And, Voila, Something That Will Finally Stop Your Crazy Uncle From Sending You More Cracked Forwards

And just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday!


As you have probably heard by now, word has it that our radical Muslim president is doing all sorts of terrible things to our country! He's gotten rid of our National Christmas Tree, abolished the National Day of Prayer, and put the family's dog, Bo, on his own airplane all to himself.

No? Then you must not have some distant (or close!) relation who loves to forward, forward, forward, all the live-long day. But for the rest of us, whose inboxes' factual sanctity is under constant assault, there's LazyTruth, a new tool from Matt Stempeck and his team at MIT's Media Lab.

LazyTruth is a plug-in for Chrome that automatically scans email for information that and Politifact have deemed false. If something doesn't check out, it'll provide a few words of correction and a link to where you can find out more. You can then easily pass that verified information on to the email's sender. Down the road Stempeck plans to add more kinds of rumors to LazyTruth's filter -- urban myths, hoaxes, false security threats, etc. -- but for now the tool is limited to political tall tales.

"Put simply," Stempeck explained over email (all of which checked out), "LazyTruth is a bridge between low quality information (chain emails) and high quality information (the research outlets that debunk chain emails)." By putting the fact-checking right in your inbox with the forwarded junk, LazyTruth reduces the friction (catch-all phrase for time and effort) between you and a politely worded correction.

And that's probably where LazyTruth will see most of its use -- not from the purveyors of the claptrap, but from their friends and relatives, who, so sick of just sighing and clicking and deleting, might now, fact-checked materials at hand, send a quick rebuttal. Stempeck says they hope to later add ready-made replies -- designed, of course, with myth-busting best practices in mind -- such that receivers do not feel attacked or undermined, but informed and motivated to re-share their newly learned facts (visual information such as photos can help with that).

What will the effect of all this quick-and-easy fact-checking be? Could enough fact-shaming actually stanch the flow of email myths? Part of the problem with tackling false information online is that exactly how it spreads is not well understood. But Stempeck hopes to look into that too, and with that information, tinker with LazyTruth to make it more effective. "I would also love to do some network analysis of how these things spread, how many people need to forward them for them to stay alive, and how many people actually forward them versus people that don't?" he told the Nieman Lab. "Is it like spam, where .001 percent is enough to keep it alive?"

Of course, the most efficient route is a covert strike -- installing LazyTruth right onto the computer of the offending forwarder (assuming, against all odds, that that person uses Chrome and Gmail). With Thanksgiving right around the corner, you know your mission, should you choose to accept it.

Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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