A Platform To Crowdfund The Truth

Have a controversial view? How much money are you willing to risk on it? A new site called TruthMarket lets people bet money on the veracity of their public statements: If they can prove it, there is cash to be earned.

Sites like Kickstarter have helped fund everything from motorized footwear to "Sedition Wars: Battle for Alabaster." But can the same model help illuminate the truth? The people behind TruthMarket, which describes itself as the world’s "first marketplace for truth-telling," think so.

The idea is simple. Say you hear someone make a bogus claim—for example, that Barack Obama was really born in Kazakhstan. You can go on the site and stake some money, challenging someone to prove the claim, asking others to join you. Once the amount raised reaches a pre-designated threshold, the challenge goes live. At which point, the person making the claim is asked to produce evidence in order to win the "bounty." The truth is decided by a "jury of neutral, professional, scientifically trained adjudicators" who assess the evidence, which must be verifiable.

"We’re looking for a mechanism that more or less would pressure people into to telling the truth. There is so much twisting, distortion, and misrepresentation, and we just got tired of it," says Mark Feldman, one of the founders.

"Sites like PolitiFact and FactCheck.org are very good at informing or notifying the public. But we feel they don’t go far enough in actually pressuring people who are actually doing the misrepresentation," says Feldman. "This is challenging that person to put his money where his mouth is. All they have to do is provide proof. If they’re going to say those things, they have to back it up."

TruthMarket, which opened this month, currently has two live challenges: one around the relative riskiness of money market funds (subject of a recent ruling by the Securities and Exchange Commission), and another aimed at Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, standard bearer of the birther movement.

Several biggish names are backing the venture, including George Lakoff, a well-known professor at U.C. Berkeley, and Shawn Otto, a film producer and science advocate.

Feldman hopes to restrict challenges to verifiable questions, avoiding philosophical issues. "We’re not going to do questions like 'Is there is a God?'" he says. And he also wants interest groups to post challenges, and to encourage their members to contribute.

Alongside TruthMarket, the founders are also setting up something called TruthSeal aimed at "organizations in crisis who need to be heard." They can post a bond for a certain amount, then ask people to disprove their claim.

"They’re able to put up something that says 'I’m telling the truth,'" says Feldman. "We think that ought to be enough to get people’s attention."

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  • Ryan Steinbach

    What incentive is there for the person making the claim to engage in the platform? I think people won't place or take a bet unless they know that they are right by looking it up. Once one person looks it up, than they already know whether they are right or wrong and make the decision to bet accordingly. Therefore it seems to me it can be assumed that the only people placing bets online know they are right through research, and who wants to bet against that? It seems to me that the dispute will be settled before going to the trouble of posting it on the site.

  • Rick Hayes-Roth

    Ryan, from the little in the article, I can see how you'd reach that conclusion. However, the article skims over a lot of details. Campaigns on the site are about claims that are argued, usually vehemently in the public media, but where facts are often ignored. The marketplace serves two functions: (1) it highlights facts that are denied or falsehoods that are touted as true; (2) it enables people who are fed up with that to create a public relations event or "campaign" about it.  So it's not really a bet in the normal sense. People who initiate a campaign are asking others to help them tell it and sell it so the larger public can be made aware of it. If somebody can successfully challenge that campaign, that challenger takes 100% of the "bounty".  However, if turns out nobody succeeds in proving the campaign false, the campaign creator gets 20% of the bounty and the other 80% is redistributed to the co-sponsors.

    As you surmise, few campaigns are likely to be falsified, which makes raises their stature in the court of public opinion. Occasionally, however, what everybody "knows" or thinks they know, turns out to be false.  A few months back, a challenger won $1000 bounty for showing that the oft repeated claim "Fox news is the most trusted name in US broadcasting" was wrong. Not only did Fox tout that claim widely, but our staff had vetted the claim multiple times.

    The power of the Internet allows a single person with compelling data to prove everybody wrong, and that's what happened in that case. The challenge adjudication decision, data, and rationale are  publicly available here. 

    Our company is unbiased. We have no interest in which side prevails. From our point of view, everybody benefits from a marketplace that pays for illuminating facts and calling out falsehoods. As just a few examples of claims now on TruthMarket.com consider these: Based on Sherriff Arpaio's citizen posse, officials in Hawaii or the White House forged Obama's birth certificate; more than 95% of American climate scientists concur that global warming is real and caused by humans; GOP claims of widespread voter fraud, behind their voter ID laws, are bogus; and Sen. Harry Reid was lying when he claimed Romney paid practically no taxes.  

    Each of these seems to be an important, arguable claim. We hope that by bringing money and crowds into the arena, fact-finding will speed up and phony positions will be shown for what they are.

    -- Rick Hayes-Roth, TruthMarket founder

  • Tim

    Absolutely! Perfectly Said!  Complete waste of time.  What imbecile would put themselves in jeopardy when all the have to do is get primary source documentation prior to?  Complete nonsense.