Creating Technology for Social Change

Drop back to reality, oh, there goes sanity

Since launching LazyTruth, I’ve been enmeshed in fact-checking, rumor correction, and studying how misinformation moves online and across society. And, as part of my thesis, I’ve been collecting examples of how average people are helping out with causes and crises using the internet. One of the promising examples of Things You Can Do To Help Online is to help generate additional attention online, usually through social media. Today, Walt Frick sent me Reality Drop, which manages to combine both of these trends quite nicely.

Reality DropIt’s like, which looks to arm average citizens to combat misinformation online. But Reality Drop organizes around a specific issue — climate change deniers — that people might be passionate about, rather than merely recruit those eager to fighting all rumors. And given the story that broke last week about the secret billions funding climate change skeptics, this makes sense, as a campaign. The question now will be whether activists armed with empirical evidence can drown out the very well-funded voices and their sympathetic media partners, who are paid quite handsomely to spread falsehoods.

Another predecessor to Reality Drop is Skeptical Science, which catalogs the falsehoods climate change deniers perpetrate and offers the more empirically-minded informational ammunition which which to retaliate. (Skeptical Science also published a great PDF summary of psychological studies providing Dos and Don’ts for fighting misinformation). Reality Drop focuses on specific information campaigns and adds social layers and game elements. It’s fun that they let you choose whether you’ll play good cop or bad cop (“Spread Truth” vs. “Destroy Denial”). I was heartened to see that the Destroy Denial example doesn’t repeat falsehoods, which is known to backfire, but rather attacks the deniers’ base credibility.

Choose your battle

Users are asked to amplify truth with their social media accounts, which makes sense, and reminds me of similar approaches of tools and campaigns like Thunderclap and Rolling Jubilee. Reality Drop also encourages people to go into the comments of articles to duke it out with deniers, who have a habit of showing up en masse to make an author look bad for trusting scientists. This is unlikely to improve the status of blog comments as one of the worst places on the internet, but it’s worth noting that nasty comments attacking authors can be disproportionately effective if no one else ever responds and/or the author has spineless editors.