BOB GARFIELD: We’re continuing with the theme of disclosure, or the lack thereof. You can try to find out the people behind the super PACS, but good luck with that. And most people don’t have the time to figure out what a lot of those PACs, with impenetrable names like Americans for America, actually stand for. Enter the Super PAC App. Simply play the audio of an ad into your smart phone and the Super PAC App will provide a wealth of information about the ad and the groups that produced it. It will even fact-check. Dan Siegel created the app with Jennifer Hollett. He says that all you have to do is hold your phone up to the TV while an ad is playing. That provides a sample of audio.
DAN SIEGEL: And then we match that against a database that we’re creating of all the ads. And then once the ad is identified, the user is served up with contextually relevant content about that ad. So the first screen is basic information, like who is behind his ad, how much money have they raised, how much money have they spent in this campaign so far. And there’s an opportunity, as well, for the user to actually vote on the ad, and, and then once they do that, they are able to see how other users have voted on that ad.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, in the introduction we said that the app even fact-checks claims. That’s not quite right, but it does link you to fact-checks by third parties that have been done on a given ad.
DAN SIEGEL: Yeah, what the app is not gonna do is say true or false, that, you know, once you hold it up to the ad, but rather what it will do is say claim X was made in this ad, and here are a few trusted, nonpartisan sources that have precisely talked about claim X. But really, the goal here is to tell users that you don’t have to sign up for three hours of homework every night and googling and reading every blog, just to get basic information about the ads that you're watching. We’ll put this tool in your hands and allow you to find this information right at the moment that you're actually watching the ad.
BOB GARFIELD: It seems to me that the audience for this is pretty much limited to those already trained to understand that you cannot take political advertising at face value, that this app will serve the most, I guess, enlightened part of the electorate.
Is it going to make any difference?
DAN SIEGEL: We hope it goes beyond the folks who are already inclined to dig up this information, because there is going to be a ton of money into this election. You know, the estimate that we read is $11 billion and a lot of that is coming from organizations that never existed before.
So really, what’s going to happen, which is going to be unprecedented, is that, particularly in swing states, sometime mid-August, late August, there is going to be no more Tide commercials, no more car commercials; it’s going to be all political commercials. And if there’s a, a tool that can present that information to the user, you know, we’re hoping we’re reaching beyond just the folks who would already be inclined to dig this information up themselves.
BOB GARFIELD: Now Dan, it’s the middle of July [LAUGHS]. The election is coming right up. Where the hell’s your app?
DAN SIEGEL: [LAUGHS] The app is going to be available for download at the end of August, and it’s going to be timed for the first convention, which is the RNC convention in Tampa.
BOB GARFIELD: Permit me to make a little prediction here, and that is that you do this thing, that you get it up and running and just sort of in the nick of time, and it, in fact, does have no impact, on the previously stated grounds, that it’s just helping the people who are most informed and enlightened, to begin with. But maybe as this kind of technology coalesces, someday this will be standard for just regular civilians to do due diligence on the claims that are coming out of their TVs?
DAN SIEGEL: First, I, I hope the premise of the question is wrong, right? I hope that it’s not just the upper crust of folks who are already plugged in and using the app.
But to your second point, yeah, there’s certainly things we’ve thought about, what we can do with this after, and one of those that Jen and I have talked about is applying this, as you said, to any product-based commercial. And so, if you're watching a commercial for a drug or a car or a shampoo and it makes a claim about that product, we can get users in the habit of saying, well, I know how to check that in real time.
BOB GARFIELD: Dan, thank you so much.
DAN SIEGEL: Thank you very much. It was great speaking with you.
BOB GARFIELD: Dan Siegel, with Jen Hollett, is the creator of Super PAC App.