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Super PAC App Fact Checks Ads In Real Time

by Eric Sharp, published
Justin Adelson, MIT Sloan

Political ads often bend and distort reality to achieve an end. However, emerging tools make it easier than ever to dispel confusion about political TV ads. Enter the Super PAC App: a new mobile application that gives users detailed information about political ads.

The app accomplishes this by using audio fingerprinting software to listen to the campaign ad, and then simply shows what PAC paid for it, provides verification of claims in the ad, and gives links to non-partisan sources to learn more. Users can even rate each ad by “love,” “fair,” “fishy” and “fail.” This is political technology that makes deceiving voters more difficult.

The app isn't trying to out perform the many "follow the money" sites like Open Secrets or Politfact. Rather it is designed to make accessing that information much easier.  Even so there are some gaps in information that can't be bridged due to the limited information that Super PACs are required to disclose. However even with these limitations this is a significant and powerful tool.

The Citizens United case that created Super PACs was and remains controversial. The Supreme Court decided that how one spends money is free speech, while others were upset that the decision would allow unlimited corporate contributions. Either way this is the first campaign season featuring the power players, Super PACs, and an enormous amount of money is pouring into races. With partisan Super PACs that support one candidate or another appearing all over TV ad space it is important to stay on guard and think critically about whether the claims in these ads are true or mere "truthisms". The Super PAC App stands ready to empower independent voters to make informed decisions about what they support and why. According to app co-creator Jennifer Hollet,

“The goal is to get regular people using this app — not just journalists and policy wonks, but regular people using it because it’s informative and fun to use,” said Hollett. “It’s easy to forget the presidential election is about regular people. We’re hoping our app changes that.”

This tool is part of the emerging age that we live in, in which it is increasingly difficult to "disappear" information. Political actors stand ready to bend reality and remorph history, and they always will. The question has always been how easy is it? The information age is making the operation of the "memory hole" more and more difficult. We live in a time when everything anyone says is not only recorded, but it is recorded by ordinary people on their cell phones and uploaded to YouTube- where the whole world can see it. As WikiLeaks shows, not even classified information is safe anymore.

This Super PAC App is important not simply because it can reveal truth and lies, but because it is part of the larger trend of the democratization of information. Important information is becoming easier to access for average ordinary people and polticos alike. The implications of this fact will have major ramifications as time goes on.

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