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.
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."