'Truth Goggles' Double-Checks What Politicians Say

As the presidential candidates grip and grin their way across the early primary states, many voters are tuning in online to get the latest information on their policies and plans. But sifting through the muck of rumor, fact and fiction online isn't easy, so MIT grad student Dan Schultz came up with an idea to help: "Truth Goggles." He shares his creation with host Audie Cornish.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As the presidential candidates grip and grin their way across the early primary states, many voters are tuning in online to get the latest information on their policies and plans.

But sifting through the muck of rumor, fact and fiction online isn't easy. So, MIT grad student Dan Schultz came up with an idea to help: Truth Goggles.

DAN SCHULTZ: It's a browser plug-in. So it's not an actual pair of goggles. It's a piece of software.

CORNISH: Of course, the joke about beer goggles is they make people or potential dates look more attractive then they really are. Schultz's Truth Goggles are meant to do the opposite. With this software, your potential candidate might not look so hot anymore, once the program has searched and flagged their statements as dubious. Then it would link you to the research of fact-checking websites like PolitiFact.

SCHULTZ: The inspiration behind this project goes back to my freshman year, when I took a course about "The War of the Worlds" broadcast that happened in - I think it was 1938.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADCAST, "WAR OF THE WORLDS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The Columbia Broadcasting system and its affiliated stations, present Orson Wells and The Mercury Theater On The Air in "The War on the Worlds."

SCHULTZ: Where Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" was broadcast and a lot of people, a significant number of people, who tuned in the middle thought that aliens were actually invading the planet.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADCAST, "WAR OF THE WORLDS")

FRANK READICK: (as Carl Phillips) A humped shape is rising out of the pit. Good Lord, they're turning into flames.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SCREAM)

READICK: (as Carl Phillips) Now the whole field has caught fire. The woods...

SCHULTZ: I would like to help keep people from believing that aliens are invading the planet. I want to use this tool to trigger their critical abilities, to get them to think a little bit harder about what they are seeing.

CORNISH: And there is another Earthly purpose those Truth Goggles for the Web could serve: helping out a reporter on deadline. The software will happily fact-check your story and catch things you didn't even know needed to be checked.

SCHULTZ: In the same way we would before publishing something, run through it for spelling and grammar mistakes. Maybe they didn't know that. Maybe they didn't realize that it didn't go without saying and correct them before they get perpetuated.

CORNISH: Schultz says in the future the program could draw on research from all kinds of fact-checking Websites, and help people break out of what he calls their personal filter bubble.

SCHULTZ: The tool isn't going to dictate what's true and what's false. It's rather, it's going to say, hey are you sure you believe that? Or on the other hand of the spectrum, hey, are you sure you don't believe that? And then instead of telling them to believe it or disbelieve it, providing as much evidence as possible to help - in a concise way - to help them decide if they believe or disbelieve it.

CORNISH: Dan Schultz is working on the program for his masters degree and is still a year away from finishing it up. Just a little late for next year's election. Until then the truth is out there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW THEME, "THE X-FILES")

CORNISH: You're listening to NPR News.

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