Fight against post-truth politics: More Democrats signing Pro-Truth Pledge as Republicans seem hesitant

In these times of "post-truth" politics, Pro-Truth Pledge co-founder Dr. Gleb Tsipursky tells MEAWW how the project is making elected representatives more accountable

Fight against post-truth politics: More Democrats signing Pro-Truth Pledge as Republicans seem hesitant

There’s no need to worry, climate change will reverse itself in time.

Chinese interference in the 2016 US presidential elections was more serious than Russian interference.

United States pays almost the entire cost of NATO.

Obama administration had a policy which separated families at the border.

North Korea has agreed to denuclearize itself.

Most of us will not get away with making these false claims on a public platform, but we all know there’s one person who has: President of the United States Donald Trump. 

Ever since the 2016 presidential elections, it appears that fake news and blatant falsifications have become the new norm in the country’s politics. The American political ecosystem has been deadened to President Trump and his administration’s prevarication, as the Republican’s term is being seen as the onset of “post-truth politics.”

U.S. President Donald J. Trump smiles during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. 
U.S. President Donald J. Trump smiles during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. 

What exactly is post-truth politics? The word “post-truth” gained popularity after Trump’s election win, becoming Oxford Dictionaries word of the year in 2016. It is an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The word has become synonymous with the phrase “post-truth politics,” and as many would say, Trump himself.

The Washington Post Fact-Checker blog has counted over 5,000 false or misleading claims made by Trump in just his first 601 days in office.

As we deliberate and wonder if there is any hope for our dreary political outlook to change, there are groups of people who have begun taking initiatives, like the Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP).

The pledge is a project of Intentional Insights, a volunteer-run educational nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit devoted to promoting science-based truth-seeking, rational thinking, and wise decision-making.

The PTP, co-founded by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, a behavioral science expert, and his wife Agnes Vishnevkin in 2016, promotes truth-seeking and rational thinking, particularly in politics, and encourages elected representatives to take a public pledge to tell the truth and be held accountable.

We got talking to Dr. Tsipursky, who is also the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, who believes that the simple pledge could make a world of difference.

“What the Pro-Truth Pledge does is, it separates the truth tellers from the people who spread misinformation. Unfortunately, when private citizens look at politicians and public figures, they cannot tell apart who is telling the truth and who is not. Voters, listeners, media consumers are not experts in the topics which the politicians are talking about, so they do not know whom to trust. The PTP gives them an easy way to differentiate between who to trust and who not to because any public figure who takes the pledge is held accountable,” Tsipursky tells MEAWW.

Pro-Truth Pledge Co-Founder Dr. Gleb Tsipursky
Pro-Truth Pledge Co-Founder Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

A former psychology professor at Ohio State University, Tsipursky says that the initiative works like a business bureau where anyone who notices a public figure spreading misinformation can go and report on the PTP website, just like a consumer can report a violation of the ethical guidelines of a business. The report, he says, triggers an investigation into the claims. The founder explains that the entire model works on public vigilance.

On being asked if elected representatives on both sides of the political aisle have shown an active interest in the initiative, Tsipursky’s answer was not very surprising: No. The behavioral science expert revealed that although Democrats were willingly participating in the initiative and taking the truth pledge, the Conservatives and the Republicans did not seem very keen.

“When we started the PTP, the Democratic party showed more interest because of the political environment where the Trump administration was — according to neutral fact-checkers both on the right and left — was sharing more misinformation or deception. So we made a more concrete effort to do more outreach to the Republican party and get many more Republicans to sign. But yes, more number of Democrats are signing the pledge,” Tsipursky says.

More than 600 politicians in the US across the political spectrum - Republicans, Democrats, and minor parties - have taken the pledge, including national politicians like US Congress members Matt Cartwright (PA), and Marcia Fudge (OH) and Democrats’ possible 2020 presidential nominee and the man who stirred up a storm in the 2018 midterm elections Beto O’Rourke (TX).



 

But how does the pledge help in holding President Trump accountable for his lies? Tsipursky says, “You put truthfulness above party politics, that's the key,” adding it’s a slow process and more Republicans need to be onboard for this.

Despite our appreciation for the initiative, abiding by a truth pledge you signed online to resist spreading misinformation, arguably does seem a little utopian. So how do we know the pledge works? Tsipursky says that his initiative is backed by multiple research.

“There's no question that taking the pledge alone is effective for changing behavior. We have conducted two peer review studies published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology and Behavioral Social Sciences, showing that taking the PTP significantly changes a person's behavior, so as a result after taking the pledge both private and public citizens become much more truthful in their sharing of articles and post on social media, so we know it works,” the co-founder says.

Protesters gather at the gates of Blenheim Palace where U.S. President Donald Trump is attending an evening function in Woodstock on July 12, 2018 in Oxfordshire, England. 
Protesters gather at the gates of Blenheim Palace where U.S. President Donald Trump is attending an evening function in Woodstock on July 12, 2018 in Oxfordshire, England. 

However, he does add that the initiative is a necessary component but is not sufficient to change post-truth politics. “There are other things which need to be done, the PTP is a grassroots effort, there need to be changes made in the legislature and in the economic structure.”

Ultimately, Tsipursky does not see an end to the skewed political era anytime soon, maybe ten years down the line with proper social media checks to curb misinformation and willingness among politicians to strive for truth, but even that — he says — would be an understatement.

If you are interested in more honest politics, take the pledge here.