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The Washington Post debuts fact-checking app Truth Teller

The Washington Post debuts fact-checking app Truth Teller

Margaret Looney | January 31, 2013

Politicians are notorious for lying to get ahead in the polls, but The Washington Post plans to call them out in real time with a new app.

Truth Teller, now in its prototype phase, checks facts as they're spoken, matching an audio-to-text transcript against a database of facts. If the speaker is lying, the app instantly displays the false claims in the speech or advertisement.

The Post's National Political Editor Steven Ginsberg thought up the idea after hearing Michele Bachmann's lies go unchecked during a speech in Iowa.

Ginsberg told TechCrunch he envisioned a different scenario if each person in the crowd had a smartphone version of the app.

“You can imagine how that would change not just that scene but basically all of political discourse,” Ginsberg said. “If she’s lying to you and you say ‘Wait a second, you just lied to me,’ then you’ve got a whole different event than if she’s just talking.”

The app's early development was supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's Prototype Fund. For an example of what the app can accomplish, check out this screening of House Speaker John Boehner's speech on tax reform. When he claimed that raising taxes would kill jobs, the word "false" pops up in bold red text.

This isn't the first technology built to try this, as this Poynter piece notes. PolitiFact's mobile app Settle It! and Truth Goggles experimented with fact-checking.

Can a machine carry out the task of fact-checking effectively?

Wall Street Journal Director of Social Media and Engagement Liz Heron tweeted her concerns about TruthTeller.

"For now, the early beta prototype has to be manually hand-fed some facts, and thus only works on topics it has been specifically designed to recognize," Gregory Ferenstein wrote in his TechCrunch piece.

Post Executive Producer for Digital News Cory Haik is confident this type of app could be the next big thing in journalism.

"Do we think this can be applied to streaming video in the future? Yes," Haik writes. "Presenting the truth is without dispute one of the most important missions of journalism. So yes, we believe it can."

Image CC-licensed on Flickr via cinnamonroll.photography.

@margylooney