go through a polit­i­cal speech, we go through a debate. Someone says some­thing that’s bla­tant­ly untrue. It cir­cu­lates in the media for a while. Three or four days lat­er some­one comes in with a fact-check and we’re basi­cal­ly try­ing to staunch the bleed­ing of all of those var­i­ous harms that are out there from the dis­in­for­ma­tion that allow us through moti­vat­ed rea­son­ing, through cher­ry pick­ing rea­son­ing, to pick the facts we want to make our arguments.

And the thought was maybe we could do slight­ly bet­ter. Maybe we could get to the point we’ve got a bul­let­proof vest. This isn’t actu­al­ly bul­let­proof, it isn’t why I wear it, but you can imag­ine sort of the bul­let­proof vest for truth would try to sit there per­haps in your web brows­er, per­haps on your TV. And when that bad infor­ma­tion came out there, it would jump up, it would block you, you’d still get hit, you might get a bruise, but you would­n’t bleed. You know, the infor­ma­tion would some­how get coun­tered very ear­ly on, with­in it. What I found real­ly inter­est­ing about this con­ver­sa­tion is that no one took the metaphor any fur­ther and sort of said, maybe we could dis­suade peo­ple from shoot­ing in the first place. You know, could we get peo­ple to stop say­ing obvi­ous mistruths? 

And that appears to be in the realm at the moment, in cur­rent polit­i­cal cli­mate, cur­rent media cli­mate, well with­in the realm of the intractable. That the notion that some­how call­ing out dis­in­for­ma­tion and sham­ing does­n’t have the pow­er that we once thought it did. And that may change our sense for what are pos­si­ble inter­ven­tions with­in this space. Those inter­ven­tions may be then try­ing to fig­ure out how to counter that mis­in­for­ma­tion before it does the dam­age that it oth­er­wise would do. But then we need to ask our­selves the ques­tion do we want to give up on the func­tion of sham­ing that ear­ly on with­in it?

When I talk about tractabil­i­ty it’s real­ly about ques­tions like that. It’s try­ing to fig­ure out where in that line would we like to go. I’ve been a lit­tle sur­prised, giv­en the inter­na­tion­al expe­ri­ence of some of the peo­ple in this room how US—centric and par­tic­u­lar­ly how left/right a lot of this con­ver­sa­tion has been today.

And I want to go back to a com­ment made by my friend and col­league Ivan Sigal, who point­ed out that it can be a very dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stance to sort of think through the process of fact-checking when you actu­al­ly have facts to start with. When you have reporters on the ground, when you have events that are fair­ly eas­i­ly deci­phered. For peo­ple like me who do a lot of work in the cit­i­zen media space, we are still try­ing to fig­ure out the impli­ca­tions of the Amina Arraf sto­ry. Who knows what I’m talk­ing about when I say Amina Arraf?” It’s bet­ter than most rooms but it’s enough that I should actu­al­ly tell you the sto­ry real­ly quickly.

Amina Arraf was an incred­i­bly pop­u­lar blog­ger in Syria. An amaz­ing sto­ry. Incredibly brave young woman. An out les­bian in Damascus, writ­ing in English, about her expe­ri­ences liv­ing in that city about the ear­ly stages of the Syrian resis­tance. Amazing fig­ure. Major news­pa­pers came, did inter­views with her. You know, every­one start­ed read­ing this blog. It real­ly rose to promi­nence quite quickly—the only prob­lem behind it was that it was writ­ten by a 40 year-old dude from Georgia named Tom McMaster. And he had care­ful­ly con­struct­ed, over the course of years, an online iden­ti­ty that allowed him to have his voice heard” because as a middle-aged white guy no one ever took him seri­ous­ly and obvi­ous­ly he was­n’t very well-represented in the media. So by becom­ing a Syrian les­bian, he would have the chance to be heard in a way that he would­n’t be before. And as peo­ple start­ed look­ing at this it turned out that most of the peo­ple who had met Amina Arraf also turned out to be white dudes pre­tend­ing to be les­bians, lead­ing a com­men­ta­tor on the sit­u­a­tion to look at this and say it’s fake les­bians all the way down.

And the prob­lem with this was not just the con­struct of fake les­bians sort of rein­forc­ing this guy’s attempt to speak on behalf of the Syrian peo­ple. It was that we were so des­per­ate for per­spec­tives from the ground, from Syria at this par­tic­u­lar point in time, that media orga­ni­za­tions that should have known bet­ter were extreme­ly recep­tive to lis­ten­ing to this par­tic­u­lar voice.

Now, again, when we deal with the realm of intractabil­i­ty, we deal with the dif­fi­cul­ty of the fact that you have a geno­ci­dal regime try­ing to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly kill off their peo­ple, that’s fig­ured out that killing off jour­nal­ists is a real­ly good way to keep this going. That’s prob­a­bly not a prob­lem we can solve with­in this room. But fig­ur­ing out how we cross-source, and fig­ur­ing out how we try to find iden­ti­ties that arise sur­pris­ing­ly quick­ly and that we should have cer­tain sus­pi­cions about, is a place we might find our­selves able to try to design and devel­op and deploy some tools.

So, for me the bad news of this morn­ing is how many of these prob­lems, for me, prob­a­bly fall into that intractable side of things. I think a lot of what we’re talk­ing about, whether it’s the influ­ence of mon­ey in politics—as much as I love my friend Larry Lessig I’m not tremen­dous­ly con­fi­dent that we’re going to strike at the root, cer­tain­ly by 2012. But it also strikes me that what we’ve got­ten this morn­ing is an incred­i­bly hope­ful set of tractable ques­tions that have come out of all of this. Little exper­i­ments that we can actu­al­ly try in the world and try to have a sense of whether or not they have an impact.

I look at Kathleen Jamieson, whose exper­i­ment with FlackCheck lit­er­al­ly says can we take on some­thing that seems total­ly intractable, which is basi­cal­ly false speech and fear­mon­ger­ing with­in polit­i­cal adver­tis­ing, but can we try a clever way to have a point of lever­age and actu­al­ly see if we might have an effect on how many of these ads actu­al­ly air, or don’t air. We should have some notion by the end of the 2012 cycle about to what extent that works or does­n’t work.

So what I’m real­ly hop­ing we can start doing for this after­noon is start shift­ing a lit­tle bit from the big ques­tions, and par­tic­u­lar­ly shift­ing from the intracta­bles, and start­ing to put for­ward ques­tions that we might be able to test out. And when I say test out I mean test out exper­i­men­tal­ly. Where we’re hop­ing to go tomor­row, on this hack day which we’ll talk a lit­tle bit more about in the con­clu­sion, it’s not real­ly a tra­di­tion­al hack day. A tra­di­tion­al hack day is a lot of guys like Gilad Lotan who write code in their sleep sit­ting down with a data set and try­ing to build some new tools around it. And we just don’t have enough Gilads to go around for tomorrow.

What we do have, which is an amaz­ing asset, is we have a whole bunch of peo­ple com­ing from some very very dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, who are think­ing real­ly hard and deeply about these issues, who can come togeth­er and think through some of these design chal­lenges. What is a ques­tion that we want to test in this space of truth and truthi­ness? How would we set up an exper­i­ment to test it, either by orga­niz­ing and try­ing to con­duct some­thing in the real world like an email and a Twitter cam­paign, or by try­ing to build some tools that take us there?

So, the way that we’re going to end up start­ing that con­ver­sa­tion, and the direc­tion that I’m hop­ing that we can start shift­ing the frame of this dis­cus­sion, is to try to think through those small, tractable ques­tions. And just to give you a cou­ple exam­ples of ones that have come up this morn­ing. You know, Fil Menczer’s basi­cal­ly ask­ing, are there net­work sig­na­tures that can tell us when some­one is a bot and when some­one is human? Great ques­tions come around this. Does it mat­ter if you’re a paid polit­i­cal activist and you say the same thing time after time again? Is is actu­al­ly any dif­fer­ent from being a bot? But it is the sort of ques­tion that we can put out and test.

You know, when Susan Crawford opens with this amaz­ing sto­ry about being able to fig­ure out who killed the news­pa­per sell­er in the London riots, it’s an open ques­tion about whether there are cer­tain fac­tu­al ques­tions where we can imme­di­ate­ly open it up to crowd­sourc­ing and try to find infor­ma­tion that does­n’t exist there. 

So the chal­lenge that I want to put forth is let’s take the big ideas, let’s get it down to small­er ques­tions. Let’s start work­ing through the frame of what we’re going to do tomor­row, which is fig­ur­ing out actu­al­ly how we test out those ques­tions. So in par­tic­u­lar if you have some way of tak­ing the amaz­ing mate­r­i­al that’s been put in front of us and putting it in the realm of ques­tions that we want to see answered, this is a great time to come and grab the pre­cious mic time at this con­fer­ence. So hands up if you want to jump in. Please. And intro­duce your­self first.

Audience 1: So I want under­score the sham­ing point that you were mak­ing, and just say that we’ve prob­a­bly under­em­pha­sized the role of elites here. It’s much eas­i­er to—potentially at least—to stop these things from start­ing than it is to undo the dam­age once it’s been made. And in par­tic­u­lar, this sham­ing may have a sec­ond order effect where the elites antic­i­pate the sham­ing and then are less like­ly to pro­duce the mis­in­for­ma­tion in the first place. Now, the ques­tion, though, is to think about what smaller-scale ver­sions of the sham­ing could be imple­ment­ed in a con­text like tomor­row. So that’s what I would be inter­est­ed in peo­ple’s thoughts on.

Ethan Zuckerman: So there’s a great poten­tial exper­i­ment, micro-shaming.

John Palfrey: Right.

Zuckerman: Is there some sort of social inter­ven­tion we can try, where we can fig­ure out whether sham­ing is effec­tive even if it does­n’t make it to the front page of The New York Times or if it does­n’t make it onto PolitiFact.

Palfrey: I sus­pect it’s hap­pen­ing, but any­body putting that in 140 char­ac­ters and putting it on #truthicon, we may get some answers from the crowd as well. 

Kathleen Hall Jamieson: On flackcheck​.org we’re giv­ing stinkweeds to reporters who air ads uncor­rect­ed, and we’re giv­ing orchids to those who hold con­sul­tants and can­di­dates account­able for their mis­lead­ing state­ments and ads. We know that peo­ple search their own names on the Web. We assume that they’re going to find that they’ve got­ten stinkweeds or orchids. And we think as a result that they are less like­ly to air ads uncor­rect­ed and more like­ly to hold them account­able is a testable hypoth­e­sis. Go look at our stinkweeds and orchids, after you’ve emailed your stations.

Zuckerman: And testa­bil­i­ty on this may have to do with whether you start get­ting hate mail from reporters com­ing in and say­ing, How do I get rid of that stinkweed next to my name?” Which is often a sign that you’re in the right direction. 

Melanie Sloan: Melanie Sloan from CREW. I have to say I’m real­ly skep­ti­cal of this whole con­cept of sham­ing in gen­er­al. I think sham­ing has real­ly lost its pow­er. And you can see that by the fact that every­body in America gets a sec­ond act no mat­ter what ter­ri­ble thing they’ve done. Including like a New York Times reporter who pla­gia­rizes every­thing. So I find it hard to imag­ine that peo­ple involved in PR… Like, Berman’s been exposed before for stuff and he’s not ashamed in any way, shape, or form. He just does it again. So I don’t actu­al­ly think— And unless there’s some stud­ies that show that this real­ly works, giv­en how our soci­ety has moved in a way that shame seems to be far more ephemer­al, that does­n’t seem that use­ful to me.

Zuckerman: So, you’ll remember—

Palfrey: You start­ed it. I saw a ton of hands go up.

Zuckerman: I put shame on the table as an intractable rather than a tractable. We can cer­tain­ly go back and forth on this one. Mike.

Audience 4: A cou­ple things. One is I agree with Melanie in terms of at least my world, which is pol­i­tics, polit­i­cal con­sult­ing. Shaming does­n’t work except on a mass scale. You have to get to crit­i­cal mass. You have to get to a cer­tain lev­el of inten­si­ty before sham­ing works, because just expos­ing peo­ple for being frauds does­n’t do any­thing to them in the world pol­i­tics. Unless it’s become so big that they start to be affect­ed by it polit­i­cal­ly, economically.

Rush Limbaugh’s a clas­sic exam­ple. Rush Limbaugh has been doing his schtick for years, say­ing hor­ri­ble things about all kinds of peo­ple. It did­n’t get to crit­i­cal mass until this last week. And when it got to crit­i­cal mass the adver­tis­ers start­ed going away and he start­ed to have to back­track. But it took such a lev­el of inten­si­ty before that happened.

One oth­er com­ment I want­ed to make that I think is impor­tant in all of this whether it’s sham­ing or any­thing else. In my view bla­tant mis­truth is less of a prob­lem than the the old say­ing about… Well, I don’t know. That old say­ing does­n’t real­ly apply. But I guess my thought is that I wor­ry less about bla­tant mis­truths because most polit­i­cal con­sul­tants, most PR peo­ple, try to avoid being bla­tant­ly wrong on the facts because they know they’ll be exposed fair­ly fast, either through crowds or through fact-checkers or what­ev­er. It’s the folks who throw out facts that are com­plete­ly out of con­text or com­plete­ly… They may have a fact and have twen­ty facts con­tra­dict it but you know, it does­n’t mat­ter. And that’s a much trick­i­er and maybe close to intractable prob­lem to solve. 

Zuckerman: So, I should point out once again that my point was­n’t real­ly meant to be an advo­ca­cy of sham­ing. For all the sham­ing com­ments I would men­tion that ShameCon is actu­al­ly three weeks from now. If you’ve been invit­ed to that one you should be ter­ri­bly, ter­ri­bly embar­rassed. So you don’t want to tell any­body about it but you know… My ques­tion was mere­ly more this ques­tion of try­ing to fig­ure out what are the levers that we can work with, and I actu­al­ly think the pre­vi­ous com­ment point­ing out that shame has been pret­ty inef­fec­tive prob­a­bly puts this more into the intractable side of it, where I think there there may be some agree­ment on that.

Palfrey: I’m going to call on some­one with­out her hand up but who is well known to many of us the room. Our Dean Martha Minow has actu­al­ly just walked in and was going to say a word of wel­come and thanks. Dean Minow, thank you for com­ing over.

Martha Minow: [Comments are large­ly inaudi­ble.]

Palfrey: Dean Minow, thank you for com­ing over. You’re won­der­ful to host us. Martha Minow is the Dean of Problem Solving. She has intro­duced a manda­to­ry prob­lem solv­ing course for all lawyers and so she’s delight­ed that we’re in that mode. Sorry, car­ry on.

Audience 5: Speaking about levers, I’m con­scious, as this is what they call in the secu­ri­ty export world, a dual-purpose tool. But what about adver­tis­ing? We had a sit­u­a­tion in the UK where an incred­i­bly homo­pho­bic op-ed piece was pub­lished in The Daily Mail by a colum­nist called Jan Moir, and Twitter mobi­lized to con­tact the peo­ple that adver­tised with that news­pa­per. Shame does­n’t work, but the bot­tom line might.

Zuckerman: So, anoth­er testable inter­ven­tion and pos­si­bly a test­ed inter­ven­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly as peo­ple look at the Rush Limbaugh reac­tion where a great deal of pres­sure is com­ing into adver­tis­ers via Twitter. And per­haps this is one of the cir­cum­stances where the abil­i­ty to talk back is some­thing that we can test as a method of response. 

Other ques­tions, com­ments, please. And intro­duce your­self please.

Ari Rabin-Havt: Ari Rabin-Havt from Media Matters. When we look at the world of mis­in­for­ma­tion, I like to phrase it as we think mis­in­for­ma­tion is most dan­ger­ous when it metas­ta­sizes. So, if there’s a bub­ble of untruth—let’s just use Fox News as the exam­ple. You know. I’m from Media Matters. They lie. They lie will­ing­ly. They lie know­ing­ly, and they lie forth­right­ly as part of a strat­e­gy. And that’s out­lined in inter­nal mem­os and oth­er documentation. 

Where the mis­in­for­ma­tion we see becomes tru­ly dan­ger­ous is when it seeps out­side of—when it goes from kind of the right wing echo cham­ber through Fox News, but then when it gets out­side of there. So if there was a test to define how to kind of put a fin­ger in the fun­nel, in a way, to stop the mis­in­for­ma­tion from seep­ing out of kind of the right wing swamps. Just away from Fox. There’s a very pop­u­lar radio host named Alex Jones who spews all sorts of garbage on a day-to-day basis—911 truther stuff, that kind of stuff. But his stuff stays with­in his large audi­ence so it does­n’t have a broad cul­tur­al impact. So the ques­tion is is there a way to stop the cul­tur­al impact at the fun­nel point?

Zuckerman: So, two ques­tions there. One is whether we could fig­ure out when infor­ma­tion is cross­ing from one echo cham­ber into a broad­er space. And anoth­er ques­tion you know…not an easy one, with all of our con­ver­sa­tions about fact-checking, whether there’s a pos­si­ble inter­ven­tion that one could jump in and then sort of put into play when it looks like some­thing’s leav­ing one con­ver­sa­tion going into a broad­er con­ver­sa­tion. Kai.

Kai Wright: To pick up on what Mike was say­ing, I won­der if there is in fact some sort of tool or some­thing to build that is not a fact-check but a con­text check. I mean, I think to hijack our Joe Arpaio exam­ple ear­li­er you know, he is an absurd per­son. He’s an absurd fig­ure, who just two weeks pri­or to—well, more than two weeks, but a month or so pri­or to that, the head­line in Politico was Joe Arpaio Racially Profiles, Justice Department.” Which was a vari­a­tion on the one we saw about Joe Arpaio says Obama’s birth cer­tifi­cate does­n’t exist. 

The only rea­son Joe Arpaio was say­ing Obama’s birth cer­tifi­cate does­n’t exist right now is because he’s being inves­ti­gat­ed by the Justice Department, he’s try­ing to change the sub­ject. So I share Mike’s con­cern that there’s the issue about spe­cif­ic facts, but we get lost some­times I think in the debate over a giv­en set of facts to the detri­ment of debate over the untruth­ful con­text. And is there a way to check the con­text? Which maybe that goes beyond tech­nol­o­gy, I don’t know. But that I think is actu­al­ly a greater concern.

Zuckerman: But I think it fits well with­in this theme of ques­tions that we could try and test, which is to fig­ure out if there’s some way that we could put con­text into a sto­ry so that when Joe Arpaio comes we get some con­text of where it’s com­ing from.

Palfrey: Ethan, we’re at time, just to note. And we’ve got like four hands up. Should we maybe take four more quick­ly, what do you think?

Zuckerman: Yeah, let’s take four quick com­ments and not react. Let’s go Judith. Let’s go Ellen. Let’s go Dan, and then the gen­tle­man here and that’s where we’re going to get in this one.

Audience 8: Your talk about sham­ing made me think about stud­ies that’re done that go into to lie detec­tor test­ing. Because a lie detec­tor does­n’t test if you’re telling a lie. It real­ly tests your own feel­ing about your telling the lie. So if some­one is a sociopath who real­ly has no guilt and no qualms, it cer­tain­ly does­n’t show up at all. They real­ly can test are you stressed? Are you feel­ing guilty? 

And so I think an inter­est­ing path of your sham­ing piece is this notion of try­ing to come up with some type of typol­o­gy or clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the types of peo­ple who are pro­mul­gat­ing these lies. Because there’s the the group that’s sort of like the sociopaths of pol­i­tics, who deeply believe what they’re say­ing or there’s no com­punc­tion about it. There are the politi­cians who may indeed have some guilty feel­ing, for whom the sham­ing would work because they real­ize they may be doing some­thing wrong but they have the eyes on the prize. There’s the ones that are moti­vat­ed by mon­ey, etc. So under­stand­ing those sets of under­ly­ing moti­va­tions may be the key to under­stand­ing dif­fer­ent types of use­ful reactions.

Zuckerman: Thanks, Judith. Ellen.

Audience 9: So, in response to the notion whether there are tools tools that can be built that would you know, sort of look at the prove­nance of lan­guage and where it spreads and how it spreads, we’ve been work­ing with Media Standards Trust in the UK—I don’t know how many peo­ple know their jour​nal​ism​.uk site. But this is a site that has a data­base of press releas­es, and a data­base of news sto­ries. And it can track how many jour­nal­ists are churn­ing the press releases. 

So they’ve just open sourced their code thanks to a grant from Sunlight. We’re devel­op­ing the same site for the US. But more impor­tant­ly, we’re actu­al­ly using their code to look at, at the moment, reg­u­la­to­ry com­ments to see how many com­ments on an EPA rule actu­al­ly came from a sin­gle source, or a dou­ble source, or how many sources they came from. So these tools, your guys can help fig­ure out you know, how to improve the kind of stuff that we’re build­ing, but it is pos­si­ble to do this.

Zuckerman: And speak­ing of the guys who are build­ing these things…

Dan Schultz: Hi, I’m Dan Schultz. I’m at the MIT Media Lab and Center for Civic Media. So, a cou­ple ques­tions that I have. Priming with self-affirmation has been shown to be effec­tive in help­ing com­bat moti­vat­ed rea­son­ing. And I’m curi­ous how we can imple­ment self-affirmation tech­niques in the real world. And if there are oth­er forms of prim­ing that might work and make peo­ple a lit­tle bit more recep­tive to fact-checks.

I’m also curi­ous in gen­er­al sort of how much do peo­ple val­ue truth and hon­esty to begin with? And can that val­ue be lever­aged to change the dia­logues and how this is kind of like look­ing at sham­ing flipped on its head. So instead of try­ing to shame people…

And then third I just want­ed to note that— So I’m work­ing on Truth Goggles, and I’ve tried to split— It’s a cred­i­bil­i­ty lay­er for Internet con­tent, so it’s try­ing to con­nect the dots between the con­tent you’re look­ing at and fact-checks. And I’ve found sort of three tractable, or semi-tractable prob­lems. The first is what does the inter­face look like? So that’s kind of get­ting at the self-affirmation/priming ques­tions. The sec­ond is where do these facts come from and how do you scale col­lect­ing facts? And then the third is how do you find instances of facts in the news in an auto­mat­ed way? So I’m not answer­ing all three as part of the the­sis, but I think those are three ques­tions worth asking.

Aaron Naparstek: Hi. I’m Aaron Naparstek. I’m a Loeb Fellow at Harvard. And in 2006 I start­ed a blog called Streetsblog. And you know, I guess my point is in my expe­ri­ence it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly that dif­fi­cult to counter this stuff. I am and was in New York City part of a move­ment that was real­ly ori­ent­ed towards try­ing to reform the New York City Department of Transportation, make things bet­ter for pedes­tri­ans and cyclists and tran­sit rid­ers in New York City. So a very spe­cif­ic, niche issue. And you know, we were sort of up against eighty years of cul­ture and pol­i­cy that was aimed at sort of mov­ing motor vehi­cles through New York City.

And it did­n’t take that much to kind of put a new per­spec­tive out there. Really it took two jour­nal­ists work­ing five days a week full-time to help cre­ate an entire­ly new per­spec­tive on what streets could be in New York City, that streets could be pub­lic spaces and places for bikes and bus­es that move quick­ly. And ulti­mate­ly helped cre­ate sub­stan­tial pol­i­cy change. And so I mean, I kind of have a hope­ful sense of this because of my expe­ri­ence in this niche issue that it does­n’t, when you real­ly start focus­ing on a niche and kind of pro­fes­sion­al­ize it and move your­self out­side of that main­stream media world, I think you can have a lot of impact.

Zuckerman: So that’s a won­der­ful­ly help­ful inter­ven­tion. And I think hav­ing that sense that tractabil­i­ty may have some­thing to do with how big the scale of the issues are, whether you’re going after the fun­da­men­tal left/right splits in the United States poli­ty, or whether you’re going after issues where left and right might actu­al­ly come togeth­er and say less dead bicy­clists in New York would be a good thing,” these might be places where we might have the pos­si­bil­i­ty of mak­ing some progress.

So, back over to you, John, to intro­duce our next two moderators?

Palfrey: That’s excel­lent. Thank you Ethan, and Urs and oth­ers. Thank you for this syn­the­sis section.

Further Reference

Truthiness in Digital Media event site