Particularly since the 2016 election, companies, brands and publishers have been focused on how to squelch the spread of fake news. Its effects are wide and devastating, whether that means swaying key political campaigns or spreading conspiracy theories across social-media platforms.
A group of researchers have applied what may seem like a simple solution to this mess: hold people accountable for the information they share.
The Pro-Truth Pledge was created by a group of social scientists and other concerned individuals who believe they can apply behavioral science to a critical goal: stopping fake news.
Organized by a cadre of nonpartisan volunteers, the PTP is part of a broader project called the Rational Politics Project. Those who take the pledge promise to share, honor and encourage the spread of truth by verifying information before sharing and accepting it. They will align opinions and actions with true information and ask people to fix incorrect information.
In all, there are 12 actions the pledge asks signers to take.
So far, nearly 7,500 signers, 72 organizations, 462 government officials and 724 public figures have taken the pledge. The pledge has also been featured in Scientific American, Psychology Today and the Huffington Post.
Believing people will change their behavior because of a pledge may seem quixotic in 2018. If anything, the last year has exposed the dark sides of public officials.
However, the researchers behind the pledge released a study showing that by simply asking people to take information seriously and hold themselves accountable for its distribution, they become more interested in upholding truth.
In their paper “The Pro-Truth Pledge: Fighting Fake News and Post-Truth Politics with Behavioral Science,” researchers Gleb Tsipursky and Fabio Votta conducted a series of experiments that found many subjects’ actions changed rather dramatically following the pledge.
Though the researchers acknowledge there is no way to prove the pledge is the sole reason for these actions, the application of behavioral science to the scourge of fake news could have positive results.
If the spreading of fake news is a public disease, perhaps science can find the cure.
The difficult part of preventing the spread of this particular disease is convincing those spreading it that the disease actually exists.