Rebecca J. Rosen at The Atlantic shared that there is a new and fantastic little browser tool that will keep you from tearing your hair out when your crazy Uncle Barry sends you yet another Obama Is A Muslim email.
You see, Gentle Readers, I have an Uncle Barry. His name isn’t Barry, of course, but he watches a lot of FOX News. He’s an elderly white gentleman who is ex-military, an ex-lawyer, and a born-again Baptist. The vast bulk of his correspondence to me is couched in Doomsday terms, with lots of ALL CAPS and exclamation points. Occasionally he gets creative and colors particularly pertinent (to his mind) words and phrases in BRIGHT RED BOLD UNDERLINED ITALIC TEXT!!!!! (Ouch.)
He discovered the magic of email during George Bush, Jr.’s second term in office, and found out somehow that I was not, shall we say, as enamored of Dubya as he was. He felt it his duty, as my beloved elder relative, to set me straight. Whereas some of his loving correspondence was concerned about the state of my soul and whether I had found employment (read: a job which he approved of) yet, the bulk of it was chock-full of political discourse (read: factual inaccuracies).
Unfortunately, you see, Uncle Barry is a sucker for every urban legend and non-factual political screed-mail that pops into his inbox. He is not particularly motivated to fact-check. He just selects the “send to everyone on the planet I have ever exchanged an email with” option and forwards those puppies hither and yon. I then get a lot of reply emails from other agèd relatives, most of which reside in red states, all clutching the pearls and clicking their tongues over The State Of Things These Days. (Apparently everything sucks and we’re all going to die any day now. Things are dire in Codgerland.)
I ignored these emails for months, as I have a life (and limited free time) and understood the futility of changing his firmly-held political perspectives, but he started sending really offensive stuff once Obama was elected. Ye gods. I…I don’t even want to talk about it, but, you guys, it was bad. The Birther stuff was the least obnoxious. I finally started directing him to Snopes on a regular basis. The amount of elderly clucking and tutting in my inbox diminished overnight, because (I hope) The Olds dutifully went to read Snopes and get set straight. (It could be that they just ignored my replies.)
He quickly took me off his email list. Victory!
I’m going to assume that you, too, have a life (and a limited amount of free time). Perhaps you, too, have an Uncle Barry who forwards you right-wing talking points every week. Well, if you use Gmail and the Chrome web browser, Matt Stempeck–who must be an intelligent fellow, as he works at MIT’s Media Lab–and his team have created LazyTruth, a browser tool which automatically fact-checks your Uncle Barry’s emails for you! Glory! You can get it in the Chrome Web Store.
As The Atlantic explains:
LazyTruth is a plug-in for Chrome that automatically scans email for information that FactCheck.org 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.
I am checking, right now, to see if Stempeck is single, interested in ladies, and available. This is the best thing since British chocolate bars…and British chocolate bars are pretty darn tasty.
Future plans for LazyTruth include ready-made polite rebuttals that will refrain from attacking the “claptrap purveyors” personally, but which will gently bust those myths and save you from sighing a lot and loading up PoliFact, FactCheck, or Snopes in another browser tab.
Rosen wonders if all this “fact-shaming” could actually help stem the tide of bogosity, hogwash and bushwah online that afflicts every political discussion: “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.”
Stempeck plans to continue fine-tuning, his curiosity piqued by the possibility that network analysis of how emailed political fictions spread–and finding out how many people need to forward these things to keep them alive and kicking and stinking up inboxes–might actually help him find a way to help stem the flood of false data. He’s focusing on political myths to start, but if LazyTruth catches on, who knows what he might tackle next?
I don’t think Snopes needs to worry about a competitor just yet…but Lazytruth will be a blessing for those of us whose families (or irritating co-workers) hold–and insist on sharing–contradictory political views. Especially if one of your relatives is an Uncle Barry.