Thanksgiving is a week away, which means the start of the holiday season is just around the corner, and with it come the inevitable swath of heated, drunken political rants from the uncles you rarely see and—even worse—the email forwards. Did you know the Democrats are waging a literal war on Christmas? Or that when you take off his face, you see that Obama is actually a giant praying mantis from outer space? Or not to drink Fanta because it was invented by the Nazis and by drinking your gross orange soda you’re basically promoting a fascist America? Or that Obama is a Secret Muslim? Of course he is, you already knew that, because you saw the last forward Uncle Frank sent you, right? Or the one before that?
Before you have to endure another deluge of cringe-inducing, fact-devoid email forwards and even worse dinner chatter, Matt Stempeck and the team at the MIT Media Lab may have just the thing to save you and your family and bring everyone a little bit closer together, or at least make interactions more bearable. LazyTruth is a Google Chrome extension that automatically scans your emails for bad information (e.g. conspiracy-theory chain letters), as cleared by FactCheck and PolitiFact. The widget actually posts the correct information along with the crazy email, so you get the facts delivered alongside the blather. Stempeck told The Atlantic that they’re looking into adding a reply option, which sends the fact-checking to the crazy relative or acquaintance doing the sending. And we could all benefit from a little education.
From the looks of things, Stempeck isn’t doing this because of a bad holiday dinner, although he assumes most of the downloads will come from those who have grown weary of relatives’ emails. He wants to get to the bottom of how misinformation is kept alive, spread and recontextualized, even in the age of so, so many spam blockers and tools to the most basic of online research.
“Some of these emails, they’ll get updated for different nations and context,” Stempeck told the Nieman Lab. “I would also love to do some network analysis of how these things spread, how many people need to forward them for them to stay alive, and how many people actually forward them versus people that don’t? Is it like spam, where .001 percent is enough to keep it alive?”
So click away, and arm yourself for that next feast or forward. Maybe Stempeck will follow up with a plugin that news websites / YouTube / various forms of social media can use to scan for similar misinformation and conspiracy-spreading in their comments sections. Wouldn’t that be the greatest gift of them all?