Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

What Can the TruthTeller App Do for Journalism?

BY Julia Wetherell | Wednesday, February 6 2013

Two years ago, Middle East experts were confounded by the Gay Girl in Damascus hoax, when the online identity of a young Syrian lesbian blogging through the country’s civil war unraveled, revealing an American man living in Scotland.  Journalists and activists who had followed Amina Arraf throughout her ordeal were outraged; the time it took to untangle the truth about her supposed kidnapping distracted from real stories coming out of Syria. 

What if there had been an easier way to verify her posts?  Last week The Washington Post launched TruthTeller, a prototype tool for real-time fact-checking.  In beta, the platform currently works with transcripts from online videos, lining up spoken words against verified information sources. So far, it has been put to the somewhat limited provenance of analyzing political speech – like statements form Rep. Gerald Connolly, President Obama, and House Speaker John Boehner, who gets called out in a November speech for saying a tax hike on the rich will kill 700,000 jobs.  TechCrunch reported that, for the time being, TruthTeller can only speak to subjects it is knowledgeable of – exclusively American tax policy, for the moment. 

The implications are big for catching politicians and other public figures in real-time lies, but could the project – which was born out of a Knight Foundation grant – be put to use to verify other journalistic sources?

The Post’s National Political editor, Steven Ginsberg, said the idea for TruthTeller came to him after watching Michelle Bachmann speak to a group of Iowans during a Republican rally; he wondered what could have happened if everyone had whipped out their smartphones to check her facts in real time.  This may leave people wondering why the social element was left out of TruthTeller. Twitter fact verification is an increasingly essential – and social – practice for journalists. In cases where it goes wrong, like the widespread reporting of the wrong name for the Sandy Hook shooter, there are swift and significant repercussions.  NPR Senior Strategist Andy Carvin – who was implicated in spreading the wrong name – helped to expose Gay Girl in Damascus over a laborious week of following the Twitter trail.

Though a particularly complex issue, the scandal exposes the need for new and efficient processes of fact-checking in the digital age.  TruthTeller may represent that new frontier; if social media can be worked into future versions, it could find a wider reach. 

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

News Briefs

RSS Feed thursday >

NY Study Shows How Freedom of Information Can Inform Open Data

On New York State's open data portal, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has around 40 data resources of varying sizes, such as maps of lakes and ponds and rivers, bird conservation areas and hiking trails. But those datasets do not include several data resources that are most sought after by many New York businesses, a new study from advocacy group Reinvent Albany has found. Welcome to a little-discussed corner of so-called "open government"--while agencies often pay lip service to the cause, the data they actually release is sometimes nowhere close to what is most wanted. GO

Responding to Ferguson, Activists Organize #NMOS14 Vigils Across America In Just 4 Days

This evening peaceful crowds will gather at more than 90 locations around the country to honor the victims of police brutality, most recently the unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Saturday. A moment of silence will begin at 20 minutes past 7 p.m. (EST). The vigils are being organized almost entirely online by the writer and activist Feminista Jones (@FeministaJones), with help from others from around the country who have volunteered to coordinate a vigil in their communities. Organizing such a large event in only a few days is a challenge, but in addition to ironing out basic logistics, the National Moment of Silence (#NMOS14) organizers have had to deal with co-optation, misrepresentation, and Google Docs and Facebook pages that are, apparently, buckling under traffic.

GO

wednesday >

NDI Launches Open Source DemTools for International Development

Yesterday the National Democratic Institute launched a suite of web-based applications created for their partner organizations, mostly pro-democracy groups and political parties around the world. These “DemTools,” which are ready-to-use but can also be customized, will give organizations in developing countries some of the capabilities that political activists and parties in the United States have had for years. Moreover, since the National Democratic Institute (NDI) is making the promise to host partner organization's applications in the cloud essentially forever, they hope these applications will help usher in a period of more sustainable tech.

GO

More