Dan SchultzIn 1938, thousands of people panicked after tuning in late to a science fiction radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds.” From what they could understand, the broadcast was telling them their world was falling apart. They were listening to the downfall of humanity: aliens were invading Earth.

Had they taken a moment to think, they would have realized that everything was fine, but hearing the fake news broadcast on the radio bypassed their ability to think carefully. They trusted the voice and didn't question the report.

“If our grandparents couldn't tell an alien invasion from a science fiction broadcast, how can we expect to remember to keep track of credibility on the Internet?” asks Dan Schultz, 2013-2014 Reynolds Fellow from Rhode Island.

Schultz wants to help remind people to think more carefully and critically about the information they come across every day. As a non-residential fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, he plans to take the prototype for a real-time fact-checking tool (Truth Goggles) he has created and develop it further.

He also believes the tool could improve the quality of journalism by “providing a fact check authorship tool akin to the ubiquitous ‘spell check.’”

People are exposed to a never-ending stream of information on the Internet on a daily basis. How do they go about discerning what’s factual?

“It’s the idea that it’s important for people to consume mass communication in a way where they’re actually thinking about it and not just taking information and relying on their gut feelings to believe or disbelieve it,” said Schultz.

Truth Goggles

Schultz created the prototype for the tool, which he calls Truth Goggles, while completing his master’s thesis at the MIT Media Lab. The word “goggles,” is a metaphor referring to someone changing the way they look at a piece of content.

“It felt reasonable to call these things ‘Truth Goggles,’ since they would help you reach more accurate conclusions – conclusions closer to the truth,” said Schultz.

Truth Goggles was inspired by the concept of how to “enable critical ability on the Web.”

“The vision is that the tool will help users think more carefully about the content they read connecting the dots between sentences in their browser and items that have been researched by credible sources,” said Schultz. “Truth Goggles automatically identifies content on a person’s screen that has been fact-checked by credible sources.”

How journalism will benefit

Desiring to improve the quality of journalism with Truth Goggles, Schultz plans to connect the tool directly with traditional journalism. He lays out some of his goals.

  • Create a system that will allow journalists to contribute their notes and research to the Truth Goggles database.

“This information could then either be sold as information packages to users, resulting in direct revenue to newspapers, or could simply drive an augmented experience for that newspaper’s readership, resulting in more value to their audience,” explained Schultz in his fellowship application.

  • Develop a tool that lets journalists know when a credible source has weighed in and challenged the journalist’s written information in the Truth Goggles database.

“By incorporating localized information into Truth Goggles, newspapers can codify community knowledge and empower informed citizens in ways we have never seen before,” said Schultz in his fellowship application. “By using Truth Goggles during the authorship process, journalists will be able to better understand when their statements are triggering “red flags” in their more thoughtful readers.”

Click here to read more articles about Truth Goggles. Articles are posted at the bottom of the page.

Jennifer Nelson  
Senior Information Specialist


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